News & Media


Driver Reports: Previewing the Darlington race

April 10, 2014, Brad Norman, NASCAR.com

Gordon, Kenseth, Johnson, Hamlin among veterans seeking first win

Editor's note: The following drivers are ranked according to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings. Driver Reports includes the top 16 in the points standings and drivers currently in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup field.

1. Jeff Gordon (No. 24)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet 

Standing: Gordon leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings with 259 points.
Past five races: 2nd at Texas, 12th at Martinsville, 13th at Auto Club, 7th at Bristol, 9th at Las Vegas.
Season stats: 3 top-fives, 5 top-10s.
Track history: At Darlington, Gordon's average finish is 7.4 and his average running position is 8.1 over the past nine years. In 33 career starts at Darlington, he has seven wins, 19 top-fives, 22 top-10s and three poles.
Quick hit: Gordon's third-place finish last year broke an un-Gordon-like stretch of consecutive finishes outside of the top 10 at 'The Lady in Black.' From 2004-2010, Gordon had seven consecutive top-fives, five of which were finishes of third or better. This year could be the start of another such streak.

2. Matt Kenseth (No. 20)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Standing: Kenseth is second in the standings with 255 points.
Past five races: 7th at Texas, 6th at Martinsville, 4th at Auto Club, 13th at Bristol, 10th at Las Vegas.
Season stats: 1 top-five, 5 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Darlington, Kenseth's average finish is 10.8 and his average running position is 14.3 over the past nine years. In 20 career starts at Darlington, he has one win, two top-fives, nine top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: Kenseth's Darlington breakthrough came last year, when the veteran led 17 laps -- including the final 13 -- to claim his third win in the first 11 races of the year. The only other time Kenseth recorded a top-five at Darlington was 2006, and he followed that with top-10s the next two years.

3. Carl Edwards (No. 99)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford 

Standing: Edwards is third in the standings with 247 points.
Past five races: 14th at Texas, 13th at Martinsville, 10th at Auto Club, 1st at Bristol, 5th at Las Vegas.
Season stats: 1 win, 2 top-fives, 4 top-10s.
Track history: At Darlington, Edwards' average finish is 13.1 and his average running position is 12.8 over the past nine years. In 10 career starts at Darlington, he has three top-fives and seven top-10s.
Quick hit: Among all drivers without a Darlington win, Edwards is the best bet for his first visit to Victory Lane. His loop data over the past nine years is solid -- take away the two races in which he had car problems, and his average finish over that same time period goes from 13.1 to 9.4.

4. Joey Logano (No. 22)

Penske Racing, Ford 

Standing: Logano is fourth in the standings with 235 points.
Past five races: 1st at Texas, 4th at Martinsville, 39th at Auto Club, 20th at Bristol, 4th at Las Vegas.
Season stats: 1 win, 4 top-fives, 4 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Darlington, Logano's average finish is 20.6 and his average running position is 17.8 over the past nine years. In five career starts at Darlington, he has two top-10s.
Quick hit: Logano's lone single-digit finish here (ninth place) came in 2009 during his first race at the track. It has since been among Logano's worst tracks on the Sprint Cup tour, although Logano has performed like an elite driver so far this season.

5. Kyle Busch (No. 18)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Standing: Busch is fifth in the standings with 231 points.
Past five races: 3rd at Texas, 14th at Martinsville, 1st at Auto Club, 29th at Bristol, 11th at Las Vegas.
Season stats: 1 win, 2 top-fives, 3 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Darlington, Busch's average finish is 14.4 and his average running position is 9.0 over the past nine years. In nine career starts at Darlington, he has one win, two top-fives and five top-10s.
Quick hit: Busch's history here gives an accurate look at Darlington's intricacies. He has five top-10s (and an 11th-place finish) in nine career starts. His other finishes are 23rd, 34th and 37th. He could break through for his third top-five at the track -- he's led 387 laps in the last three races, which is 35 percent of the total number of laps run during that span.

6. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Standing: Earnhardt is sixth in the standings with 228 points.
Past five races: 43rd at Texas, 3rd at Martinsville, 12th at Auto Club, 24th at Bristol, 2nd at Las Vegas.
Season stats: 1 win, 4 top-fives, 4 top-10s.
Track history: At Darlington, Earnhardt's average finish is 12.2 and his average running position is 12.2 over the past nine years. In 19 career starts at Darlington, he has three top-fives and eight top-10s.
Quick hit: Junior's ninth-place finish last year was his first top-10 showing at the track since 2008. As one of the circuit's veterans, he has more starts here than most of his contemporaries -- something extra beneficial considering the track's complexity.

7. Jimmie Johnson (No. 48)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Standing: Johnson is seventh in the standings with 228 points.
Past five races: 25th at Texas, 2nd at Martinsville, 24th at Auto Club, 19th at Bristol, 6th at Las Vegas.
Season stats: 2 top-fives, 4 top-10s.
Track history: At Darlington, Johnson's average finish is 9.4 and his average running position is 9.9 over the past nine years. In 15 career starts at Darlington, he has three wins, eight top-fives and 11 top-10s.
Quick hit: On Darlington's quirky egg-shaped layout, Johnson is among the best in NASCAR, along with Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch. Six-Time has qualified second the past two years and finished first and fourth. His three career wins at the track ranks second among active drivers to his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Gordon.

8. Brad Keselowski (No. 2)

Penske Racing, Ford 

Standing: Keselowski is eighth in the standings with 218 points.
Past five races: 15th at Texas, 38th at Martinsville, 26th at Auto Club, 14th at Bristol, 1st at Las Vegas.
Season stats: 1 win, 3 top-fives, 3 top-10s.
Track history: At Darlington, Keselowski's average finish is 13.8 and his average running position is 17.3 over the past nine years. In five career starts at Darlington, he has one top-five and two top-10s.
Quick hit: The thing to watch for Keselowski this week is qualifying. He's been on the front row for five of six races that used the new knockout format, but his average start at Darlington is 18.2. A big improvement there could result in his second top-five at the track.

9. Brian Vickers (No. 55)

Michael Waltrip Racing, Toyota 

 

Standing: Vickers is ninth in the standings with 205 points.
Past five races: 4th at Texas, 16th at Martinsville, 7th at Auto Club, 9th at Bristol, 13th at Las Vegas.
Season stats: 1 top-five, 3 top-10s.
Track history: At Darlington, Vickers' average finish is 28.6 and his average running position is 24.5 over the past nine years. In nine career starts at Darlington, he has one top-10.
Quick hit: Due to his previous part-time schedule, Vickers hasn't raced at Darlington the past two years. That was a hindrance for Texas, too, but he rallied for a fourth-place finish. It may be more difficult to do that in South Carolina, given he's finished 25th or worse in three of his past four races there.

10. Paul Menard (No. 27)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet 

Standing: Menard is 10th in the standings with 203 points.
Past five races: 9th at Texas, 10th at Martinsville, 9th at Auto Club, 21st at Bristol, 3rd at Las Vegas.
Season stats: 1 top-five, 4 top-10s.
Track history: At Darlington, Menard's average finish is 23.7 and his average running position is 24.7 over the past nine years. In seven career starts at Darlington, his best finish was 13th in 2012.
Quick hit: Darlington is one of four non-road course tracks in which Menard does not have a top-10 (the other three are Homestead, Kentucky and New Hampshire) and a Richard Childress Racing program has not won here in 20 years. The flip side is that Menard is one of two drivers to come into the race with three consecutive top-10s.

11. Ryan Newman (No. 31)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet 

Standing: Newman is 11th in the standings with 202 points.
Past five races: 16th at Texas, 20th at Martinsville, 20th at Auto Club, 16th at Bristol, 7th at Las Vegas.
Season stats: 2 top-10s.
Track history: At Darlington, Newman's average finish is 11.4 and his average running position is 11.6 over the past nine years. In 15 career starts at Darlington, he has seven top-fives, 10 top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: Even more impressive than Newman's average finish at Darlington is his average starting spot. His number of 8.8 is among the best in the Sprint Cup Series and shows a level of sophistication at this track not seen in most drivers.

12. Austin Dillon (No. 3)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet  

Standing: Dillon is 12th in the standings with 202 points.
Past five races: 21st at Texas, 15th at Martinsville, 11th at Auto Club, 11th at Bristol, 16th at Las Vegas.
Season stats: 1 top-10, 1 pole.
Track history: Dillon has zero Sprint Cup Series starts at Darlington. In two Nationwide Series starts, he had one top-five and one top-10.
Quick hit: Dillon's best-case scenario may be exactly what Joey Logano did during his rookie season: qualify well and earn a top-10 finish. Perhaps even more important than his finishing position, it will be key for the Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender to learn Saturday and gather information for future events.

13. Denny Hamlin (No. 11)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Standing: Hamlin is 13th in the standings with 197 points.
Past five races: 13th at Texas, 19th at Martinsville, DNS at Auto Club, 6th at Bristol, 12th at Las Vegas.
Season stats: 1 top-five, 2 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Darlington, Hamlin's average finish is 5.4 and his average running position is 8.6 over the past nine years. In eight career starts at Darlington, he has one win, four top-fives and seven top-10s.
Quick hit: Hamlin's four-year stretch at Darlington is the best in the sport. Since 2010, he's finished first, sixth, second and second. His average start during that span is 4.3. He has to be considered one of the favorites again in 2014, despite his recent struggles.

14. Tony Stewart (No. 14)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet  

Standing: Stewart is 14th in the standings with 189 points.
Past five races: 10th at Texas, 17th at Martinsville, 5th at Auto Club, 4th at Bristol, 33rd at Las Vegas.
Season stats: 2 top-fives, 3 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Darlington, Stewart's average finish is 11.1 and his average running position is 13.9 over the past nine years. In 21 career starts at Darlington, he has four top-fives and 11 top-10s.
Quick hit: Stewart has put together three solid runs in the past four races, and his recent Darlington history makes him a dark horse to win. Two of his four career top-fives have come since 2009, giving him the best five-year Darlington stretch of his career.

15. Kyle Larson (No. 42)

Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, Chevrolet  

Standing: Larson is 15th in the standings with 187 points.
Past five races: 5th at Texas, 27th at Martinsville, 2nd at Auto Club, 10th at Bristol, 19th at Las Vegas.
Season stats: 2 top-fives, 3 top-10s.
Track history: Larson has zero Sprint Cup Series starts at Darlington. In one Nationwide Series start, he finished sixth.
Quick hit: With two top-fives and three top-10s in his past four races, Larson appears to be the most dynamic rookie in this year's class. Despite his lack of experience at Darlington, would another top-10 really be surprising?

16. Greg Biffle (No. 16)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford

Standing: Biffle is 16th in the standings with 187 points.
Past five races: 6th at Texas, 18th at Martinsville, 40th at Auto Club, 12th at Bristol, 22nd at Las Vegas.
Season stats: 2 top-10s.
Track history: At Darlington, Biffle's average finish is 13.5 and his average running position is 12.3 over the past nine years. In 20 career starts at Darlington, he has two wins, eight top-fives, 12 top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: Mile-and-a-half tracks have been a boon to Biffle over the years. His Texas performance got him back on track following five consecutive finishes outside the top 10. Darlington is not a true 1.5-miler, but perhaps it'll serve as another venue for Biffle to keep climbing.

25. Kurt Busch (No. 41)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet

Standing: Busch is 25th in the standings with 151 points.
Past five races: 39th at Texas, 1st at Martinsville, 3rd at Auto Club, 35th at Bristol, 26th at Las Vegas.
Season stats: 1 win, 2 top-fives, 2 top-10s.
Track history: At Darlington, Busch's average finish is 17.9 and his average running position is 15.9 over the past nine years. In 17 career starts at Darlington, he has two top-fives, five top-10s and two poles.
Quick hit: In his past five races, Busch has either finished outside the top 25 or in the top three. That recent inconsistency does not relate well to his Darlington history -- one top-10 in the past nine races.

26. Kevin Harvick (No. 4)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet 

Standing: Harvick is 26th in the standings with 138 points.
Past five races: 42nd at Texas, 7th at Martinsville, 36th at Auto Club, 39th at Bristol, 41st at Las Vegas.
Season stats: 1 win, 1 top-five, 2 top-10s.
Track history: At Darlington, Harvick's average finish is 18.0 and his average running position is 16.2 over the past nine years. In 17 career starts at Darlington, he has three top-fives and six top-10s.
Quick hit: The comfort of winning the second race of the 2014 season has given way to massive frustrations to the No. 4 team. With some of the best cars in the garage, they've finished outside the top 35 in four of the past five races. At that rate, a top-15 would be welcome this weekend.