Darlington Race Recap

The Key Moment – Jimmie Johnson beat Bobby Labonte off pit lane by inches after the final round of pit stops. He managed to hold onto the lead from there.


In a Nutshell – There’s nothing wrong with stock car racing that a weekend visit to Darlington can’t cure.


Dramatic Moment – If you heart wasn’t pounding on those final two restarts (with 11 and 4 laps to go) you still haven’t woken up after Atlanta.


What They’ll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week

So tell me again why they’ve gone and taken the coveted Labor Day weekend date away from the Track Too Tough to Tame and gave it to the Track Too Lame for a Nickname?

For all the hysteria about the walls from the TV types, the race at Darlington didn’t look much different, did it? You figure they pay these drivers enough to keep their cars off the wall? Blown tires caused most of the caution periods.

Is Michael Waltrip going to start filming ads for that popular 70s mixed drink, the Harvey Wallbanger?

What was with all those flat tires? Did they staple the SAFER barriers to the outside walls?

Was that a trash bag that flew out on the track to bring out the third caution or was it Joe Ruttman’s car cover?

What was with Tony Stewart Sunday? If he couldn’t get around them he went through them.

You think NASCAR is going to talk to Mike Joy about his on-air jokes on how boring the last two races were?

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Johnny Sauter backed his Chevy into the water barrels trying to enter pit road after his qualifying effort on Friday. If there was any consolation it might have been that Jeff Gordon hit the wall in qualifying for the second straight week. (And he apparently hit a photographer in Ohio Thursday night for good measure.)

Michael Waltrip’s season of discontent continues. He wrecked in qualifying and failed to a post a time. He hit the wall again in Saturday practice. And only nine laps into the race Sunday he cut down a tire and hit the wall again.

You can argue whether Hillenberg should have been out there running that slow or whether Tony Stewart should have been more patient so early in the race, but there’s no arguing Jeff Gordon, one of the masters at Darlington, paid the price in a mess not of his own making. Your job sucks, Dude.

Matt Kenseth had a rare bad run. He got a flat and spun, was penalized a lap for passing the pace car under caution to get to the pits, had a hub bolt back out which resulted in a loose wheel and required an extra green flag pit stop and to top it all off cut down another tire.

Last year’s winner, Ricky Craven, got hit from behind under caution and hit the wall. The new yellow flag rules were supposed to end that sort of stupidity.

Dale Jarrett was running tenth when he cut down a tire and slapped the wall hard enough to knock him out of contention.

Jamie McMurray squandered a top 10 run when he was forced to the pits with 42 laps to go with a loose wheel.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Ryan Newman overcame a drive-through penalty for hitting the pit road commitment cone (which is going to cause some lame jokes about men being afraid of commitment) to rally back to third place.

By the lofty standards of his young rookie season a thirteenth place result wasn’t too good for Kasey Kahne but he did it the hard way. Kahne spun twice, once when he got a flat and once when hit by a previous Cup champion, and managed to keep his car off the wall. He also passed the leader to get his lap back under green, the old fashioned way.

Dale Earnhardt’s car lost its handle on long runs but he rallied back to a top 10 finish in the final few laps.

Jeremy Mayfield was hit from behind by Jeff Burton but still finished ninth with a stoved in rear bumper. Burton also recovered from the incident to finish eleventh.

Robby Gordon had a good weekend with top 6 finishes in both the Busch and Cup races.

Kevin Harvick’s car was out to lunch at Atlanta last week but the driver and team rallied back to finish eighth at Darlington.

Worth Noting

The top 10 finishers drove five Chevys, three Fords and a pair of Dodges.

Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. are tied for the most top 10 finishes this season with four a piece in five races.

Earnhardt Jr., Kasey Kahne, and Jimmie Johnson lead the pack with three top 5 finishes to date this season.

Despite his close encounter of the Tony Stewart Kind, Kahne was the top finishing rookie for the fourth straight week finishing thirteenth. Next best was Scott Wimmer in sixteenth. Wimmer is the only rookie of the year contender other than Kahne to score a top 10 finish to date this season.

Elliott Sadler and Robby Gordon both scored their first top 5 of the 2004 season Sunday. For Gordon it was his first top 5 finish since he won at Watkins Glen last August.

Jimmie Johnson scored his first win since New Hampshire last fall.

Jeff Gordon suffered his worst finish since Talladega in the fall of 2002. Like Richard Petty might say “He had a lot of help scoring a poor finish.”

Elliott Sadler scored his best finish since he came home second in this race last year.

Kurt Busch had his best finish since he came home fourth at Phoenix late last year.

Jeff Burton in eleventh had his best finish since Rockingham last fall.

Derrike Cope was the pride of F-Troop finishing the race 25th. All the other field fillers were out of the race by the end but Andy Belmont finished 37th.

Rusty Wallace has finished outside the top 25 in three of five races run to date this season.

Five drivers who finished in the top 10 never led a lap Sunday. (Robby Gordon, Elliott Sadler, Mark Martin, Kevin Harvick and Jeremy Mayfield)

What’s the Points?

Matt Kenseth maintains his position at the top of the points but is now only 21 points ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr. who moved back into second, displacing Tony Stewart who fell to third. The top eight drivers are within 100 points of Kenseth. Mathematically any driver in the top 11 in points could leave Bristol next week as the points leader.

Race-winner Jimmie Johnson advanced three positions within the top10 to move to sixth. Three drivers advanced two positions after Sunday’s race; Kurt Busch (now fourth) Bobby Labonte (eighth) and Ryan Newman who enters the top 10. (ninth)

Kasey Kahne got mugged in the final ten laps and falls to fifth in the points.

Jeff Gordon took it on the chin in the points Sunday dropping eight positions to thirteenth in the standings. Other notable drivers headed in the wrong direction include Dale Jarrett (down five spots to 22nd) and Jamie McMurray (down three spots to nineteenth.)

Those headed in the right direction include Robby Gordon who gained the most positions Sunday advancing eight spots to 24th. Mark Martin rose five spots to twelfth and Greg Biffle also advanced five spots to eighteenth in the standings.

In the Battle of the Three Legged Lambs (the drivers at the bottom of the chart who have run all five races this season) Derrike Cope passed Michael Waltrip to take over 36th position. Cope leads Waltrip by 25 points.


Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic) We’ll give this race five cans of icy cold Colorado Kool-Aid. It wasn’t the best race ever run at Darlington, but a mediocre race by Darlington’s standards is more fun to watch than the best races many tracks will ever host.

Next Up- Pack up the hammers and transfer some money into the drivers’ profanity points fund, because we’re off to Bristol for a little brutality next weekend.

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2004

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