Iropers Race Notes:/I Darlington

The recent installation of the SAFER Barrier system will be the talk of the garage area this weekend as the Nextel Cup Series heads to Darlington Raceway for the Carolina Dodge Dealers 400. The corners of the old historic 1.366-mile oval that once housed many Darlington stripes will now start over with fresh white "SAFER" walls that extend into the racing groove. The new barriers could possible make the "Track too Tough to Tame" even "Tougher."

Four-time NASCAR Cup Champion Jeff Gordon, who is ranked third in all-time victories at Darlington, has only one trip to Victory Lane in the 400-mile spring race and is ready to adjust to the change.

"This place was difficult to drive before the changes," said Gordon. "We've always run so close to the wall, sometimes even hitting it in the past. Now we have less track to work with before we hit the wall. "I applaud tracks for installing the new walls. Unlike most tracks that have the SAFER walls, we'll have to adjust our line here. Friday's practice session and qualifying should be interesting."

This weekend will also be the first Nextel Cup start at Darlington for the crop of rookies, including Kasey Kahne who’s off to a fast start in the Evernham Dodge. Last season Kahne posted two top-10 finishes in the Busch Series at Darlington. On Sunday Kahne will be behind the wheel of the No. 9, a car that has done fairly well in the past at the egg-shaped oval with driver Bill Elliott.

"Darlington is a tough racetrack, I don't think there is any other way to put it," said Kahne. "But, it's one of the tracks that I really look forward to racing at every year.

Roper's Pick: This weekend I believe Ryan Newman will pick up his first win of the season which will move him back into the top-10 in the standings. Starting up-front will be crucial this weekend and Newman's the guy that can do it. If you don't have a good handing race car and take care of the tires, the only spot that positions will be made up at Darlington will be on pit road.

In four starts at Darlington, Newman has posted a pair of top-5 finishes during his 2002 rookie season, but only managed a 14th and 23rd place result here last year. Check out the Driver Averages.

Could this be the race Newman reaches Victory Lane at Darlington, and picks up his 10th career win?

Tune in to Sunday's race on WSOC 103.7 FM to find out.

Darlington Fast Facts:

Most Wins: 10 - David Pearson
Most Top 5s: 25 - Richard Petty
Most Top 10s: 35 - Bill Elliott
Oldest Winner: Harry Gant, 51 Years, 7 Months, 22 days, 9/1/91
Youngest Winner: Terry Labonte, 23 Years, 9 Months, 16 days 9/1/80
Most Lead Changes: 41 - 9/6/82
Fewest Lead Changes: 4 - 9/4/50
Most Leaders: 20 - 9/4/94
Fewest Leaders: 2 - 5/9/64
Most Cautions: 15 - 3/26/95
Fewest Cautions: 0 - 9/2/63
Most Caution Laps: 101 - 9/2/74
Fewest Caution Laps: 0 - 9/2/63
Most Finishers on the Lead Lap: 23 - 9/1/902
Fewest Finshers on the Lead lap: 1 - 24 times, most recently, 9/3/79
Most Running at the Finish: 41 - 3/21/99
Fewest Running at the Finish: 12 - 9/2/74
Most Laps Led by a Race Winner: 351 - Johnny Mantz, 9/4/50
Fewest laps Led by a Race Winner: 1 - Ricky Craven, 3/16/03
Most Wins by a Manufacturer: 34 - Chevrolet
Closest Margin of Victory: 0.002 seconds, Ricky Craven defeated Kurt Busch, 3/16/03
Greatest Margin of Victory: 2 Lap, 4 seconds, David Pearson defeated Bill Elliott, 9/3/79
Track Race Record - 400 Miles: David Pearson, 5/11/68, 3:00:54, 132.711 mph
Track Race Record - 500 Miles: Dale Earnhardt, 3/28/93, 3:34:55, 139.958 mph

Related Topics:

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, 2004

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