Driver Handicaps: Darlington

    DARLINGTON, S.C. - This weekend the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Darlington Raceway for Saturday night's Dodge Challenger 500. To help you make your fantasy racing picks, RacingOne brings you our weekly detailed look at some of the field for the 367-lap event.

    Who's HOT at Darlington
  • Greg Biffle has won two of the last three races.
  • Defending race winner Jeff Gordon leads all drivers with seven wins.
  • Denny Hamlin has the best average finish among all drivers at 6.0.
  • Ryan Newman has the best average running position (5.0) in the last three races.
  • Mark Martin has a 7.0 average finish in the last five races.
  • Jimmie Johnson has five top fives, including two wins, in the last six races.

    Keep an Eye on at Darlington
  • With the exception of a 39th-place finish due to engine problems, Carl Edwards has posted three top 10s in four starts.
  • Kasey Kahne has three poles and two top fives in four starts.
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. is shooting for his fourth straight top 10 at Darlington.
  • Jeff Burton has the best average finish among full-time drivers with 10 or more starts.
  • Series point leader Kyle Busch is looking for his fifth consecutive top 10 of 2008.
  • Tony Stewart will be back behind the wheel of the same car this weekend that led a race-high 267 laps at Bristol.

    Darlington Rookie Report
    None of the Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidates have made a Sprint Cup Series start at Darlington Raceway. Rookie leader Regan Smith is the only one with NASCAR experience at the 1.366-mile speedway. In four Nationwide Series starts Smith has posted an average finish of 20.0. Rookie Standings

    Qualifying Tidbits
    Last year Clint Bowyer snapped Dodge's four race pole streak after he took the top spot in his No. 07 Chevrolet. Prior to 2007, Kasey Kahne won three consecutive poles at Darlington Raceway. Dodge won four of the last five with Ryan Newman winning in 2003. Rain has canceled qualifying three times in the last 12 races and there have been seven different winners in that span. Ward Burton's 1996 speed of 173.797 mph still stands as the qualifying record. Seven of the last 12 races, including the last four, have been won from a top-10 starting position. Past Pole Winners | Starting Positions of Darlington Winners

    Darlington Loop Data Stat Leaders (2005-2007)
    *Fastest Early in a Run
    *Fastest Late in a Run
    Avg. Running Position
    1. Jimmie Johnson
    1. Ryan Newman
    1. Ryan Newman - 5.0
    2. Greg Biffle
    2. Carl Edwards
    2. Jimmie Johnson - 5.1
    3. Ryan Newman
    3. Jimmie Johnson
    3. Greg Biffle - 5.2
    4. Denny Hamlin
    4. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
    4. Denny Hamlin - 5.5
    5. Jeff Gordon
    5. Denny Hamlin
    5. Jeff Gordon - 6.4
    Laps in Top 15
    *Quality Passes
    *Driver Rating
    1. Jeff Gordon - 1091
    1. Dale Earnhardt Jr. - 109
    1. Greg Biffle - 126.1
    2. Greg Biffle - 1074
    2. Tony Stewart - 102
    2. Jimmie Johnson - 122.0
    3. Ryan Newman - 1068
    3. Carl Edwards - 99
    3. Denny Hamlin - 119.2
    4. Jimmie Johnson - 1039
    3. Jeff Gordon - 96
    4. Ryan Newman - 116.4
    5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. - 941
    5. Jimmie Johnson - 94
    5. Jeff Gordon - 114.7


    *Fastest Early In a Run: Ranks each driver during the first 25 percent of laps run since a pit stop.
    *Fastest Late In a Run: Ranks each driver during last 25 percent of laps run since a pit stop.
    *Quality Passes: Passing a car running in the Top 15 while under a green flag.
    *Driver Rating : Formula combining the following categories: Wins, Finishes, Top-15 Finishes, Average Running Position While on Lead Lap, Average Speed Under Green, Fastest Lap, Led Most Laps, Lead-Lap Finish. Maximum: 150 points per race.


    RacingOne Staff Picks

    Jeff Wackerlin: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
    Pete Pistone: Carl Edwards
    Rachael West: Mark Martin
    Kym Opalenik: Denny Hamlin

    Top 20 Driver Notes - Ordered by Current Standings

    1. Kyle Busch: Busch enters the weekend as the new points leader as he will make his first start at Darlington Raceway with Joe Gibbs Racing. Busch's previous three starts at Darlington came with Hendrick Motorsports where he posted an average finish of 22.3. His lone top 10 came in 2006 when he finished seventh. This weekend he will have a special Indiana Jones paint scheme on his M&M's Toyota.

    2. Jeff Burton: At Darlington Raceway, Burton has two wins, which came back-to-back in 1999. As rain began to fall at both the events in 1999, Burton, who was leading, was named the winner when the races were called. In his 25 starts at the track, he has eight top-five and 14 top-10 finishes and has led 786 laps. Burton's ninth and 10th-place finishes in the last two races were his first top 10s in four track starts with Richard Childress Racing. This weekend Burton will be back behind the wheel of the same car (chassis No. 224) that last finished third at Martinsville.

    3. Dale Earnhardt Jr: Earnhardt Jr. has competed in 13 races at Darlington Raceway scoring six top-10 finishes. His best Darlington finish, fourth, came in the 2002 spring race. Junior has led in four races at Darlington, for a total of 135 laps. This weekend he will look to extend his three consecutive top 10s at Darlington when he makes his first track start with Hendrick Motorsports. This weekend Junior will carry a retro Mountain Dew paint scheme on the same chassis (No. 443) that finished third at Atlanta.

    4. Clint Bowyer: In 2006, Bowyer started third in his Sprint Cup debut at Darlington Raceway. He performed well in the opening laps but fell out of contention after a right-rear tire got away from the team on a pit stop. Last season he rebounded by winning the pole and then went on to finish ninth. Bowyer will return in that same chassis (No. 192) in this weekend's Dodge Challenger 500. This car last finished third at Bristol in its ninth start.

    5. Kevin Harvick: In 11 Darlington starts, Harvick has four top-10 finishes, with his best finish of second on August 31, 2003 - the only race where he has led a lap at the track. Harvick will look to turn around his 25.0 average finish in the last four Darlington races by driving the same car (chassis No. 235) that finished second at Bristol.

    6. Denny Hamlin: Hamlin has yet to finish outside the top 10 in six combined starts in the NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series at Darlington Raceway. Last year he won his second consecutive Nationwide race from the pole and then went on to lead 179 laps en route to a second-place finish in the Cup race. Both finishes in 2006 came with 19 stitches in his left hand after he cut it on his team's hauler. This weekend Hamlin will be racing the same car (chassis No. 196) that sustained heavy damage after hitting the wall at California in February.

    7. Jimmie Johnson: Johnson has competed in nine races at Darlington Raceway. He has finished in the top-10 in every race except the 2003 spring race where he finished 27th after making contact with Sterling Marlin on lap 22. In 2004, he swept both races at Darlington after leading 69 laps in the spring event and 124 in the final Southern 500. Johnson's 6.8 average finish leads all active drivers that have entered three or more events at the 1.366-mile speedway. This weekend's chassis (No. 433) is the same one that has posted two top-15 finishes in four starts.

    8. Tony Stewart: Stewart has captured two top fives and eight top 10s in 15 starts at Darlington Raceway. Last year he started 26th and finished sixth. Stewart's only Darlington DNF came in the 2002 spring race after being collected by a spinning Buckshot Jones. The accident didn't stop there when Stewart’s heavily damaged car then drifted down the track and into the racing groove where he was then T-boned by the car of Jimmy Spencer. Stewart, who ended up with a trip to the hospital after that race, led a career track-high seven laps in that event before the impact. Stewart, who has a 11.9 average finish at Darlington, will make his 331st start in the same car (chassis No. 192) that led a race-high 267 laps at Bristol before finishing 14th.

    9. Greg Biffle: Biffle dominated the 2005 and 2006 races at Darlington Raceway after leading a combined 346 laps en route to two victories. His only other top-10 finish came in the 2003 August race when he led 70 laps before finishing 10th. Biffle also has one win, one pole and six top-10 finishes in the Nationwide Series at Darlington. This weekend Biffle will be racing the same chassis (RK-546) that finished third at Las Vegas.

    10. Carl Edwards: Edwards' finishing average at Darlington Raceway took a major hit in 2006 after he finished 39th when the No. 99 suffered an engine problem. In his two starts prior, Edwards finished seventh and ninth, respectively. He led his first laps (4) at the track in this event in 2005. Last year he led 33 laps en route to his first top five at the track. This weekend Edwards will shoot for his first Darlington win driving the same car (chassis No. RK-540) that won at Auto Club Speedway.

    11. Ryan Newman: In nine starts at Darlington Raceway, Newman has six top-10 finishes, with his best finish of second coming in his second track start on September 1, 2002. In the 2003 fall race, where he sat on the pole for the only time at Darlington, he led 120 of a track total 249 laps before a mishap on pit road caused the team to lose several laps and finish 23rd. After qualifying in the top five in five of his starts, Newman's average start took a big hit last year when he started 29th. This weekend Newman will pilot the same car (chassis No. PRS-552) that finished 14th at Las Vegas.

    12. Kasey Kahne: Kahne has competed in five races at Darlington Raceway. In his first race at Darlington in 2004 he started on the pole and finished 13th. In the next two races he finished fifth and third, respectively, and claimed he claimed his second pole in this event in 2005. Kahne would go out to win one more pole, but has posted an average finish of 20.5 in his last two starts.

    13. Jeff Gordon: Gordon leads all active drivers with seven victories at Darlington Raceway. His most recent win came in this event last year after starting 10th. The only two drivers that stand ahead of Gordon in wins at "The Track too Tough to Tame" are Dale Earnhardt (9) and David Pearson (10). In the 2004 spring race Gordon placed 41st, his worst performance and sixth DNF at Darlington, after he was involved in an accident with Andy Hillenburg on lap 28. That same season he led 155 laps in the fall and finished third after a pit mis-cue under caution cost him a shot at victory in the closing laps. In 2006, Gordon started 12th and led five laps en route to his second consecutive runner-up finish. In 27 Darlington races, Gordon has led in 22 for 1,580 laps, won three poles and holds a 11.8 average finish.

    14. David Ragan: Ragan finished 27th in his first Sprint Cup Series start at Darlington Raceway in 2007. This weekend he will pilot the same car (chassis No. RK-478) that finished 23rd at Atlanta.

    15. Martin Truex Jr: Truex Jr. has a pretty solid career at Darlington Raceway in five career NASCAR starts. His first three starts came in the Nationwide Series where he captured three top fives from 2004-2005. In 2006, he started 39th and finished 14th in his first Darlington race in the Sprint Cup Series. He lowered his average Cup finish to 12.5 with an 11th-place finish last year. In 2004, Truex became the first-ever driver to clinch the Nationwide Series title at Darlington.

    16. Juan Pablo Montoya: Montoya finished 23rd in his first Sprint Cup start at Darlington Raceway in 2007. This weekend Montoya will return in the same car (chassis No. 731) that finished 20th at Auto Club Speedway.

    17. Brian Vickers: Last season, Vickers finished 43rd in his first start at Darlington Raceway after a crash took him out of contention. In his previous four starts with Hendrick Motorsports he posted one top-20 finish.

    18. Bobby Labonte: Labonte has one win (September, 2000) and 11 top 10s in 27 races at Darlington Raceway. He has finished in the top 10 in three of the last six races contested there, including a runner-up finish in 2004. Labonte has one pole (1997) and has led 127 laps at Darlington. His last two starts have come with his current team, Petty Enterprises, where he has posted an average finish of 20.5.

    19. Travis Kvapil: Kvapil will make his return to Darlington Raceway after posting respective finishes of 35th and 30th in 2005 and 2006. This weekend he will make his first track start with Yates Racing. The chassis (No. 464) that Kvapil will be racing is the same one that finished 27th at Bristol.

    20. David Gilliland: Gilliland finished 30th in his first Sprint Cup start at Darlington Raceway in 2007. This weekend he will race a car (chassis No. 458) that has served as a back-up in numerous races this season.

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2008

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