Bojangles' Southern 500 Betting News and Notes

Bojangles' Southern 500 Betting News and Notes

Darlington Track Facts


Darlington Raceway Data

Season Race #: 11 of 36 (5-11-13)
Track Size: 1.366-miles
Banking/Turns 1 & 2: 25 degrees
Banking/Turns 3 & 4: 23 degrees
Banking/Frontstretch: 6 degrees
Banking/Backstretch: 6 degrees
Frontstretch Length: 1,229 feet
Backstretch Length: 1,229 feet
Race Length: 367 laps / 501.3 miles

Top 12 Driver Rating at Darlington

Jeff Gordon.............................. 111.8
Greg Biffle................................ 110.5
Denny Hamlin........................... 109.5
Jimmie Johnson........................ 105.7
Kyle Busch.............................. 102.3
Kasey Kahne............................. 98.3
Ryan Newman............................ 97.6
Martin Truex Jr........................... 95.2
Carl Edwards............................. 93.9
Dale Earnhardt Jr....................... 90.4
Tony Stewart............................. 90.0
Matt Kenseth............................. 86.5

Note: Driver Ratings compiled from 2005-2012 races (eight total) among active drivers at Darlington Raceway.

Qualifying/Race Data

2012 pole winner: Greg Biffle, Ford, 180.257 mph, 27.281 secs. 5-10-12

2012 race winner: Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 133.802 mph, (03:45:25), 5-12-12

Track qualifying record: Kasey Kahne, Toyota, 181.254 mph, 27.131 secs. 5-06-11

Track race record: Kyle Busch, Toyota, 140.350 mph, (03:34:14), 5-10-08

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Re: Bojangles' Southern 500 Betting News and Notes

Driver's Tale of the Tape at Darlington


Greg Biffle (No. 16 Meguiars Ford)

· Two wins, two top fives, five top 10s; two poles
· Average finish of 14.0
· Average Running Position of 9.8, third-best
· Driver Rating of 110.5, second-best
· Series-high 283 Fastest Laps Run
· 2,170 Laps in the Top 15 (73.7%), fourth-most
· 249 Quality Passes (passes of cars in the top 15 under green), third-most

Kyle Busch (No. 18 Doublemint Toyota)

· One win, two top fives, four top 10s
· Average finish of 15.5
· Average Running Position of 10.0, fourth-best
· Driver Rating of 102.3, fifth-best
· 470 Green Flag Passes, third-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 159.837 mph, fifth-fastest
· 2,423 Laps in the Top 15 (82.3%), second-most
· Series-high 323 Quality Passes

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet)

· Three top fives, seven top 10s
· Average finish of 15.3
· Average Running Position of 12.6, ninth-best
· Driver Rating of 90.4, 10th-best
· 485 Green Flag Passes, second-most
· 1,911 Laps in the Top 15 (64.9%), ninth-most
· 229 Quality Passes, sixth-most

Carl Edwards (No. 99 Geek Squad Ford)

· Three top fives, six top 10s
· Average finish of 13.1
· Average Running Position of 12.8, 10th-best
· Driver Rating of 93.9, ninth-best
· 149 Fastest Laps Run, seventh-most
· 418 Green Flag Passes, eighth-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 159.490 mph, eighth-fastest
· 2,000 Laps in the Top 15 (68.0%), seventh-most
· 249 Quality Passes, third-most

Jeff Gordon (No. 24 Cromax Pro Chevrolet)

· Seven wins, 18 top fives, 21 top 10s; three poles
· Average finish of 11.8
· Series-best Average Running Position of 8.3
· Series-best Driver Rating of 111.8
· 180 Fastest Laps Run, fourth-most
· Series-best Average Green Flag Speed of 160.041 mph
· Series-high 2,615 Laps in the Top 15 (88.9%)
· 245 Quality Passes, fifth-most

Denny Hamlin (No. 11 Sport Clips Toyota)

· One win, three top fives, six top 10s
· Average finish of 5.9
· Average Running Position of 8.8, second-best
· Driver Rating of 109.5, third-best
· 175 Fastest Laps Run, fifth-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 159.896 mph, third-fastest
· 2,123 Laps in the Top 15 (82.5%), sixth-most
· 229 Quality Passes, sixth-most

Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Emerald Green Chevrolet)

· Three wins, seven top fives, 10 top 10s
· Average finish of 9.1
· Average Running Position of 10.7, fifth-best
· Driver Rating of 105.7, fourth-best
· 210 Fastest Laps Run, second-most
· 453 Green Flag Passes, fifth-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 159.918 mph, second-fastest
· 2,137 Laps in the Top 15 (72.6%), fifth-most
· 227 Quality Passes, eighth-most

Kasey Kahne (No. 5 Time Warner Cable Chevrolet)

· Three top fives, four top 10s; four poles
· Average finish of 13.9
· Average Running Position of 11.1, seventh-best
· Driver Rating of 98.3, sixth-best
· 192 Fastest Laps Run, third-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 159.483 mph, ninth-fastest
· 1,985 Laps in the Top 15 (67.4%), eighth-most

Matt Kenseth (No. 20 Home Depot Husky Toyota)

· One top five, eight top 10s; one pole
· Average finish of 17.5
· Driver Rating of 86.5, 12th-best
· 76 Fastest Laps Run, 11th-most
· 431 Green Flag Passes, seventh-most
· 195 Quality Passes, 12th-most

Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Miller Lite Ford)

· One top five, two top 10s
· Average finish of 9.3
· Driver Rating of 84.5, 13th-best

Ryan Newman (No. 39 Quicken Loans Chevrolet)

· Seven top fives, nine top 10s; one pole
· Average finish of 12.4
· Average Running Position of 11.0, sixth-best
· Driver Rating of 97.6, seventh-best
· Average Green Flag Speed of 159.652 mph, seventh-fastest
· 2,326 Laps in the Top 15 (79.0%), third-most
· 193 Quality Passes, 13th-most

Tony Stewart (No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet)

· Four top fives, 11 top 10s
· Average finish of 11.8
· Average Running Position of 14.1, 11th-best
· Driver Rating of 90.0, 11th-best
· 104 Fastest Laps Run, ninth-most
· Series-high 496 Green Flag Passes
· Average Green Flag Speed of 159.420 mph, 10th-fastest
· 1,813 Laps in the Top 15 (61.6%), 10th-most
· 266 Quality Passes, second-most

Martin Truex Jr. (No. 56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota)

· One top five, three top 10s
· Average finish of 11.3
· Average Running Position of 12.5, eighth-best
· Driver Rating of 95.2, eighth-best
· 115 Fastest Laps Run, eighth-most
· 437 Green Flag Passes, sixth-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 159.673 mph, sixth-fastest
· 215 Quality Passes, ninth-most

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Darlington Raceway Storylines: 2013 Bojangles Southern 500
Nascar.com

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers, after a weekend of white-knuckle, heart-pounding racing at Talladega Superspeedway, could use a breather. Darlington Raceway, on deck, won’t provide it. Not a chance.

Known for its unique egg-shaped layout, cars come to the South Carolina track clean – and leave with the infamous Darlington Stripe after rubbing or smacking the red-and-white wall.

The Stripe is part of history, one that goes all the way back to 1950 when Darlington hosted its first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. It was the first paved superspeedway on the series schedule, and the Southern 500 remains one of NASCAR’s crown jewels.

The title "Southern 500 Champion" guarantees a coveted place in NASCAR history books. From the first winner – Johnny Mantz – to the most recent – Jimmie Johnson – some of NASCAR’s all-time greats have won the Southern 500. Among that all-sport list: Herb Thomas, Curtis Turner, Fireball Roberts, Richard Petty, David Pearson, Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon. And there are, of course, surprise winners who etch their name in the illustrious Darlington history, most recently Regan Smith who won his first – and thus far only – NASCAR Sprint Cup race there in 2011.

Another win by seven-time Darlington winner Gordon would inch him closer to the top of the track’s stacked wins list. And it would come in his 700th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start. Read more about that, along with a number of other key storylines, below.

Gordon To Make Milestone Start; Aims To Continue Climb

On Saturday night at Darlington, Jeff Gordon will make his 700th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start, becoming the 15th driver to reach that milestone. The setting is appropriate, and Gordon’s seven wins at Darlington puts him third on the track’s all-time wins list. He’s not far from the top; David Pearson has 10 wins and Dale Earnhardt has nine.

Surprise, Surprise: Careers Defined By Darlington Win

With his victory in 2011, Regan Smith joined an exclusive list of drivers who earned their first career win at Darlington Raceway. In all, six drivers have done it: Smith, inaugural winner Johnny Mantz, Nelson Stacy, Larry Frank, Terry Labonte and Lake Speed. The unfortunate part about that list: Only Labonte and Stacy went on to win more races. Who could threaten to win their first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race this weekend? Maybe Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who had three starts in the NASCAR Nationwide Series at Darlington, with two top-10 finishes.

Ragan Latest To Join All-Star Foray

With his stunning win in at Talladega on Sunday (his second career win in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series), David Ragan punched his ticket to the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race. With the annual non-points event two weeks away, this Saturday night is the last opportunity of the "win and get in" variety. Some big names – Danica Patrick, Juan Pablo Montoya, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Martin Truex Jr. and Jeff Burton – are still on the outside looking in. If those not already locked in don’t win at Darlington, they can still earn a berth in the race via the Sprint Showdown or the Sprint Fan Vote on NASCAR.com and NASCAR Mobile ’13.

Hamlin Becomes "Full Time" Driver Again

Denny Hamlin officially re-entered the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series last Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway, starting the race and then giving up the seat to Brian Vickers. But this weekend, he’ll race the entire event, signaling the end of a five-week recovery from back injury. Hamlin officially missed four races. In his absence, Mark Martin raced his No. 11 Toyota to a 10th-place finish at Martinsville, and Brian Vickers finished eighth, 31st and 35th at Texas, Kansas and Richmond, respectively. Hamlin’s absence dropped him to 31st in the points, 125 points behind 10th and 76 points behind 20th. Hamlin’s hopes to make the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup aren’t completely dashed. If he wins some races and sneaks back into the top 20, he could qualify for a Wild Card berth.

Take 2: Danica Patrick Makes Second Trip To Darlington

Danica Patrick took on an ambitious schedule last year, her first foray into NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition. Darlington was part of that challenging part-time slate. Last year, she finished 31st at Darlington, in only her second NASCAR Sprint Cup start. Now a full-time competitor in NASCAR’s premier series, Patrick has a top finish of eighth at Daytona and is 27th in points.

Happy Anniversary: Ten Years Pass Since Closest Finish

The number alone – .002 – evokes memories of beating and banging at one of NASCAR’s most historic tracks. That was the difference in seconds between winner Ricky Craven and second-place finisher Kurt Busch at the finish line on March 16, 2003, still the closest finish since the advent of electronic timing and scoring in 1993. That number has been matched since then, at Talladega on April 17, 2011, when Jimmie Johnson edged Clint Bowyer.

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Bojangles Southern 500 Preview
By Micah Roberts
VegasInsider.com

We may not see a 100-to-1 payout this week at Darlington Raceway like we saw Sunday at Talladega when the low budget car driven by David Ragan beat all the heavyweights, but precedent has been set before that gives some semblance of hope that there could be. Two seasons ago, Regan Smith shocked the NASCAR world with a Darlington win that paid out 500-to-1 at the LVH Super Book.

If looking at who's win was more shocking, its easily Smith's simply because restrictor-plate racing at places like Talladega allow for up to 35 drivers to have a legitimate shot. At Darlington, the track "Too Tough to Tame" called "The Lady in Black", we go back to racing where the elite teams are supposed to have a considerable edge. In Smith's case, he ran the perfect race and "The Lady" was in a forgiving mood.

Darlington is the oldest track on the NASCAR circuit, running races annually since 1950. It's the toughest track on tour for the drivers to navigate because of it's 1.366 mile configuration with four drastically different turns. There is no other track to compare it to, which makes it not only hard for the drivers to adapt to each time out, but also for the crew chiefs to set up their cars properly.

Whoever makes the proper adjustment during the Friday practice sessions and during Saturday night's race, will have an edge. Coming into this race with the new Gen-6 car, there are up to 16 drivers that have a legitimate shot at winning. Smith proved a long-shot can win, and we have seen drivers like Ricky Craven (40/1) and Ward Burton (25/1) win there among giants, but Darlington wins are usually reserved for the elite.

From a horsepower and handling standpoint, you could look at the top performers from the races already run on 1.5-mile tracks at Las Vegas, Kansas and Texas to get a head start on handicapping the race, which immediately takes us to the Joe Gibbs drivers.

The first driver to begin with is Denny Hamlin, who returned to the track last week at Talladega, but only raced the first 23 laps before turning the car over to Brian Vickers. Hamlin made the start to get driver points, and is still dealing with an injured back.

Over his career at Darlington, Hamlin has the top average finish among active drivers (5.9), including a 2010 win. This would appear to be a track that he could capture a win and start his quest to getting back in the top-20 in points. Hamlin's goal for the next 16 races before the Chase starts will be to try and get the most wins possible. The bad news for Hamlin is that Darlington is a lot tougher on a back than Talladega is.

Next up on the Joe Gibbs list is Kyle Busch, who won at Darlington during his magical 2008 season. He finished fourth last year and has two wins already through 10 races this season. Matt Kenseth, on the other hand, has had a tough go of it at Darlington over his career. "The Lady in Black" has forced him to a 17.5 average finish over his 19 career starts, with only one top-5 over that span.

Jimmie Johnson is a three-time winner with a 9.1 average finish and will be considered the favorite with Busch this week.

Jeff Gordon has seven Darlington wins, the last coming in 2007, and will be starting his 700th Cup race of his career.

"I've been fortunate to race this long and have the type of career I've had," said Gordon. "It's really cool to see that this will be my 700th start, but it's not something I really paid attention to.

"It's hard to believe I've run that many - especially consecutively."

Before NASCAR pulled the rug from the track as being considered one of most special races, Gordon had won four straight Southern 500's, something no one before had ever done. Not Richard Petty, and not even South Carolina natives David Pearson or Cale Yarborough.

Brad Keselowski, Carl Edwards and Martin Truex, Jr. have all shown a special ability on the track that most others haven't, making them candidates to win. Tony Stewart would be a candidate if his car wasn't so slow on the horse-power type of tracks, because he's always fared well there despite never winning.

Top-5 Finish Prediction:

1) #18 Kyle Busch (6/1)
2) #99 Carl Edwards (12/1)
3) #48 Jimmie Johnson (6/1)
4) #11 Denny hamlin (8/1)
5) #24 Jeff Gordon (12/1)

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NASCAR Sprint Cup Odds
By: The Linemakers 
Sportingnews.com

LAS VEGAS -- The LVH SuperBook has installed Kyle Busch as the 5-to-1 favorite to win the Bojangles' Southern 500 Saturday night at Darlington Raceway. The 1.336-mile track is nicknamed “Too Tough to Tame” and the “Lady in Black”. The Lady has been kind to Busch over his career -- he won there in 2008 -- but she’s also made Busch feel her wrath with a couple of finishes 34th or lower.

Darlington is NASCAR’s oldest track, giving Johnny Mantz its first checkered flag in 1950. It’s been running strong ever since, challenging drivers to the highest degree among any current track on the Sprint Cup circuit. Superstars like Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth have never won at Darlington, an indication of how tough the Lady is.

This week's event will be the 220th Cup race in the track's history. Jimmie Johnson won last year's Bojangles' Southern 500, his third career win at Darlington. Johnson is 6-to-1 to win this week.

Part of what makes the Lady so tough is the two vastly different ends of the track. The banking is steep at both, but they feature different degrees. All four turns present separate challenges for the drivers, and Busch says the track is getting closer to the way it used to be.

"I’m hearing that the track color has changed a little bit more with another year for the surface to mature," said Busch in his weekly press release, "so maybe the grip level is not going to be old Darlington, but something similar.”

Jeff Gordon has had one of the more storied careers in Darlingtion Raceway history with seven wins. He‘ll be making his 700th Cup start this week.

“I’ve been fortunate to race this long and have the type of career I’ve had,” said Gordon. “It’s really cool to see that this will be my 700th start, but it’s not something I really paid attention to.

“It’s hard to believe I’ve run that many -- especially consecutively.”

It's also hard to believe Gordon hasn't won here since 2007 because he has gotten along with the Lady better than most. She let Gordon win four straight Southern 500s from 1995-98 when the event was held on Labor Day weekend and was considered one of the biggest wins in NASCAR. He's finished fifth or better in seven of his last nine Darlington races.

“They repaved Darlington a few years back, so it’s not the same track it used to be 10 years ago,” said Gordon, who is 12-to-1 this week, “But it’s still one of those tracks where you have to push hard but be patient.

“And it’s still one of those tracks you must respect.”

The longest shot to ever win a NASCAR race happened in 2011 at Darlington when Regan Smith shocked the racing world with his first career win that paid out 500-to-1 at the LVH. Prior to that, most Darlington wins have come from elite teams and drivers. You have to go back to Ricky Craven paying out at 40-to-1 in 2003 to find any driver winning at over 25-to-1 odds.

This is the 10th anniversary of Craven beating Kurt Busch in one of the most epic finishes in NASCAR history, where they beat and banged fenders through every turn, side-by-side, for the final laps until Busch lost by .002 of a second. Busch is now driving the No. 78 car Smith used to get his win, and is 50-to-1 to finish ahead of the pack this week.

Busch is an interesting look because he has shown to be very competitive on every type of track. He finished fourth at Bristol and followed it up with a fifth-place finish the next week at Fontana. It would be a great story to see that team win again, and for Busch to finally get vindication with a win 10 years after his famous runner-up finish.

David Ragan paid out at 100-to-1 for his win at Talladega last week. This week at Darlington, he’s 1,000-to-1 which should give some kind of indication of the track’s difficult nature.

Danica Patrick and the Lady didn’t get along when they first met last season. She started 38th and finished 31st. Patrick is 500-to-1 this week. At Talladega, she was 35-to-1. The best finish by a woman at Darlington was in 1977 when Janet Guthrie was 16th.

Denny Hamlin, listed at 8-to-1 as he recovers from a back injury, is scheduled to run the entire race this week. Darlington is tougher on the body than Talladega, where he switched with Brian Vickers after 23 laps. Under normal circumstances, Hamlin would be the favorite to win Saturday night. He’s the active leader with a 5.9 average finish at Darlington, he won here in 2010 and finished second last season.

Other drivers that figure to have a good showing this week are Martin Truex Jr. (12-1), Carl Edwards (10-1), Greg Biffle (12-1) and Mark Martin (50-1).

Friday’s practices and qualifying will be pivotal, more so than for other tracks. Because there is no other layout like Darlington on the tour, everyone will be scrambling to acquire the most data they can and making rapid adjustments on pit stops. Some teams will already have an edge with their notes, but if the track is changing as Busch and Gordon say, new notes will be needed.

We'll have an update Friday on what transpires during those all-important practices.

Here's a complete look at all of the LVH's odds to win Saturday night:

KYLE BUSCH 5-1
JIMMIE JOHNSON 6-1
MATT KENSETH 6-1
KASEY KAHNE 8-1
DENNY HAMLIN 8-1
CARL EDWARDS 10-1
BRAD KESELOWSKI 12-1
GREG BIFFLE 12-1
JEFF GORDON 12-1
MARTIN TRUEX JR 12-1
CLINT BOWYER 18-1
KEVIN HARVICK 18-1
DALE EARNHARDT JR 20-1
TONY STEWART 25-1
JOEY LOGANO 30-1
MARK MARTIN 50-1
RICKY STENHOUSE JR 50-1
KURT BUSCH 50-1
JAMIE McMURRAY 50-1
JUAN MONTOYA 75-1
RYAN NEWMAN 100-1
PAUL MENARD 100-1
MARCOS AMBROSE 100-1
ARIC ALMIROLA 100-1
JEFF BURTON 300-1
TREVOR BAYNE 300-1
REGAN SMITH 300-1
DANICA PATRICK 500-1
DAVID RAGAN 1000-1
FIELD 30-1

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Re: Bojangles' Southern 500 Betting News and Notes

Driver Handicaps: Darlington
By: Jeff Wackerlin
Racingone.com

To help you make your fantasy racing picks, MotorRacingNetwork.com brings you our weekly analysis to help steer you toward Saturday night's Bojangles' Southern 500.

Who's HOT at Darlington

• Jeff Gordon leads all drivers in wins (7) and laps led (1,720).
• Denny Hamlin, winner of the 2010 race, leads all drivers with a 5.9 average finish.
• Jimmie Johnson, the defending race winner, leads all drivers in average finish (8.3) that have competed in the last 10 races.
• Kyle Busch has scored three top 10s, which includes a win in 2008, and has led 322 laps in his last five starts.
• Martin Truex Jr. (10.8) and Tony Stewart (11.4) each rank in the top five in average finish among all drivers that have competed in the five races since the track was resurfaced.
• Kasey Kahne and Carl Edwards each have finished in the top 10 in their last two starts.

Who to Keep an Eye On at Darlington

• Mark Martin has yet to finish in the top 10 in his last three starts, but he's the winner of the 2009 race and leads all drivers with 26 top 10s.
• Greg Biffle, winner of two races with the Gen-4 car, is second among all drivers in the Driver Ratings.
• Brad Keselowski (will have new crew chief) has posted a 9.3 average finish in four starts at Darlington.
• Matt Kenseth, who will make his first Darlington start with Joe Gibbs Racing, has led the most laps this season with the Gen-6 car.
• Ryan Newman has finished in the top 10 in three of his four Darlington starts with Stewart-Haas Racing.
• Paul Menard and Juan Pablo Montoya were among the drivers the participated in the Goodyear tire test at Darlington.
• Aric Almirola is the only driver to bring four consecutive top 10s on the season into Darlington.
• Jamie McMurray - 2010 pole winner - has finished in the top 10 in two of his last three Darlington starts.
• 2011 winner Regan Smith will be back behind the wheel of the No. 51 for Phoenix Racing.

MotorRacingNetwork.com Staff Picks

Jeff Wackerlin: Martin Truex Jr.
Pete Pistone: Kyle Busch
Dustin Long: Kasey Kahne
John Singler: Kyle Busch

Top 20 Driver Notes - Ordered by current standings

(All stats/notes are in regards to Darlington unless noted)

Jimmie Johnson: Coming off third win in 14 starts; Second-best average finish (9.1); Seventh-best average finish (13.4) among all drivers that have competed in the last five races since the track was resurfaced; Will return in the same chassis (No. 728) that he finished sixth with at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway.

Carl Edwards: 13.1 average finish in nine starts; Has led 57 laps and posted a 4.5 average finish in last two starts; Fourth-best average finish (11.6) among all drivers that have competed in the last five races since the track was resurfaced; Participated in the Goodyear tire test in February; Will return in the same chassis (No. 806) that he finished 18th with at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Dale Earnhardt Jr: 16.0 average finish in five starts with Hendrick Motorsports; Led 35 laps and finished fourth with HMS in 2008; 15.3 average finish in 18 starts; Will return in the same chassis (No. 745) that he finished sixth with at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Matt Kenseth: Coming off eighth top 10 in 19 starts; Sixth-best average finish (12.0) among all drivers that have competed in the last five races since the track was resurfaced; Will make first track start with Joe Gibbs Racing; Has led the most laps (764) this season with the Gen-6 car.

Clint Bowyer: Finished 11th last year in first track start with Michael Waltrip Racing; 22.6 average finish in seven starts; Only top 10 (ninth) came from the pole in 2007 with Richard Childress Racing.

Brad Keselowski: Third-best average finish (9.2); Best finish (third) came in 2011; Will have Kevin Buskirk as crew chief as Paul Wolfe serves a suspension; Will return in the same chassis (No. 838) that he finished fourth with at Phoenix International Raceway.

Kasey Kahne: Finished eighth last season in first track start with Hendrick Motorsports; Has combined to lead 157 laps and post an average finish of 6.0 in last two starts; Ninth-best average finish (15.4) among all drivers that have competed in the last five races since the track was resurfaced; Will debut a new chassis (No. 739) in the Bojangles' Southern 500.

Aric Almirola: Finished 19th in first track start last season; Will be seeking his fifth consecutive top 10 of the season; Will return in the same chassis (No. 839) that he finished 14th with at Auto Club Speedway.

Paul Menard: Has yet to finish in the top 10 in six starts; Coming off best finish in 13th; Participated in the Goodyear tire test in February; Will return in the same chassis (No. 414) that he finished eighth with at Auto Club Speedway.

Kyle Busch: Winner of the 2008 race; Tied for the third-best average finish (11.4) and has led the most laps (322) among all drivers that have competed in the last five races since the track was resurfaced; Finished fourth last season.

Greg Biffle: Winner of the 2005 and 2006 race with the Gen-4 car; Defending event pole winner; Has combined to lead 286 laps on the current track surface; Will return in the same chassis (No. 809) that he finished 10th with last fall at Texas Motor Speedway.

Kevin Harvick: Only top 10 (sixth) in last nine starts came in 2010; His two top-five finishes came with the Gen-4 car; Will return in the same chassis (No. 383) that he finished last finished 13th with at Phoenix International Raceway.

Martin Truex Jr: 11.3 average finish in three starts with Michael Waltrip Racing; Second-best average finish (10.8) among all drivers that have competed in the last five races since the track was resurfaced; Participated in the Goodyear tire test in February.

Jeff Gordon: Leads all drivers with seven wins; Has finished in the top five in seven of the last nine races; Fifth-best average finish (11.8) among all drivers that have competed in the last five races since the track was resurfaced.

Jamie McMurray: Won the pole and finished second in his first track start in an Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Chevrolet in 2010; 15.0 average finish in three starts with EGR; 16.1 average finish in 12 overall starts.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr: Making first Sprint Cup track start; Will return in the same chassis (No. 815) that he finished 20th with at Auto Club Speedway.

Ryan Newman: 10.3 average finish in four starts with Stewart-Haas Racing; 10th-best average finish (15.4) among all drivers that have competed in the last five races since the track was resurfaced; Will return in the same chassis (No. 733) that he finished 14th with at Kansas Speedway.

Joey Logano: Coming off second top 10 in four starts; making first track start with Penske Racing; Will have Steve Reis as crew chief as Todd Gordon serves a suspension; Will return in the same chassis (No. 839) that he finished 26th with at Phoenix International Raceway.

Jeff Burton: 14.9 average finish in nine starts with Richard Childress Racing; Last of two wins came back in 1999 with R0ush Racing; Will return in the same chassis (No. 416) that he last finished 23rd with at Texas Motor Speedway.

Kurt Busch: 17.4 average finish in 16 starts; Last of five top 10s (third) came in 2010 with Penske Racing; Making first track start with Furniture Row Racing.

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Bojangles Southern 500 Post-Practice Betting Notes
By: Micah Roberts   
Sportingnews.com

It would only seem fitting that Kurt Busch would be the pole sitter for Saturday night's Bojangles Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. Not only is Busch reliving 10-year anniversary memories from his classic runner-up finish to Ricky Craven from 2003, but he's also driving a car with some historical significance. Significant, at least to the people in Las Vegas.

When Regan Smith drove the No. 78 to a stunning upset win at Darlington in 2011, it was the highest payout ever for a NASCAR race in Las Vegas. A few lucky bettors who had the foresight to believe Smith had a chance in that race got paid out at 500-to-1 odds.

This week, Busch's odds are listed at only 40-to-1, but he's shown over the course of 2013 that his underfunded Denver Mattress team can compete with the elite teams on a regular basis. On Friday, he was fastest in the final practice session -- while in qualifying trim -- and then laid down the fastest lap in qualifying at 181.918 to set a new track record.

We're not quite sure if Busch can recreate some of that magic from 2003 -- still his best finish at Darlington -- or match what Smith did in 2011, but he did crack our top-10 list of drivers this week for the first time all season. His quality practices this season haven't just been in qualifying trim, either. He's transferred all of his good practices over into great race-day performances.

Of the two practice sessions run on Friday afternoon, the first session should be considered the most important when trying to identify who might be the winner Saturday night. The final session was run with lots of mock-qualifying runs where only four drivers attempted 10-consecutive laps or more. But in the early session, 18 drivers ran 10-consecutive laps.

It's also important to note that none of the conditions run under on Friday will be relevant to what they'll see Saturday night when the track is much cooler. There will be all kinds of in-race adjustments during pit stops, and whoever does it the best will win.

Drivers we came away impressed with during the practices were Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr. and Dale Earnhardt Jr., none of whom have ever won at Darlington, which should sound be an alarm. Some drivers just aren't made up to win at Darlington, while others thrive there. Those three are in some good company on non-winners at Darlington, such as past champions like Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch.

We also liked what we saw out of Jamie McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya during practices. McMurray was third in the early session and Montoya eighth in happy hour. They both had excellent practices at Kansas, the last 1.5-mile track ran on. Even though Darlington is nothing like Kansas, we can use the similarities strictly with required horsepower. This is a team that is getting better, and more importantly, faster, but let's see if they can run well the entire race before we start betting on them.

On the basis of power on the 1.5-mile tracks, along with decent practices and a 2008 Darlington win under his belt, Kyle Busch has been posted as the top-rated driver. His odds opened at 5-to-1 and have been dropped to 9-to-2 as the co-favorite along with three-time Darlington winner Jimmie Johnson.

Jeff Gordon gets high marks just because he knows better than anyone how to gain speed in the late stages of runs. He saves his tires better than anyone at Darlington, and it's helped him win seven times. We also like that this will be the 700th start of his Cup career, a milestone that will have his team pumped more than ever to get him a win. His car is pretty good, too.

Kevin Harvick was a driver we thought would do well this week even though he has an 18.8 average finish. We like when drivers are using chassis that have had success, and Harvick is using a chassis this week that won at Phoenix last season. During practices, however, we found ourselves liking his teammate Paul Menard much better. Menard was fastest in the first practice session and also had the fastest 10-consecutive lap average.

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