The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Driver Handicaps : Darlington by Matt McLaughlin -- Wednesday May 9, 2007

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Matt McLaughlin's Driver Handicaps : Darlington

Matt McLaughlin · Wednesday May 9, 2007


Jeff Gordon- Gordon's record at Darlington is nothing short of astounding. He's won six races here, including four consecutive Southern 500s (RIP). In 26 career Cup starts, Gordon has posted Top 5 results fourteen times, including top three finishes in the last three Cup events at this track. En route to compiling these stats, Gordon has led a mind-boggling 1558 laps at Darlington. Oh, and this is one of them Car of Tomorrow races. Bonus!

Jimmie Johnson- Johnson won both races here in 2004, and has Top 10 finishes in seven of his eight career Cup starts at Darlington. He's averaging a seventh place finish in those eight races to date.

Matt Kenseth- Kenseth has struggled mightily here. His third place finish here last year was his first Top 5 result in thirteen starts, and his average finish in those thirteen races is about twentieth.

Denny Hamlin- Hamlin finished tenth in this race last year. His style reminds me of David Pearson. Like Pearson, Hamlin tends to hang back early in the race only to emerge running up front late in the event…and David Pearson had a ton of success here. Given the Gibbs team prowess, if not results, in this year’s CoT races, you might be looking at the perfect storm for the No. 11 team this weekend.

Jeff Burton- Check the weather forecast for a clue as to how Burton might do Saturday night. He won both races here in 1999, and in both events, the races ended prematurely due to rain. In one instance, Burton's car was so badly damaged on a last lap wreck, had the race restarted, it was doubtful he'd have been able to even make a single parade lap. Overall, Burton's average finish here in 24 starts in a none-too-shabby twelfth.

Kyle Busch- Busch did finish seventh here last year and driving for Rick Hendrick in a CoT race is an advantage, but my gut tells me this guys’ bells are still ringing after a lot of savage hits last month.

Tony Stewart- Stewart has run well here, but not phenomenally well. He has Top 10 finishes in half of his fourteen Cup starts here but just two Top 5 results…and he's led just two of those races.

Kevin Harvick- Harvick finished second in the last Southern 500 (RIP). But he's finished 32nd and 37th in two of the last three Cup races run at Darlington, and this is one of those odd tracks where Harvick hasn't even won a Busch race.

Kurt Busch- While Busch finished second in the 2003 Darlington spring race, that was his only Top 5 finish in ten Cup starts here. His average finish in those ten starts is nineteenth.

Clint Bowyer- Bowyer managed only a 23rd place result here last year. I think he'll run better than that, perhaps even within the Top 10, but a victory has to be considered an extreme longshot.

Carl Edwards- Edwards has started three Cup races at the Lady In Black and unfortunately has finished worse than the previous time in each of them. Considering he managed only a 39th place finish here last year, he doesn't have much further to drop.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.- Junior's fifth place finish here last year was his second Top 5 result in twelve Darlington Cup starts. He has Top 10 results in a total of five of those twelve races. In 1998, Earnhardt did finish second here in a Busch race, trailing Dick Trickle by inches, but ahead of Mike McLaughlin. Dick Trickle? Mike McLaughlin? Wow, a lot has changed in a decade. This isn't your Father's NASCAR anymore this Mother's Day weekend.

Jamie McMurray- McMurray has run hot and cold here. He has three Top 6 finishes in six Darlington Cup starts, offset by three finishes outside the Top 20. His 42nd place finish in this race last year was the nadir of his Darlington Cup career.

Mark Martin- Martin has done very well at Darlington, a track that fits his old school sensibilities. He's run forty Cup races here, has won one, finished in the Top 5 sixteen times, and in the Top 10 a total of 25 times. In the last four Cup races, Martin has four Top 10s including a second place result here in 2004. And in the Busch Series, Martin has stomped the field, posting eight wins in 27 starts. Too tough to tame? Not for this guy.

Greg Biffle- Biffle has won the last two Cup races run at Darlington. Considering he's also won a Busch race here, look for him to be a player this weekend if Jack Roush can get these Cars of Tomorrow sorted out.

Elliott Sadler- Sadler finished second here in 2002, but that was one of just two Top 5 results he's managed in fourteen Cup starts at Darlington. In those fourteen races, he's combined to lead just twelve laps, all of them in a single race.

David Stremme- Stremme finished 25th in this race last year during his only Cup start at the Track Too Tough to Tame.

Bobby Labonte- Labonte won here in 2000 and finished second in 1996 and 2004. Overall, he's shown above average Darlington competence with an average finish in 26 Cup starts here of fifteenth.

*Ryan Newman*- Newman has Top 10 finishes in three of the last four Cup races run at the Lady In Black.

Martin Truex Jr.- Truex finished fourteenth here last year in Darlington’s Cup race. On a brighter note, Truex has scored Top 4 finishes in all three of his Busch series starts at the track.

Others to Watch

Kasey Kahne- Kahne won a Truck Series race here in 2004; guess I was absent that day. Kahne has also won the pole for three of the four Cup races he's started here, and has Top 5 results in two of those four races.

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