Weekend Preview: Bojangle’s Southern 50

By Blake Smith and Moon Mullins

Thunder Valley, the magic mile, the tricky triangle, the beast of the southeast, the paper clip and the rock…these are some of the nicknames for NASCAR’s most famous tracks. While these tracks are staples to the touring series’, none have as much history as this weekend’s stop in South Carolina. Darlington, known as the ‘Track too tough to tame” and “The Lady in Black” is NASCAR’s most historic track of the series. This weekend 43 of NASCAR’s best will hope to have a date in victory lane with that lady on Saturday night.

After a late finish to Sunday’s race at Talladega, the sanctioning body of NASCAR has had a rather busy week. Their week started on Tuesday with the appeal of Penske Racing in which NASCAR heard the appeal and lessened the severity of their punishment following a pre-race inspection earlier this season at Texas. NASCAR upheld the fines and penalties of the #2 and #22 teams but reduced the team member suspensions from six weeks to two weeks plus the Sprint All-Star Race next week in Charlotte. Kevin Buskirk will serve as temporary crew chief of the #2 team and Steve Reis will be atop the pit box for Joey Logano’s #22 team. Team owner Roger Penske told the media, "Our bench is strong and we have people that can step in for the two crew chiefs … so for me it’ll be business as usual here at Darlington”.

On Wednesday, the first appeal for Joe Gibbs Racing was heard by the appeals panel following a post-race inspection after the race at Kansas. Matt Kenseth’s driver’s point penalty and Joe Gibb’s owners point penalty was reduced from 50 to 12. Joe Gibb’s suspension was eliminated, Kenseth’s win at Kansas will now count for the Chase and crew chief Jason Ratliff’s suspension was reduced from six races to one.

Another driver with an eventful week was Kurt Busch. After flipping during a late race accident at Talladega, Kurt Busch took to the track this week in Indianapolis in an….Indy car? Busch took to the legendary speedway in Ryan Hunter-Reay’s car on Thursday. Busch reached 218 MPH in the Michael Andretti owned car. Busch was the first driver to pass this year’s rookie test at the Brickyard. Busch doesn’t plan to compete in this month’s Indy 500 but he could possibly run a race later in the season for the Andretti owned team.

After running 24 laps in last weekend’s race at Talladega, Denny Hamlin says he is fully healed and ready to dance with the lady in black for the full distance on Saturday night. Hamlin tweeted: "More good news after this weeks scan. Healing is going really good and I'm ready to go the distance this week.”  Hamlin will make his eighth Darlington start on Saturday in the Sport Clips #11 Toyota. "Gosh it’s probably been months since I felt this good. I’m definitely looking forward to going back to racing competition".  This weekend is his first race since he crashed at Auto Club Speedway at Fontana in March.

Forty-three drivers are entered for this weekend’s race, guaranteeing each entry a starting spot for Saturday’s Bojangles’ Southern 500. Teams will participate in two practice sessions on Friday with qualifying on Friday evening. After a rainy Talladega weekend, Mother Nature looks to be in favor of racing this weekend with not a chance of rain in sight in South Carolina for Friday and Saturday, so they won't even need the Air Titans drying system.

The #2 team of Brad Keselowski has elected to bring the same Miller Lite Ford Fusion that they finished 4th with at Phoenix earlier in the season. Kasey Kahne and the #5 team have decided to bring a new chassis to the track this weekend. Tony Stewart will be hoping for a turnaround for his season as he brings the same chassis he finished 3rd with at Darlington in 2012.

Hendrick Motorsports has the most wins at Darlington with 14. Seven of those wins came from the #24 of Jeff Gordon. Gordon, who sets 14th in points is searching for his first win of the season. My pick for this weekend is Jeff Gordon and the #24 team. And, Moon's pick, of course, is Danica Patrick. Dream on.

Tune into Saturday’s coverage of the Bojangles’ Southern 500 beginning at 4:45PM on WBKR and WBKR.com!