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Martin Tames Darlington
DARLINGTON, S.C. -- The oldest driver in the 43-car field showed the young whippersnappers a thing or two Saturday night at fabled, old Darlington Raceway.
He won the race. Fifty-year-old Mark Martin, a throwback to the old days, charged home ahead of three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson and other younger drivers to win the Southern 500, a 367-lap marathon on what is known as NASCAR's toughest track.
Martin, an ageless racing junkie who tried to retire a couple years ago but couldn't, won the race in style, pulling away from Johnson at the end.
Physically fit and pumped up for the season in a Hendrick Chevrolet, Martin ran with the big dogs up front all night, keeping his car in one piece and saving the best for last.
It was a record-setting night for cautions under a full South Carolina moon. Seventeen times the caution waved as driver after driver made contact with Darlington's famous walls. Most of them didn't just get a Darlington Stripe as is the norm for this 1.366-mile, egg-shaped oval. They hit hard enough to take the paint off the whole right side of the car.
It was a typical full-moon, Saturday night spectacle with the second-oldest track in NASCAR taking a larger-than-usual number of prisoners, including race leader Greg Biffle, who wound up eighth after leading many of the 367 laps before spinning after hitting the wall with 70 laps to go. It speaks to the talent of Biffle to pull off a top-10 finish after his run-in with the wall.
Trailing Martin and Johnson, who had a few problems of his own, including losing a lap on a lengthy pit stop after getting turned head-on into his pit stall. He lost a lap as a result and had to make it up.
Stewart Haas Racing teammates (left to right) Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman share a laugh after Saturday's Southern 500 in which
they finished third and fourth respectively. Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR
Tony Stewart finished third, just ahead of teammate Ryan Newman, another race leader. The third-fourth finish position for the Stewart-Haas cars speaks volumes of Stewart as the circuit's newest owner-driver.
Jeff Gordon, a four-time champion who has won seven times at Darlington, finished fifth. Another race leader was sixth, Martin Truex, Jr. Talladega winner Brad Keselowski wound up seventh ahead of Biffle. Rookie Joey Logano was ninth and Matt Kenseth finished 10th.
Jeff Gordon congratulations Hendrick Motorsports teammate Mark Martin and crew chief Alan Gustafson in Darlington Raceway's
Victory Lane... Photo Credit: Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR
Martin, one of NASCAR's longest-running superstars, was greeted afterwards with a thundering roar from the crowd of more than 70,000, who obviously appreciated Martin's unbelievable run on a muggy night when most men his age would be out of breath if they walked a mile, much less race 500 miles. Martin proved once again he still has what it takes to get the job done.
His performance certainly makes him one of the favored drivers to make the 12-car Sprint Cup Chase field this season. Martin moved up four spots to 11th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings. Gordon held on to the point lead, with a 29-point advantage over Stewart. Kurt Busch, Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Jeff Burton, Kyle Busch, Newman, Biffle and Kenseth round out the top 10 with Carl Edwards in 12th.
There was an early caution, as usual, at this old track but none of the cars involved received any serious damage.
Sam Hornish Jr., who normally would be racing at Indianapolis this weekend where he won the Indy 500 in 2006, was making his presence known. Hornish qualified 10th and was running in ninth when the second caution fell at lap 22. Michael Waltrip spun out of turn four after Carl Edwards bounced off the wall in front of him.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., one of the cars pitting under this caution, missed his box and lost a little time when his crew had to push him backwards.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. spins on the frontstretch, bringing out a track record-setting 17th and final caution flag at lap 344... Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR
Another caution fell on lap 31 when a multi-car spin sent Casey Mears to the garage for repairs. AJ Allmindinger was also involved.
When the green flag waved on lap 37, Newman was out front with Johnson, Kahne and Biffle just behind. Kenseth and Gordon were next, followed by Truex, Martin, McMurray and Kyle Busch.
There was plenty of racing going on behind the lead pack also.
Rookie Logano was battling Hornish for 11th spot and Stewart was pressuring them. Harvick, Reutimann, Vickers, Burton, Sadler, Ragan and Talladega winner Brad Keslowski were pouring on the coals to get to the front.
Waltrip brought out another caution at lap 75 when the engine in his Toyota detonated with a fiery bang, shooting fire behind his spinning car, which looked like a shooting star against the black asphalt backdrop.
Defending Southern 500 winner Kyle Busch was not able to chase the checkered flag in the '09 edition after brushing the wall...
Photo Credit: Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR
When racing resumed, it was Kahne in the lead with Truex on his tail. Newman's team loosened his Dodge up so much, he had a hard time handling it and dropped out of the top 10.
Hornish's "dream" night came to a spinning halt on lap 118 when he banged off the outside wall. This was the fifth caution, and the race wasn't halfway yet. Biffle held the lead for the restart after some nifty pitwork by his team. Stewart was second and Truex third.
Kahne was next, followed by McMurray, Kenseth, Martin, Newman, Reutimann and Kyle Busch.
A spin by hard-luck Denny Hamlin brought out another caution at just under 170 laps. When the green fell again, it was still Biffle in front with Stewart second. Kahne was third. At this point in the race, it appeared to be Biffle's night as he put some daylight between himself and Stewart.
At halfway, 184 laps, it was Biffle, Kahne, Stewart, Truex, McMurray, Reutimann, Kyle Busch, Newman, Burton and Logano.
A spin by David Ragan brought out another caution just past halfway.
Unofficial Race Results click here
Post-Race Driver Point Standings click here
NASCAR Newscast - Darlington Review click here
Former Darlington winners take a picture before the start of Saturday's race, including: (left to right) Kyle Busch, Greg Biffle,
Jimmie Johnson, Bobby Allison, Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin, Lake Speed, Bobby Labonte, Buddy Baker, Jeff Burton, Cale Yarborough
(with his grandchildren), Sterling Marlin, David Pearson, Richard Petty, Ned Jarrett and Junior Johnson. Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR
Green Flag Fast Facts
The Race: Southern 500 Presented by GoDaddy.com
The Place: Darlington Raceway (1.366-mile oval)
The Date: Saturday, May 9
Race Distance: 500 miles/367 laps
TV: FOX & TSN, 8 p.m. AT
Radio: MRN and Sirius Satellite
2008 Polesitter: Kyle Busch
2008 Winner: Greg Biffle
Schedule: (All times local ET) Friday–Practice, 11:30 a.m.–1 p.m., Final Practice, 1:30–3 p.m., Qualifying, 5:10 p.m.
Year-To-Date Results & Point Standings click here
TV Broadcast Times*
Practice: Friday May 8 at 12:30 p.m./SPEED
Final Practice: Friday May 8 at 2:30 p.m./SPEED
Qualifying Time Trials: Friday May 8 at 6 p.m./SPEED
RaceDay, Pre-Race Show: Saturday May 9 at 6 p.m./SPEED
FOX Pre-Race Show: Saturday May 9 at 8 p.m./FOX & TSN
Race: Saturday May 9 at 8:35 p.m./FOX & TSN
*Times shown are AT - one hour ahead of ET, i.e. if it's 2 p.m./AT - it's 1 p.m./ET...
Practice, Qualifying, Starting Lineup & More...
||Matt Kenseth won the Coors Light Pole Award for the Southern 500 with a lap of 27.394 seconds,
179.514 mph -- a track qualifying record.
Complete Starting Lineup click here
- This is his fourth pole in 339 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races.
- This is his first pole and third top-10 start in 2009.
- This is his first pole in 16 races at Darlington Raceway.
- Jeff Gordon (second) posted his eighth top-10 start of 2009 and his 23rd in 29 races at Darlington
- Ryan Newman (third) posted his eighth top-10 start at Darlington Raceway. It is his fourth in 11 races
- Joey Logano (fifth) was the fastest qualifying rookie.
- Drivers that failed to qualify include: Jeremy Mayfield and Scott Speed.
NASCAR Newscast - Darlington Preview click here
*Does not reflect adjustments that may be made prior to the race start because of the cars that need to go
to the rear of the field due to engine and/or transmission changes or practice wrecks...
- Kyle Busch Has 50 Reasons To Take A Bow...As he stood atop his Indiana Jones-themed car, surrounded by smoke from his victory burnout, Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&M’s Toyota) bowed to the fans at Darlington Raceway.
It wasn’t the first time Busch took a bow after a win, but was the first time “The Bow” beckoned a reporter to ask about it during post-race interviews.
The question was simple – “What’s with this bow?”
The answer was simpler – “I don’t know. It’s, thank you very much.”
When prodded for a longer response, Busch answered, “I mean, the good burnout, then I can't get out of the car fast enough, man. I need to work on that... Then I'm up on top, I appear, then I do a bow, thank you very much, then I go on and have a nice day. I'm trying to get more smoke built up before I get out. I'm working on it.”
Busch wasn’t lying when he said he was working on it.
In 36 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races since that day, Busch has nine victories. Add in 10 NASCAR Nationwide Series wins (in only 27 starts) and three NASCAR Camping World Truck Series wins, and Busch has had plenty of opportunities to perfect his now trademark bow.
His bow after Saturday night’s Richmond win came with some added meaning – the win came on his 24th birthday, making Busch the second driver in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series history to win on his birthday. It was also his 50th career victory across NASCAR’s three national series, putting Busch one-quarter of the way to his goal of 200 national series wins.
“Hopefully I can achieve the goal,” Busch said Saturday night. “I know it’s not 200 (NASCAR Sprint) Cup victories like Richard Petty has. It will still be a phenomenal mark for me.”
The win also tied Busch with Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) as the only drivers under 25 to reach 15 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series wins. A repeat win this weekend at Darlington would be ideal for Busch and especially crew chief Steve Addington, who hails from Spartanburg, S.C.
“Anytime you win in your home state is special,” Addington said. “It’s been a place I always wanted to win. To finally get that win last year in the (NASCAR Sprint) Cup Series was really exciting. It’s just a neat deal to win a race so close to home.”
- Stewart-Haas Racing On Verge Of Victory Lane...When Tony Stewart (No. 14 Old Spice Chevrolet) made the decision to leave championship-caliber Joe Gibbs Racing to start his own team last season, many skeptics whispered that it would be years before Stewart made another trip to Victory Lane. After all, Haas CNC Racing, the team Stewart took over, had competed in 284 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races and had one top-five finish to show for it. Apparently Stewart wasn’t listening to the grim outlook.
Almost one-third of the way into Stewart’s first season as owner/driver of Stewart-Haas Racing, Stewart is third in the standings and a few breaks away from a trip to Victory Lane. Teammate Ryan Newman (No. 39 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet) is 10th, both in Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup contention. Stewart has finished runner-up in two of the last three races and has been in the top five in four of the last five. Newman has been able to shake off early season struggles, moving up 22 spots over the past six races.
A Darlington win would be especially sweet for Stewart, who has won at all but three tracks on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule – Darlington Raceway, Auto Club Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Stewart came a step closer last year when he won the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Darlington.
“With the rich heritage and history at Darlington, to win there – it’s a feeling that’s hard to describe,” Stewart said of his NASCAR Nationwide Series win. “It’s just cool to win at Darlington… This series is just so deep in history, and this is one of those tracks where the history goes as deep as NASCAR does. To finally get a win at Darlington was a huge honor for me.”
- Darlington Raceway Steeped In NASCAR Tradition...One year after NASCAR celebrated its 60th year, Darlington Raceway, is set for a 60-year celebration of its own. Darlington is the second-oldest track in NASCAR and has hosted 105 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races over the past 59 years.
“Darlington is steeped in tradition, as much a part of the Southern NASCAR landscape as the sweet scent of magnolias,” said NASCAR Vice President of Communications Jim Hunter, a former president of Darlington Raceway. “The Southern 500 is the Kentucky Derby and Masters of our sport.”
It is only fitting that as part of its 60th anniversary, the track is bringing back the race name that it has been identified with since its first race in 1950. In addition, the outer retaining walls have been painted with red stripes, something that hasn’t been done since 1989.
"Celebrating 60 Years of Racing at Darlington Raceway is truly a special milestone for the track as well as NASCAR," said Darlington Raceway President Chris Browning. "We wanted to go 'retro' for our 60th season and I feel like we have certainly accomplished that on many fronts. Going back to the Southern 500 race name and painting the walls in the old red and white paint scheme is definitely reminiscent of early NASCAR.”
The link to Darlington’s rich NASCAR history doesn’t end there. Three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion and five-time Darlington winner Cale Yarborough will serve as the honorary pace car driver for the race. Yarborough, from nearby Timmonsville, S.C., will also be joined by several past Darlington winners for a special pre-race ceremony honoring their accomplishments.
The biggest honor of the weekend, however, will go to Saturday night’s race winner – the Johnny Mantz Southern 500 trophy. The newly designed trophy is named after the race’s first winner. It stands approximately three feet tall, weighs nearly 40 pounds and features engraved photos of all past 43 Darlington winners.
“Re-designing the trophy and naming it after Inaugural Southern 500 winner Johnny Mantz was something that was important for us to do because it showcases the history of Darlington Raceway in one place,” Browning said.
It’s not like a driver needs extra incentive to win at Darlington, as Hunter notes.
“A driver's resume, fans say, is never complete until he's won a race at what many believe is NASCAR's toughest track, appropriately nicknamed the track ‘Too Tough To Tame,’ ” Hunter said.
- Motherly Love: NSCS Moms Return As Race Grand Marshals...The return of the Southern 500 moniker combines one of Darlington’s oldest traditions with one if its newest – a Mother’s Day weekend race. The addition of lights to Darlington Raceway in 2004 paved the way for the track’s spring race to move to Mother’s Day weekend, starting a new Darlington tradition. For the fifth consecutive year, mothers of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will serve as the Grand Marshals for Saturday night’s race.
“I think Mother’s Day is special to all of us, but being in Darlington with our mothers is great,” said Carl Edwards (No. 99 AFLAC Ford) whose mom Nancy Sterling attends 15-20 races per year. “It’s real cool to race in front of your mother. It’s great for her to meet the other driver’s moms. It’s a fun event.”
- Gordon Could Make History...A trip to Darlington Raceway is always welcomed by current points leader Jeff Gordon. The four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion leads all active drivers with seven Darlington victories and will make track – and NASCAR – history with another victory Saturday night.
Of Gordon’s seven Darlington wins, five have come in the Southern 500, tying him with Cale Yarborough for most in the prestigious event. A win this weekend will break that tie, but will ironically bring Gordon into another tie with Yarborough in the NASCAR record books. Gordon currently has 82 career victories, one shy of Yarborough, who sits fifth on the all-time list with 83.
“I was able to spend some time with Cale a few years back at an event at the track,” Gordon said. “It was neat to hear him tell stories about racing here during that era. The cars have changed, the speeds have changed and the asphalt has changed, but I don’t believe the driver’s thinking has changed one bit. You race the track here, not the other competitors.”
- Don’t Stop Now...Clint Bowyer put his name in the record books with his 38th-place finish at Talladega, passing teammate Kevin Harvick for longest streak of running at the finish with 82 straight races. As strange as it sounds, Bowyer has one more hurdle to pass to hold the undisputed streak. Herman Beam completed 84 straight races that he competed in between 1961-1963. However, Beam’s streak was not accomplished in consecutive races. The split record could no longer be necessary, however, as Bowyer could tie Beam by avoiding a DNF this weekend at Darlington and hold sole possession of the record by running at the finish of the Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway on May 24.
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