DARLINGTON, S.C. (Saturday, May 9, 2009) Darlington Raceway proved once again why it is referred to as The Lady In Black and Too Tough To Tame. Saturday nights Southern 500 had a record 17 cautions with 20 of the 43 starters involved in mishaps, some more than once. Most of the remaining 23 cars carried significant battle scars, many with a signature Darlington Stripe after contact with the retaining walls.
All seven Dodge teams were competitive on the 1.366-mile, egg-shaped oval. At one point, four Dodges were running in the top 10. When the checkered flag fell on the 367-lap event after just over four hours of racing, the results didnt reflect the performance.
Elliott Sadler finished 14th in the Stanley Tools Dodge Charger, best among the Dodge teams. It was Sadlers best finish since the season-opening Daytona 500 where he was fifth.
Sadler led once in the race and competed in the top 15 most of the race. He managed to elude most of the major mishaps, but there were anxious moments. Sadler though he had a major problem on lap 238 when he radioed his crew he had run over something on the track and thought he had cut down a tire. His crew urged him to stay out as long as possible, hoping for another yellow flag. The 11th caution on lap 250 gave the team a chance to bring the No. 19 Dodge to pit road for service.
Im real proud of my guys on this Stanley Tools Dodge Charger tonight, Sadler said. The last time that we ran this car, we didnt run real with it. They took it back to the shop and figured out how to put some more weight in it, maybe 40 or 50 pounds more weight in it than weve run all year. It made a hell of a difference. We could adjust on it all night and make it better throughout the race. Were still missing a few things. We had great pit stops all night. Baby steps, yes, but were going to make it.
Kurt Busch, who entered the event second in the season point standings, battled an ill-handling race car throughout the night. He managed to stay on the lead lap the entire event, but the team never found a solution for its problem. Busch finished 16th. He has finished outside the top 20 only once in the first 11 races.
It was a really tough night out there for the Miller Lite Dodge, Busch said. We started eighth and that was as far up front as we ever ran (all night). We missed the setup really bad. We were so loose during the first part of the race, it was like I was going to crash every lap. When we started adjusting on it, we got it better, but really got the balance of the car messed up. The last 100 laps out there were about as wild as it gets. It was survival of the fittest. Guys running in the top-10 were spinning and hitting the wall. It was unbelievable how the pit stops kept shuffling everything around. We got our car too tight at the big end of the track and too loose at the little end. We were just way too loose with no side bite. We started with a setup that was so loose that all the crutches that we used to tighten it up just killed the balance of it. Its amazing that we werent wrecked in the garage.
Busch is now third in the season point standings, 55 behind the leader.
AJ Allmendinger went a lap down early in the race, but worked his way back with the leaders and finished 17th. Teammate Reed Sorenson finished 19th.
We stayed about the same the whole race, said Sorenson. The back of the car felt real good. We were just too tight. We made a ton of adjustments, but couldnt make it better.
Kasey Kahne, Sam Hornish Jr. and David Stremme looked strong early and on their way to potential top-10 finishes or better before misfortune struck.
Kahne led five times in the race for 45 laps and was running in the top 10 when cars started checking up in front of him. He couldnt stop and the contact damaged the nose of the No. 9 Budweiser Dodge which required an unscheduled pit stop. Kahne finished 23rd.
It was a great effort, he said. It felt good having a car capable of winning again. We made a lot of gains throughout the weekend, from setup to overall information on performance. We just ran into some bad luck there in the later stages of the race. But for sure, this gives us a lot of confidence heading into Charlotte next weekend.
Crew chief Kenny Francis was disappointed with the results, but pleased with the performance.
Our Budweiser Dodge was really good tonight, he said. I thought we were one of the cars to beat there at the beginning. Its unfortunate we got in that little fender-bender there which tore the nose up pretty bad. We had enough cautions to work on it and got it pretty good there toward the end of the race. We just never could quite get back on the lead lap. Getting the nose knocked in, the car got hot and we had to pit under green and lost two laps. Its unfortunate because we had a really good car. Im really proud of the guys and all the hard work we put in. We hit on some stuff that weve been doing a little bit different and it seemed to work, so well build on that and keep going. Its unfortunate for the results, but real happy and encouraged by the improvement in how the car was running.
Stremme was running just outside the top 10 when contact with another car put the No. 12 Penske Dodge into the wall.
It was a tough night, said Stremme. We had a good race car early in the race until another car put me in the fence. We had to pit under green and fell back to finish 24th. The Penske Racing Dodge guys did a good job getting the back-up car ready to race; it just wasnt the finish that we deserved.
Hornish overcame an early mishap and was running in the top 15 when a second spin forced an unscheduled green-flag pit stop. He finished 30th.
It was a long night for sure, said Hornish. We had a good race car to start out the race. We got a little behind on some adjustments; a couple guys took two tires, we took four on the first stop like everyone did and for as tight as we were getting, we probably should have just taken two. Then we got back in traffic and were trying to play with the line in (Turn) 2 and just spun our Mobil 1 Dodge around. It took almost 150 laps to get our lap back. Then we got turned around when Junior (Dale Earnhardt) and Matt (Kenseth) got together and had to pit under green because the yellow flag didnt come out. The car freed up after the pit stop and I ended up in the wall again with a lot of damage that sent us to the garage.
THE DODGE BOYS
Driver Team Finished
Elliott Sadler No. 19 Stanley Tools Dodge Charger 14
Kurt Busch No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge Charger 16
AJ Allmendinger No. 44 Best Buy Dodge Charger 17
Reed Sorenson No. 43 Valvoline Dodge Charger 19
Kasey Kahne No. 9 Budweiser Dodge Charger 23
David Stremme No. 12 Penske Racing Dodge Charger 24
Sam Hornish Jr. No. 77 Mobil 1 Dodge Charger 30
Driver Rank Starts Points Behind Wins Poles T5s T10s
Kurt Busch 3 11 1546 -55 1 0 3 6
Kasey Kahne 16 11 1205 -396 0 0 1 2
Reed Sorenson 23 11 1090 -511 0 0 0 1
AJ Allmendinger 25 11 1059 -542 0 0 1 2
Elliott Sadler 26 11 1059 -542 0 0 1 1
David Stremme 27 11 1039 -562 0 0 0 0
Sam Hornish Jr. 31 11 998 -603 0 0 0 2
NASCAR SPRINT CUP
(After 11 of 36 Races)
1. Jeff Gordon 1,601
2. Tony Stewart -29
3. Kurt Busch -55
4. Jimmie Johnson -136
5. Denny Hamlin -156
6. Jeff Burton -217
7. Kyle Busch -221
8. Ryan Newman -238
9. Greg Biffle -256
10. Matt Kenseth -275
11. Mark Martin -285
12. Carl Edwards -330