Who is Hot and Cold ahead of the Southern 500

(Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images)
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Maybe Darlington Raceway should alter its slogan.

Over the last 10 years, it’s been “The Track Too Tough to Tame … Twice.”

Since the 2006 season, the Southern 500 has been won by 10 different drivers. Greg Biffle was the last driver to repeat, doing so in 2005 and 2006. Before that, Jimmie Johnson swept Darlington in 2004, the last year the track played host to two races.

In this Sunday’s Southern 500 (at 6 p.m. on NBC), all but one of the previous 10 winners (Mark Martin in 2009) will compete in the race.

Earning the pole at Darlington is almost as hard. The last seven poles each were won by a different driver. The last six poles were won by a different team.

Winning from the pole?

Kevin Harvick (2014) is the only pole-sitter to win at Darlington since Dale Jarrett did it in the 1997 TranSouth Financial 400.

Here’s a look at who is hot and cold heading into the Southern 500.

Who’s Hot

Kevin Harvick: Won at Phoenix and Bristol this season and has 19 top 10 finishes in 2016 (leads the series by three). Only three finishes in 2016 worse than 15th. Finished top five in the past three races at Darlington including a win in 2014.

Kyle Busch: Average finish of 29th in the past two races but still placed in the top-10 in six of the last nine, including his fourth win of the season at Indianapolis. Finished top 10 in the last four races at Darlington. Won at Darlington in 2008.

Brad Keselowski: Finished third at Michigan, his third top-three finish in the last four races. Finished in the top 10 in 11 of the last 15 races including three wins. Won the pole, finished second last year after leading 196 laps. His 2015 finish is his only finish better than 15th in the last four races at Darlington.

Denny Hamlin: Six straight top-10 finishes (his longest string of 2016) including a win at Watkins Glen. Eight speeding penalties this season, most of all drivers. Finished top 10 in eight of his 10 career starts at Darlington, including a win in 2010. He also has finished runner-up three times. Average finish at Darlington is 6.5, best all-time among drivers with more than two starts.

Tony Stewart: Six top 10s, including a win at Sonoma, in the last 10 races. Five top-five finishes this season, only had three total in the previous two seasons combined. Darlington is one of only two winless tracks (Kentucky), his best finish at Darlington is third, twice.

Who’s Cold

Kurt Busch: Finished outside the top 10 in five of the past six races. Finished top 10 in 14 of the first 16 races this season but in only two of the past eight. Finished sixth at Darlington last year, one of only two top-10 finishes in the last 11 races there.

Greg Biffle: Finished 16th or worse in four of the last five races after finishing in the top 10 in the three straight races prior. Two-time winner at Darlington (2005, 2006). Finished top 20 in the last five races at Darlington but only two top 10s.

Trevor Bayne: Finished 24th at Michigan, worst finish in the last four races, top 12s in four of the
last eight races this season. Finished 35th in only Cup start at Darlington. Three Xfinity starts at Darlington with one top 10 (ninth in 2014).

Kasey Kahne: Only one top 10 in the past 10 races and none in the last eight. Four poles at
Darlington in 13 starts but only four top 10s. Won twice at Darlington in trucks.

Paul Menard: Finished 10th at Indy, only top 10 in the last 18 races. Only two top-10 finishes this
season. Best Darlington finish is 13th in nine starts.

Other notes of interest for the Southern 500:

  • The winner of only three of the past 10 races at Darlington got his first win of the season.
  • The winners of five of the last six races at Darlington got their first win at the track
  • Kevin Harvick, who won the Southern 500 in 2014, is the only driver to win at Darlington and win the championship in the same season since Bobby Labonte in 2000.
  • Brad Keselowski, Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch are the only active drivers with Sprint Cup championships who are winless at Darlington.