Darlington Raceway rarely mints first-time winners. The track’s list of driver and owner winners is a virtual who’s who of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, from Bobby Allison to Glen and Leonard Wood, 12 in all.
There are exceptions to every rule – beginning with Johnny Mantz’s inaugural victory at the track in 1950 and, most recently, Regan Smith’s surprising Bojangles’ Southern 500 win two years ago.
Mantz, driving an underpowered six-cylinder Plymouth, started 43rd but left the competition literally in the pits changing tire after tire. It proved to be the only victory for the Long Beach, Calif., competitor.
Smith recorded two firsts – his initial victory and that of Furniture Row Racing, a single-car team.
Could lightning strike again? Perhaps – especially coming six days after Front Row Motorsports’ one-two upset by David Ragan and David Gilliland at Talladega Superspeedway. Ragan had won before; his team had not.
Ragan’s unexpected victory carried with it a berth in the May 18 Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Only a select few drivers have guaranteed spots for the $1 million to win, non-point affair: 2012-13 Sprint Cup winners and the past 10 years’ All-Star winners and Sprint Cup champions.
The top two finishers of the Sprint Showdown also qualify, as does the winner of the Sprint Fan Vote. Fans can vote an unlimited number of times until 5 p.m. (EDT) on May 18 by downloading the NASCAR Mobile ’13 application or visiting NASCAR.com/SprintFanVote. Votes cast on NASCAR Mobile ’13 will count twice toward a driver’s total.
The 10 drivers currently leading the Sprint Fan Vote standings (in alphabetical order) are AJ Allmendinger, Jeff Burton, Bill Elliott, Bobby Labonte, Jamie McMurray, Juan Pablo Montoya, Danica Patrick, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Martin Truex Jr. and Michael Waltrip.
Any of these drivers – or another competitor – gets in with a Darlington victory, giving Saturday night’s race a “last chance” flavor. Stenhouse, a Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender, might be that guy.
Two-time NASCAR Nationwide Series champion Stenhouse finished sixth in last year’s Darlington NNS event and fifth in 2011.