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After a 5-year absence, Southern 500 returns

The Southern 500 is back. After a five year absence and a 55 year history, the next race at Darlington Raceway will be the Southern 500. Even though it is Mother’s Day weekend instead of the original Labor Day weekend, it still feels right. And this race will be under the lights on a Saturday night, to boot.

Much was made of the decision several years ago to move the Labor Day race to California, ending the string of early September races at Darlington. With the grandstands half empty most races at California, the decision was made to switch race dates with Atlanta, moving the Labor Day event back south.

The track in Darlington, South Carolina holds so much history in NASCAR that it boasts two nicknames—The Lady in Black and the Track Too Tough to Tame. Only Martinsville Speedway has a longer string of consecutive years hosting a NASCAR race. Beginning in 1950, this the 60th year of racing at the 1.3 mile track. Martinsville opened and hosted a race only a year earlier, in 1949.

And, you’ll need all your fingers on both hands and a couple of toes to count the number of times Darrell Waltrip mentions the “Darlington Stripe” during the broadcast Saturday night. He will be referring to the black stripe on the right side of a car as a result of brushing the wall. You can bet that the winner of the race Saturday night will not go to Victory Lane in an unblemished car.

My pick to carry an unblemished car to Victory Lane and win the race is Carl Edwards. He has never won at Darlington, but has four top-ten finishes in five career races. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with seven career wins and only three other active drivers have multiple wins at this tough track– Greg Biffle, Jeff Burton, and Jimmie Johnson.

Last week at Richmond, it was the Kyle Busch Show as he won both the Nationwide and Cup races. Those two wins accounted for wins 49 and 50 in Busch’s young career spread among all three major series.

That’s a pretty stout number considering Busch’s age of 24 and with only six years of competition. Busch said this week that his career goal is to reach 200 wins spread among Cup, Nationwide, and trucks. Considering the pace he is on currently, that goal is not too far-fetched. In fact, he would be a young age of 41 to reach that level. The guy is a pretty danged good driver.

Another pretty good driver, Mark Martin, announced this week his intention to return full-time again next season to the No. 5 car with Hendrick Motorsports. With that announcement and NASCAR’s four car limit, Brad Keselowski will not be driving for HMS next season, unless something really strange happens on one of the other three teams. But I can’t see strangeness happening upon Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, or Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

I believe Keselowski will be in cup racing next season and probably with a close affiliate of HMS. It could be Stewart Haas Racing or his current JR Motorsports Nationwide team could move up to cup competition. Either way, I don’t think Rick Hendrick will let Keselowski completely out of his sight. But, we’ll just have to see. Gonna be a big story throughout the summer.