It was beginning to look like an all Hendrick front row with Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne ready to lead the field to the green flag, until Greg Biffle showed up. Jimmie Johnson had taken the provisional pole from his teammate Kasey Kahne but was worried that he had not done his best, that he had left some speed out there on the track. That speed was found by Greg Biffle as he grabbed the pole for the Bojangles Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.
“This is what a race car driver looks forward to, showing up every weekend and having a really fast car to drive,” said Biffle, the Sprint Cup Series leader. “They’re making me look good so far.
“It was a pretty uneventful lap. The car just had a ton of grip — it stuck to the race track really, really well. I felt like I was a little bit light down in Turns 1 and 2 — I should have been a little bit quicker down there — but I got a lot out of it in 3 and 4, so it was a great lap.”
”I feel that special season already. I certainly think that we’re going to be tough in competition all year,” said Biffle.
Johnson seemed to know that more speed could be found… just not who was going to find it.
”I left a little speed out there and Greg certainly found it,” Johnson said. ”It would’ve been nice to have a Hendrick front row. But it was a very productive day.”
Jimmie Johnson is looking to get the 200th win for team owner Rick Hendrick this weekend. He has help at the front with his teammate Kasey Kahne, but Kahne is also hungry for a win. And let us not forget the 9 time fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. who has been Mr Hendrick’s most consistent performer all season long, and is coming into Darlington with a 6 race top 10 streak under his belt.
“It certainly weighs on the team,” Johnson said before Friday’s practice at Darlington Raceway. “I’m not frustrated yet. I don’t want to see opportunities slip away. I certainly want to get 200 behind us as does everyone at Hendrick Motorsports because it’s lingering around.”
Johnson and Kahne will be starting 2nde and 3rd respectively. Dale Jr looks to have his work cut out for him if he wants to break his streak and obtain the 200th win for his team. Starting back in 24th Jr has not shown a lot of speed this weekend. Running 19th in first practice and 18th in the second, the 88 car looks like it will need a lot of adjustments on the fly to get it where he wants it to be during the race.
Ryan Newman and Kyle Busch will round out the top 5 for the start of the race.
Danica Patrick makes her return to the Sprint Cup Schedule. It seems her team owner Tony Stewart used his well known sarcastic sense of humor as he chose which track Danica would be driving at this season. However you never really learn if you take the easy road, and Danica seems up to the challenge. The experience she gains at the tougher tracks in the schedule should translate to better finishes at the easier tracks in the long run.
“This is a tough place and everything they said about it is true,” Patrick said between practices. “This Lady in Black is very intimidating. I’m just trying to get comfortable with what the car needs me to do — where to brake, how heavy to brake and those kinds of things. I’ve got my Darlington stripes, officially. It’s all the way down the right side of the car. We got that one over with.
“I’ve got everything in my corner, I just need time. I just need to get comfortable. It’s definitely not going to be an easy, breezy night. Like Tony (Stewart) said, I’m probably going to hate him by the end of the weekend. Come the future, I’m going to be glad for it.”
Team Owner tony Stewart agrees.
“She understands the value of why we picked this as one of the races,” Stewart said. “I think she’s keeping the big picture in mind. I think she’s doing a really good job of taking it all in stride, not letting her position on the time sheet get her down, realizing that the whole weekend is a learning experience and trying to just get at that time.
“I want her just to run as many laps as possible. The more time she can spend on track, the more experience that she’s going to get. So the good thing is, running both divisions, she’s getting a ton of track time.”
That may be true, but there is a huge difference between the Nationwide cars and the Cup cars when it comes right down to it.
“When you get to about half-throttle in the Cup car, that’s what a Nationwide car feels like,”Jimmie Johnson said with a laugh. “There’s a lot left from that point down in a Cup car. As far as tracks go, this track in my opinion has the highest sensation of speed over any other track we go to. And it’s due to it being so narrow. But it will be an eye-opening experience. Fortunately, she’s been real fast in other cars so hopefully it doesn’t affect her too much. But we’ve all looked at this race on her schedule and know it’s going to be tough for her. And it certainly will. This is not an easy race track to get around, but she’s going to do it and we’ll see how it goes.”