Podium Preview: Bojangles’ Southern 500

All things considered, William Byron wants a Bojangles Southern 500 win like Cole Trickle in Days of Thunder. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

All things considered, William Byron wants a Bojangles’ Southern 500 win like Cole Trickle in Days of Thunder. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Above all, the Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway remains a true NASCAR crown jewel.  No matter the era of stock cars, the desire for a Darlington win remains quite high.

For 367 laps around this 1.366-mile egg-shaped speedway, “The Lady In Black” remains treacherous as she is exciting.  With distinct corners that are truly meant for single file formation, it’s a wonder that drivers can negotiate this unique speedway as smoothly as possible.

Certainly, tonight’s theme honors the 1990-’94 era of NASCAR, a time in which the sport’s popularity began to rise.  At first blush, one might think they’re seeing cars with liveries mostly from the 1980’s through early 2010’s.  By all means, that’s quite true to a certain point of view.

Presently, our columnists, Ashley HobbsChristina BowmanCody ShoppeDanielle LockemyJose Acero JrKobe LambethStephen Conley, and yours truly consider Matt DiBenedetto’s future and the glitz and glamour of Darlington!

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Question 1
In particular, Matt DiBenedetto's enjoying a career season. (Photo Credit: Josh Jones/TPF)

In particular, Matt DiBenedetto’s enjoying a career season. (Photo Credit: Josh Jones/TPF)

One of the heartwarming stories emerging from Bristol was Matt DiBenedetto.  After coming up one spot short of his first Cup win, has “Guido” proven his worth and place with a solid Cup ride for 2020?

Hobbs :  I think Matt DiBenedetto has done so much more in his No. 95 ride this year than 1) any driver has in that ride and 2) Matt himself has done in his career. He takes care of equipment, keeps his nose clean (both on the car and personally), and truly has the skills and it shows.

Sadly, with a 4-car team limit and a lot of drivers bringing their own sponsors to the negotiating table, unless Matt can do that, it will be harder for him to move up to a more competitive car. If only fan sentiment of a driver meant more, he would have a top ride in no time. However, with his fellow competitors going to bat for him, who knows what good might come for everyone’s favorite Guido in 2020.

Sisoler : If it was down to just the fans and the drivers liking a person, then both Matt DiBenedetto and Ross Chastain would be driving for top-line Cup outfits.

However, Matt has done such a good job this year, he has really proven that he deserves a ride in a car like the 95 going forward.

He has had strong runs all year, and being put in the LFR entry has showcased Matt’s talent behind the wheel, but unless he gets that sponsorship to reel in a team like Stewart-Haas, Hendrick, RCR or even Roush-Fenway, it’s going to be hard. Not impossible, not with his determination. Just hard. 

Tiongson :  Matt DiBenedetto absolutely deserves a great ride in 2020. Ideally, at the moment, that quality ride is likely in the XFINITY Series. However, if he desires to be in Cup, he would be a great driver for the No. 38 Ford and it’s not exactly a bad ride. Especially if Front Row can align themselves with Penske, as they’re currently with Roush, things could be on the up and up.

Bowman :  I don’t know what else this guy has to do to prove he deserves a sustainable ride for 2020 and beyond. Fans LOVE him, he works hard for his sponsors, he is charismatic, well spoken, passionate about his career, and don’t forget he has got some skills behind the wheel too!! My hope is that Matt keeps that momentum up and that one of the top teams opens their eyes to what an amazing ambassador he is. 

Lambeth :   Without a doubt, Matt DiBenedetto has proved that he belongs in NASCAR. Two of the most spectacular drives of his career happened at Bristol. A few years ago, he took a BK Racing car to a sixth-place finish. Not many drivers could take less than competitive equipment and beat teams with much larger budgets. Lately, Leavine Family Racing and DiBenedetto have been on a roll. The entire team is showing improvement during the second half of the season. If “Guido” can put together another solid drive, similar to his second-place Bristol result, I am positive that he will land somewhere decent in 2020.

Acero :  Oh man, I mean what has he not done (besides not win a race) to deserve a top notch ride. DiBenedetto has proven not only to himself but to NASCAR, fans and team owners across the board that he is not a one hit wonder. This past race at Bristol should have opened up some owners eyes.  Hopefully it’s made them realize that this dude is here to stay at the uppermost level in NASCAR. Look for Matt to be racing next season, with who? We are yet to find out! 

Question 2
Can Jimmie Johnson finally snap his winless streak in tonight's Bojangles Southern 500? (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Can Jimmie Johnson finally snap his winless streak in tonight’s Bojangles’ Southern 500? (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Darlington hosts the penultimate regular season race of 2019.  Given the pressure for some of our Playoff racers and the glamour with this event, which racers are prime to stay on track despite these distractions?

Conley :  I don’t think the glitz and glamour of Darlington and all the throwback that goes with it distracts our drivers. I’d say it may even help some to have fun and relax. But the pressure of two races remaining is what will bother some. The good and the bad of it, Erik Jones has an 8.5 average finish in two races at Darlington.  Meanwhile, Ryan Newman has a 12.5 in 20 races but no top 5’s since 2011. Jimmie Johnson has to be on the bad side. Outside looking in and has been awful at Darlington as of late. Last four races an average finish of 27th. Like the paint scheme on the 48, his playoff run is history. 

Shoppe :   Obviously the bubble drivers are the ones most focused on keeping the car off the wall in Darlington Sunday! Lately, Jimmie Johnson and Clint Bowyer have been giving up lots of points with accidents and mistakes putting themselves outside looking in. Now they come to one of the hardest tracks there is and they cannot afford a single slip-up! 

Lockemy : Those that are locked in to the playoffs are going to take Darlington in stride. However, that does not mean your playoff drivers are going to just let people go by then or give the win away. Those that are fighting for a spot or sitting on the bubble are going to go in to Darlington with their game face on with a good finish in mind. Darlington is a good track with a ton of history, but will reach out a grab you if you’re not careful .

Two laps around Darlington and we haven’t earned a Darlington stripe!  Before we ruminate about the Bojangles’ Southern 500, we’ll rewind to the Bristol Night Race with our race and points reports!
BK was quite kind to one panelist.

BK was quite kind to one panelist.

However, the machine continues its lead.

However, the machine continues its lead.

In the meantime, Ashley Hobbs prepares numbers lovers with her Crunching the Numbers segment for the Bojangles’ Southern 500!
How does your favorite teams fare at Darlington?

How does your favorite teams fare at Darlington?

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MTJ prevails at Darlington.

MTJ prevails at Darlington.

Some interesting stats for the past 10 races...

Some interesting stats for the past 10 races…

And the trends at Darlington since 2014...

And the trends at Darlington since 2014…

The infernal machine believes in That Jones Boy.

The infernal machine believes in That Jones Boy.

Surely, everyone looks forward to this segment like TGIF on ABC!  Here’s our picks for tonight’s Bojangles’ Southern 500!
Of course, one of these five might prove worthy of a win tonight!

Of course, one of these five might prove worthy of a win tonight!

Hobbs :  In the past six races, Denny Hamlin has two victories and an average finish of second. Darlington Raceway has been a great track for Hamlin, and I expect this Labor Day weekend to be no different.

Acero :  He has found that late summer heat and is ready to win this throwback weekend, Hamlin takes the checkers! 

Lambeth :  Denny Hamlin will deliver another Bojangles Southern 500 victory. 

Lockemy :   Denny Hamlin.

Sisoler :   I’m thinking Denny Hamlin is a very strong pick to win this Southern 500, and he is gonna have a bit of a chip on his shoulder after he was disqualified out of a win in the XFINITY Series race on Saturday.

TPF Stats :  The Podium Finish predicts a podium sweep coming from the Joe Gibbs Racing camp. Coming off an emotional victory at Bristol Motor Speedway, Denny Hamlin will keep his momentum going strong into another track he is solid at.

Bowman : Kyle Busch.

Conley :  Joey Logano gets his first and  gives the captain back-to-back Bojangles Southern 500 wins.

Shoppe :  Kyle Larson.

Tiongson :  Cole Trickle aka William Byron drops the hammer and wins the Southern 500 from the pole!

Race fans, thanks for joining us for our preview of the Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington!

We’re ready for some racing. How about you? What do you think are the biggest storylines heading into Sunday night’s race and who is your favorite to win?  Tweet us now @ThePodiumFinish and tell us now!

Thanks as always to the TPF team for their amazing efforts this week!  We hope to see you at the races in 2019. 

The opinions and thoughts expressed in Podium Preview are solely of the authors. They do not reflect any organizations affiliated with the participants and author outside of TPF. This weekly feature is strictly for entertainment purposes and are not indicative of TPF, the organization, and its staff.

Rob Tiongson

30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field, and hockey. A Boston native turned Austinite, racing was the first sport that caught my eye. From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by me or by one of my talented columnists who absolutely have a passion for racing.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. I enjoy editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography.

Graduated from Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication. Proud to be from Massachusetts, just as happy to be a Texan.

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