No beginners allowed
The track is known as the Lady in Black, because the drivers have to learn to respect her. Newly repaved, this 1.366 mile track will be faster than in previous years, as evidenced by Greg Biffle's record pole speed, and no doubt a good dozen cars will pick up at least one "Darlington stripe," a long-used term for what the lady will give a driver who fails to respect her. Drivers like Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon will no doubt find their way up front.
Look for the veterans to rule and the kids to be playing catchup Saturday night, with the possible exception of Kyle Busch, who is so on fire he could probably run up front in a snowmobile. Hendrick Motorsports should be among the teams to beat, as Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Jr. all have solid records at the track. Don't be surprised if many a driver, particularly the younger ones, make their way to the garage early.
One possible sleeper is Denny Hamlin. He has a lot of momentum on his side after a dominating performance last week at Richmond that was ruined by a bad tire. The week before, he pushed everyone around the track at Talladega. The Gibbs cars can do well at Darlington, as evidenced by Tony Stewart's in Friday night's race (side note: Will that 20 car ever lose a Busch race?). Add that to the fact Hamlin has been solid recently at the track, and it translates to Hamlin contending.