Who might be winner No. 8 at Darlington -- and who might stop the streak

ashain@thestate.comApril 12, 2014 

NASCAR Darlington Nationwide Auto Racing

Kyle Busch holds the trophy in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Nationwide series auto race at Darlington Raceway last year.

MIC SMITH — AP

The NASCAR Sprint Cup season started with seven winners in the first seven races. With winners automatically qualifying for the Chase, several possibilities lurk to become the eighth winner at Darlington Raceway on Saturday night. A couple winners, however, might break that streak of first-timers.

Who could be No. 8?

•  Points leader Jeff Gordon has finished no worse than 13th this season and has eight top 10s in the past decade of races at Darlington. He knows this track where he’s won seven times is a place that can land him in the Chase.

•  Denny Hamlin is 13th in the standings after missing a race with an eye injury. But his past four finishes at Darlington – 1-6-2-2 – suggest he could get his groove back in South Carolina.

•  Last year’s Darlington winner, Matt Kenseth, comes to the Pee Dee with three straight top 10s this season. He drives one of those Gibbs cars (see Hamlin) that have performed so well at the egg-shapetrack in recent years.

•  Shocked that six-time series champ Jimmie Johnson is not among this year’s winners? Surprised about him posting three finishes of 19th or worse in his past four races? Darlington might be the cure for the No. 48 car. Johnson has finished seventh or better at the track in nine of the past 12 years – including a 2012 win.

Who might end the streak?

•  Maybe the Gibbs folks should tell Kyle Busch he’s in Nationwide race. The winner at California this year has taken the checkered flag at two of the past three races at Darlington in the series below the Sprint Cup. He’s behind Hamlin for best average finish in top series races at the track since 2010 and won in 2008.

•  Carl Edwards gives Ford a chance. The winner at Bristol has five top-7s in the Palmetto State over the past seven years, including a pair of seventh-place finishes in the past two races. That’s a lot of lucky 7s for the 99 car.

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