Posted: 11:15 a.m. Monday, May 13, 2013
By Jordan Bianchi
A week ago at Talladega it was the small teams taking center stage reminding everyone that there is still room in NASCAR for underfunded operations with big dreams.
With a first- and second-place finish, David Ragan and David Gilliland propelled Front Row Motorsports into unknown territory, while Aric Almirola for the fourth consecutive week finished in the top 10. He did this in spite of driving for the undermanned, underfinanced and under everything team in Richard Petty Motorsports.
Whether this was a new dawn of NASCAR or simply the unpredictable nature of restrictor-plate racing providing a welcome jolt, it seemed to have to have carried over to Darlington Raceway.
On Friday, Kurt Busch driving for the single-car team Furniture Row Racing, not only set fast time in qualifying but did so by posting a new track record.
The notion that midlevel teams could be weekly challengers was further reinforced when Busch took the green flag and distanced himself from the pack leading 69 of the first 73 circuits.
However, reality and the long-established ways of NASCAR soon set in sending a stark reminder that there was no change afoot in the hierarchy of the garage.
As dusk approached and the sky became dark, the No. 78 car faded and suddenly it was as if the clock was striking midnight for all the wannabe Cinderella's. And just like that there was an abundance of familiar faces from Joe Gibbs Racing or Hendrick Motorsports asserting their dominance.
In fact, for much of the evening JGR and Hendrick would have its seven combined cars all running in the top 10. Any illusion that Darlington would offer another out-of-nowhere winner was squashed, as the two powerhouses led every lap the remainder of the way from Lap 74 onward.
Fittingly, a week which had begun with JGR scoring an astonishing victory where an appeals panel either overturned or greatly reduced massive penalties from a minor infraction committed last month, was capped off with the organization staking claim to its fifth win of 2013 in just 11 races.
All together, JGR and Hendrick secured five of the top six positions in the Southern 500 with only a deflated tire on Kyle Busch's machine keeping it from a being a clean sweep of the top five.
In a matter of a few hours order had been reestablished.
What Darlington reinforced was that while the gap may have narrowed some between the haves and the have-nots, at the very top there is still a distinct separation between the sport's two premiere teams and everyone else.