There are certain tracks on the schedule that the story behind it is just as unique as the racing.  Deep in the heart of NASCAR country is the most unique oval track on the circuit, made unique because of a pond just on the edge of one of the corners.  It made two corners more narrow, more difficult, and made the track itself a challenge to everyone that dared to step foot on the asphalt.

The track would eat tires like a hungry man at a buffet, forcing every caution to mean four new Goodyears and fuel.  Tires would wear out before the fuel went dry, and even after a repave it still was hard on tires.

It goes by two nicknames, and when the paint is scraped on the right side it's not considered damage, it's rather a badge of honor.  It's the track "Too Tough To Tame," it's the "Lady in Black."  It's Darlington.

Even though this year's race is earlier in the season, the track still means that every driver will have to flirt with the wall for 500 miles, and hope that they survive.  That goes double for the writers, who have fought with this ole gal for years in this fantasy pool.  This time, they get to dance a little earlier than normal, but everyone is ready to see who tames this lady.

Here's the picks for Saturday's Bojangles' Southern 500:

 

Misan Akuya:  Tony Stewart

Stewart has climbed from 27th in points after Las Vegas to 14th in points.  In the last four races Smoke has two top-fives and three top-tens.  Maybe if we were actually able to have a race on Sunday, Stewart may already have a win.  Darlington is one of two tracks that Stewart does not yet have a win at.

With Chad Johnston and him seeming to be able to gel better with their qualifying speed and their finishes Smoke may be able to break through Saturday night and get what he wants: three of his cars in the Chase.

Rob Blount:  Jimmie Johnson

Remember the last time everybody was saying “Wow I can’t believe Johnson hasn’t won yet this year”? Remember where he finally did get that win? Darlington. It’s happening again this weekend.

James Broomhead:  Tony Stewart

No reason.

Billy Fellin:  Denny Hamlin

Average finish of fifth at the Lady in Black and he's itching for a win. I'll take the 11.

Michael Hirshbein:  Kyle Busch

No reason not to take him at a track where you have to be aggressive behind the wheel.

Kara Martin:  Jeff Gordon

It’s his time to win!

Ryan O'Hara:  Jeff Gordon

It's time!

Dustin Parks:  Jimmie Johnson

I make no bones about it, this place is my favorite race track.  There is no other one on the circuit where the preferred single line is right against the wall.  So why exactly am I picking a guy who is my least favorite to cheer for?  Simple, he's someone you expect to be competitive every week and to have multiple wins, but so far that has not happened.  Yet, he's still tough to beat when he's on his game.  No better place to show how tough he is than a track that is tough on everyone.

Patti Rodisch:  Jeff Gordon

No reason.

Aaron Rosser:  Greg Biffle

No reason.

Sal Sigala Jr:  Brad Keselowski

Brad looks to be back in championship form with some strong finishes including the sweep in Las Vegas. He could be the seasons first repeat winner.

Rob Tiongson:  Jimmie Johnson

Going with Six-Time to win here at Darlington - hopefully, no weird deal like Junior at Texas!

 

Standings after Texas:

Ryan O'Hara (266) Joey Logano WON - 3

Kara Martin (261) Kyle Busch finished 3rd - 2

Sal Sigala Jr (248) Jimmie Johnson finished 25th - 2

Dustin Parks (233) Matt Kenseth finished 7th - 1

Michael Hirshbein (231) Kyle Busch finished 3rd - 1

Rob Blount (222) Matt Kenseth finished 7th - 1

Patti Rodisch (219) Kyle Busch finished 3rd - 1

Rob Tiongson (219) Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 43rd - 1

Billy Fellin (206) Matt Kenseth finished 7th - 0

Aaron Rosser (198) Carl Edwards finished 14th - 1

Misan Akuya (174) Carl Edwards finished 14th - 0

James Broomhead (145) NO PICK SENT - 1

 

Final Remarks:  Already in practice many teams have earned their stripes, as in rubbing the wall to get their "Darlington Stripe."  The walls will start the race looking red and white, just as they did many years ago, but by the end of the night there will be black marks on all the corners, and even on the straightaways.  It's a track where if a car has no damage on the right, it's a miracle.

When the green flag goes in the air shortly after 7 p.m. ET on FOX this Saturday night, it will be just another chapter in a dance with a lady that only knows one color...black.

 

Summary of Picks:

Jeff Gordon-3

Jimmie Johnson-3

Tony Stewart-2

Greg Biffle-1

Kyle Busch-1

Denny Hamlin-1

Brad Keselowski-1