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NASCAR At Darlington: Kasey Kahne On the Pole, Can David Ragan Continue His Upward Trend?

Kasey Kahne hasn't won a NASCAR Sprint Cup race since taking the checkered flag at Atlanta Motor Speedway in September 2009. He has the pole for tonight's Showtime Southern 500 and looks for his second-straight top-five finish as he comes off a third-place run last week in Richmond. Kahne has had an up-and-down start to his one-year loan to Team Red Bull, recording four top-10s but also having four finishes of 21st or worse. He currently sits 18th in the standings, 39 points away from 10th-placed Tony Stewart for the last assured spot in the Chase.

Ryan Newman, fresh off the latest chapter in his on-track fued with Juan Pablo Montoya - which allegedly became physical Friday in the NASCAR hauler - starts second. Newman has never won at Darlington, but he had the dominant car in the 2003 Southern 500 before he accidentally hit the ignition killswitch on his Dodge and lost nine laps. Montoya, meanwhile, rolls off 16th. He has one top-five at Darlington but has never led a single lap at the South Carolina track.

Defending Showtime Southern 500 winner Denny Hamlin rolls off third in his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, while Carl Edwards and Jeff Gordon - the active wins leader at The Track Too Tough To Tame with seven - round out the top-five. The front-ten positions are filled out by Richard Petty Motorsports teammates Marcos Ambrose and A.J. Allmendinger, Brian Vickers, Tony Stewart, and Brad Keselowski.

Rolling off from the 11th position is Georgia's own David Ragan. Ragan is on a roll, recording three top-eight finishes in his last four starts. More impressive is the fact that all three are "legitimate" finishes; he crashed at Talladega in the one "wild card" race in that stretch. Ragan, sponsored by Atlanta-based UPS, has climbed to 19th in the standings and sits 44 outside the Chase.

The green flag in tonight's Showtime Southern 500 is less than 45 minutes away, and SB Nation Atlanta, SB Nation's NASCAR hub, and NASCAR Ranting and Raving will have you covered as the cars and stars of the stock car racing tackle The Track Too Tough To Tame. 

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.