After a rare week off, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers return to action this weekend for one of the most prestigious events on the schedule. Sunday’s Bojangles Southern 500 (6 p.m. ET/NBCSN/MRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) will be the first of a string of 12 consecutive races through the end of the season.
Darlington always brings a ton of storylines, so here are the top five.
For the fourth straight year, Darlington will be celebrating a throwback weekend as most of the cars in the Cup and XFINITY Series will be running a tribute scheme to years past.
Throwback weekend will honor specific moments in each decade of the sport’s storied history, many of which occurred at Darlington Raceway. Recognizing many special iconic memories in NASCAR over the past 70 years will give industry stakeholders and fans an opportunity to honor the sport in a variety of different ways.
“This is a tremendous opportunity for Darlington Raceway and the NASCAR industry to celebrate the sport over a seven decade period during our 2018 throwback weekend,” Darlington Raceway President Kerry Tharp said. “We have been era specific the past three years, so we felt it was important to recognize the 70th anniversary of NASCAR with our ‘Seven Decades of NASCAR’ celebration next season and give the teams, sanctioning body and others a wider brush to paint a picture capturing memorable moments we might not have celebrated in year’s past.”
In tribute to the 70-year history of NASCAR, Darlington Raceway will focus on iconic occasions that occurred in the sport, many of which took place at the track Too Tough To Tame, including Ned Jarrett’s record-setting 14-lap victory in 1965, Ricky Craven’s record-setting photo finish over Kurt Busch in 2003, and Jimmie Johnson’s 2012 Bojangles’ Southern 500 win, which gave team owner Rick Hendrick his 200th career victory, among others.
For the fourth straight year, Darlington Raceway is also excited to announce it will once again highlight its rich history with a commemorative ticket design for the Bojangles’ Southern 500 linking the past, present and future.
“We have produced commemorative tickets for our fans every year of the throwback program, which is an important part of our platform,” said Tharp. “We appreciate how much the fans have supported Darlington Raceway and want them to walk away from our weekend with a special keepsake that recognizes our rich history and honors the stars of our sport.”
Through the first 24 races of the season, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. have combined to win 17 of them. If you take out the restrictor plate races, they’re 17-for-21. But, maybe they’re slowing up a bit.
Kurt Busch won two weekends ago in Bristol and Chase Elliott won a few weeks before that in Watkins Glen. Two of the last three races were won by non “Big 3” members so has four of the last seven.
But, this is Darlington and this track isn’t “Too Tough To Tame” for no reason. The “Big 3” have been the most dominant this entire year and should be strong again on Sunday night.
Kevin Harvick led a combined 63 laps at Darlington while driving for Richard Childress Racing. But, since he joined Stewart-Haas Racing, he’s led 518 in four tries. He’s finished in the top five in four of his last five starts on the South Carolina race track, so his No. 4 Ford will surely be among the ones to beat.
Kyle Busch finished runner-up last year and has five top seven finishes over his last six starts at Darlington. Martin Truex Jr. has three straight top 10 finishes including a win in 2016.
2nd To Last Race Of The Regular Season
The playoff battle is heating up. We’re down to two races left in the regular season. Currently, Alex Bowman holds onto the 16th and final playoff spot by 79 points over Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Ryan Newman is 18th in the standings, 91 points out. Daniel Suarez is behind Newman but still 93 points behind. Paul Menard trails by 99 points himself. Those are the only four within 100 points of the final wildcard spot.
With how this season has gone, I don’t see anyone making up enough ground on Bowman to make the playoffs on points. So, in order to get in, you have to win. But, most of the wins this season have gone to the “Big 3” or drivers running well at the time. None of the four or even those further out are running all that well.
The bubble spot isn’t the only thing to watch either. The top of the standings is another tight battle to watch. See, the regular season champion doesn’t just get a new shiny trophy for his endeavors, he gets 15 additional playoff points. Those are huge. Currently, Kyle Busch leads Kevin Harvick by just 43 points. With two races left, he needs to hold that advantage and he’ll have 15 more points coming his way after Indy.
Richard Childress Racing
Watch out for RCR this weekend. They easily could steal a win. Newman, needs to win and can. He has four top 10 finishes over his last five Darlington starts and seven in his last nine races there. He’s also scored three top 12 finishes over his last five starts on the season.
Austin Dillon though can be even better. In fact, he’s won just about every marquee event on the Cup schedule minus this one. He won the Coca-Cola 600 last year. He won the Daytona 500 this year. Now, he needs a Southern 500 crown.
Dillon, finished fourth in this race last season. Newman, finished seventh. In fact, in four Darlington starts, Dillon has three top 12 finishes in his No. 3 Chevrolet. He finished fourth two races ago in Michigan and should contend for a win this weekend.
Toyota Likely Favorites, Ford Eyeing 1st Darlington Win Since 2006
While Harvick is certainly a favorite, his manufacturer in Ford hasn’t won at Darlington in well over a decade. It was 2006 to be exact. Can they make up for that this weekend? Well, not if Toyota has anything to say about it.
Toyota drivers have won the last three races at Darlington and four of the last five. Ford, has won three of the last five races on the season with Toyota not having won since July 22 but Toyota can get back in victory lane again though this weekend. Since Memorial Day weekend, they’ve won seven of the last 12 races.
That’s why they’re the favorites again this weekend.
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