I am finding it very difficult to get excited about another intermediate track after the product we saw at Kansas. Whether it was the difficulty passing for the lead or the blatant race manipulation by NASCAR waiting 20+ laps to throw a caution, it was not an enjoyable race from my perspective. There is good news for this week’s race, however, as they will be running the 750 HP, small spoiler package that’s usually reserved for short tracks. That package typically races much better than the 550 HP, big spoiler package. I’m excited to see what these cars can do on this track after running the 550 package the last few years.
Darlington typically hosts a throwback weekend at this race, so keep an eye out for lots of different looking race cars that pay tribute to drivers of yesteryear. You can check out what some of the Cup cars will look like here. My personal favorite is the simplicity of the #48 car (shown above) where Alex Bowman is paying tribute to his crew chief, Greg Ives. Let’s hope the throwback paint schemes and the difficult Darlington corners make for some entertaining racing this weekend!
If you are not familiar with Darlington Raceway, it is an egg shaped 1.366 mile race track with 23-25 degree banking in the corners. Turns 1 and 2 are completely different from turns 3 and 4, which makes it a unique and tricky place to race. Let’s take a look at who we can expect to run well this weekend.
1) (Last week 1, Avg Finish 7.5) Denny Hamlin – It’s hard to keep Denny in the top spot after finishes of 32nd and 12th, but he ran into some really bad luck the last two races. He was downright dominant prior to Talladega and I expect him to return to top form this weekend.
2) (2, 10.2) William Byron – Byron is holding strong in the second spot, and will likely pass Hamlin for the lead here if their recent trends continue. Willy B secured his ninth consecutive Top 10 at Kansas and is right in the thick of things for the best driver on the circuit this year.
3) (4, 9.5) Kevin Harvick – The #4 team now has the second best average finish in the Cup Series this year, trailing only Hamlin. That is ridiculously impressive considering how bad Harvick’s SHR teammates have been.
4) (3, 10.7) Martin Truex Jr. – Truex finished Top 10 in both races here last May. In the fall he won the first two stages before running into trouble in the final stage. Look for him to contend for the win on Sunday.
5) (6, 11.8) Brad Keselowski – Keselowski has caught fire as of late, winning at Talladega and finishing 3rd at Kansas. He will look to continue that positive momentum at Darlington where he has a win and three Top 5s in his last five races.
6) (9, 15.0) Kyle Larson – Larson has been dominant on the intermediate tracks this year. He also has a great history at Darlington finishing 2nd and 3rd in his last two races in a Chip Ganassi car. He is the betting favorite to win this weekend, and I certainly can’t argue against the odds.
7) (11, 13.3) Kyle Busch – Kyle Busch finally got his first win of the season at Kansas. In 2020 he had to wait until October at Texas to get his lone win of the season. That was after he won five races in 2019 including the Championship. KFB looks to continue his positive momentum at a track where he’s finished 7th or better in five of his last six races.
8) (12, 16.6) Matt DiBenedetto – Matty D has been a machine lately, with three consecutive Top 10s. He has the best average finish over that span. He also has the second best average finish over the last five races, only trailing Byron.
9) (10, 13.3) Chase Elliott – Chase is a bit of a mystery for me this weekend. He had Top 10 speed in every Darlington race last year, as well as other high tire wear tracks Auto Club, Homestead and Atlanta. However, this year he has ranked 14th and 13th in speed at Homestead and Atlanta, while his teammates were all 6th or better in both races.
10) (5, 11.9) Joey Logano – Logano has had a bit of a fall from grace recently, finishing 39th and 17th in his last two races. He will look to right the ship this weekend at Darlington where his last two finishes have been 6th and 3rd.
11) (7, 13.6) Ryan Blaney – Blaney only has one Top 10 in his last four races and only two Top 5s this season. His bad luck may continue as he’s never finished better than 13th here in eight career Cup races.
12) (8, 14.9) Christopher Bell – Bell’s roller coaster season continues as he has now finished Top 10 five times, but also outside of the Top 15 six times. Bell didn’t fare very well driving the #95 here three times last year, but Eric Jones certainly thrived in the #20 car. It will be interesting to see if Bell can find some of that same speed.