Mash The Gas: NASCAR Darlington Preview

Martin Truex Jr. [John Wiedemann Photo]

Will Martin Truex Jr. continue gobbling up Playoff Points at Darlington this weekend? [John Wiedemann Photo]

It’s NASCAR’s Throwback Weekend as the historic Darlington Raceway hosts the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Bojangle’s Southern 500 on Sunday night under the lights.

Bojangles’ Southern 500
Darlington Raceway
501.3 miles (367 laps)
Sunday, Sept. 3
6 p.m. ET
NBCSN, 5:30 p.m. ET
MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Stage 1 (Ends on lap 100)
Stage 2 (Ends on lap 200)
Final Stage (Ends on lap 367)
It’s Labor Day weekend, Darlington Raceway and the Southern 500, all celebrated with a throwback weekend as the cars, drivers and even the NBC announcers take a step back in time to pay tribute and honor the roots of NASCAR.

Darlington’s unique shape with turns 1 & 2 being completely different than 3&4 make it a drivers race track. “Darlington Stripes” from where the drivers scrape the wall as they try to keep as much speed as possible through the turns will be featured on the left side of almost every car in the field. The track “Too Tough to Tame” and the Southern 500 is on the list of tracks that every driver wants to win at so he or she can join the legends who have already conquered “The Lady in Black.”

There is only one race left after Darlington to try to grab a coveted automatic bid in the playoffs with a win, plus there are still playoff points on the line and with three spots open the drama will be ratcheted up. Here are some drivers to watch in the Southern 500 Sunday night…

Martin Truex Jr.
Martin Truex Jr. and his #78 Toyota seem to be able to find their way to the front at almost every track this season. So, when the Furniture Row team heads back to a track they won at last season, the rest of the field knows they are in trouble. The Southern 500 could very well become the Truex show on Sunday night but he has run so well this season that he really only needs to finish 17th to lock up the number one spot at the end of the regular season and adding 15 more playoff bonus points to his already staggering total. Truex has an average finish of 11.6 at the “Lady In Black” and just continues to get better and better in 2017. I’m thinking another win or at least a top five is in the cards this weekend for Truex. Quick Note: See what 28 NASCAR drivers are doing to support the Martin Truex Jr Foundation’s “Drive for Teal & Gold” campaign.

Matt Kenseth
Of the drivers vying for the three “wild card” spots currently available for the playoffs, Matt Kenseth is the only one who has won at Darlington (in 2013). Kenseth has a series third-best average finish at the track of 10.667. Running much better in recent races, Kenseth has improved his position to 61 points ahead of the cutoff line and three points ahead of the driver on the “bubble”, Jamie McMurray. Kenseth has finished in the top ten in five of the last six races and in the top five in four of those. Unless there are two new 2017 winners in the next two races, Kenseth is pretty well set to make the playoffs. The way he is running right now, he should be pretty tough in them.

Joey Logano
Darlington hasn’t been a very fun track for Joey Logano. In eight career starts, his best finish is fourth, in 2015. Logano also has four finishes of 22nd or worse. This does not bode well for the driver than needs a win in the next two races to make the playoffs. It has been an un-Logano like season for the Penske driver, a fourth place finish at Indianapolis five races ago was a hopeful point, but the next four races have produced an average finish of 23rd with the best finish of 13th two weeks ago at Bristol. There isn’t much time left to grab a win or make this a forgettable season. Logano is a great driver at a great organization and a victory at Darlington this weekend or more likely at Richmond next weekend wouldn’t be a surprise, but this season so far sure has been.

Young Guns
Eleven different winners have won the last eleven races at Darlington Raceway. Will it be 12 in 12 this weekend? And, could the winner be a series first time winner? Chase Elliott, Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones are among drivers hoping that this could come true. Elliott has raced twice at Darlington and made the jump from a 41st place finish in 2015 to a 10th place run last year. A jump from 10th to first may not be out of the question. Chase’s dad Bill Elliott knows how to win at Darlington and did it five times. Suarez finished third both times he raced at Darlington in the Xfinity Series and has been running great lately. Running great defines Jones as he nabbed the pole at Bristol and finished second to Bristol Master Kyle Busch. Jones has a streak of ten races where he has finished in the top ten. The young guns are going to be fun to watch this weekend as they are tested by the track “Too Tough to Tame”.

Cole Whitt
Everyone will have their favorites amongst the throwback paint schemes. There are the Earnhardt, Petty and Smokey Yunick tributes – which are all cool, don’t get me wrong. I like pretty much all of them, but I like a story too. I believe the best story is with Cole Whitt’s paint scheme. It won’t be hard to pick out the #72 Chevrolet, the paint scheme is known as the “Lime Green Machine”. It’s a pretty simple/classic scheme… all lime green with a white number outlined in black, a bit of a black stripe on the hood and the sponsor on the side is Ted Whitt Plumbing. Cole’s grandfather was the owner of Ted Whitt Plumbing and when he wasn’t running the business, he was running the 3/8 mile Cajon Speedway. “Gentleman Jim Whitt” won the track championship at Cajon Speedway in 1969 and his son Tobin, Cole’s dad, won the track championship 20 years later in the “Lime Green Machine”. The throwback paint scheme is in honor of the 1972-73 Chevy Chevelle driven by Whitt’s grandfather at Cajon Speedway and also the races he ran in the NASCAR Winston Cup West Series. Cole Whitt will be one to watch at Darlington in the family colors of the “Lime Green Machine”. He’ll be hard to miss.

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