Skip to content
Jayski Turkey ThanksgivingJayski Turkey Thanksgiving

NASCAR National Series News & Notes – Darlington Raceway

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
Next Race: Bojangles’ Southern 500
The Place: Darlington Raceway
The Date: Sunday, September 1
The Time: 6 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN, 5:30 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 501.3 miles (367 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 100), Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 200), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 367)
2018 Winner: Brad Keselowski

NASCAR Xfinity Series
Next Race: Sport Clips Haircuts VFW 200
The Place: Darlington Raceway
The Date: Saturday, August 31
The Time: 4 p.m. ET
TV: NBC, 3:30 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance:  200.08 miles (147 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 45), Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 90), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 147)
2018 Winner: Brad Keselowski

NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series
Next Race: World of Westgate 200
The Place: Las Vegas Motor Speedway
The Date: Friday, September 13
The Time: 9 p.m. ET
TV: FS1, 8:30 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 201 miles (134 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 30), Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 60), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 134)
2018 Winner: Grant Enfinger

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

Busch is back on top with two to go

Only two races after reclaiming the championship lead, Kyle Busch shows up at the iconic Darlington (S.C.) Raceway having stretched his advantage over defending series champion Joey Logano to 39 points as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series prepares for Sunday’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 (6 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Busch’s fourth-place finish at Bristol Motor Speedway two weeks ago in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was his fifth top 10 in the last six races. But it’s been 11 races since the four-time 2019 winner has celebrated in Victory Lane – the longest span between wins this season and the longest span between victories since 2017 when he earned his first win 21 races into the year at the second Pocono Raceway stop.

Busch began the year with a record tying 11 top-10 finishes in the opening 11 races and his 20 top 10s on the season remains best among all his competitors.

Yet the 2015 Cup champion would prefer to fully get back on track with a victory as the series finishes out the regular season with races at Darlington and then Indianapolis Motor Speedway next week before starting the 10-race Playoff swing on Sept. 15 at Las Vegas.

Busch has one victory at Darlington – in his third start in 2008 – and remains the youngest driver in history (23 years, eight days) to win at the iconic track. He’s scored nine top 10s in 14 career starts there, including three top fives. He’s finished 11th or better in the last nine races. He was runner-up to JGR teammate Denny Hamlin in 2017 and in 2013 led a dominating 265 laps only to finish sixth.

Busch is ranked among the top five in all six major statistical categories at Darlington. His 598 laps out front at the track, nicknamed, “Too Tough to Tame” is most among active drivers. He also has the most quality passes (541) and has run the most Laps in the Top 15 (4,539 laps, 88.1%)since 2005.

Darlington defense

Brad Keselowski started the 2019 season with a steady, if quiet reminder that he is a former Monster Energy NASCAR Cup champion and with three wins in the opening 12 races of the year, ready to mount a challenge for his second Cup title.

And while he hasn’t hoisted a trophy since May, the 2012 series champion will show up at the historic Darlington (S.C.) Raceway next week as the defending winner of the iconic Bojangles’ Southern 500. He’s fresh off top-five finishes in four of the season’s last five races and led 91 laps en route to a third-place finish at Bristol Motor Speedway two weeks ago, just before the series’ final off-week of the year.

In all, Keselowski has eight top-five and 13 top-10 finishes this year – including the three victories – and is ranked sixth in the standings. Only points leader Kyle Busch, 2017 series champ Martin Truex Jr. and their Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin have more wins (four) than the Team Penske driver Keselowski.

His record at Darlington makes Keselowski an absolute favorite at this track too. In addition to his win last year, in 2015, he started from the pole position, led a race-best 196 of the 367 laps and finished runner-up. He finished third in 2011 and has led laps in the last five Darlington races.

Among active drivers with at least 10 Darlington starts – only Denny Hamlin (6.2) has a better average finish than Keselowski (11.3).

Playoff implications at Darlington

Two races remain to set the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series 16-driver Playoff field and the competition has not only been lively but unpredictable among the four drivers vying for the final two Playoff positions.

An eighth-place finish by Daniel Suarez at Bristol Motor Speedway in the series’ last race was good enough to move the Stewart-Haas Racing driver into the Playoff Top-16 for the first time in eight races (since Chicagoland Speedway) and jumble the postseason outlook for the fourth consecutive week.

Heading into Darlington this weekend, veteran Ryan Newman sits 15th in the standings with a 12-point edge over Suarez in 16th.  Suarez’s SHR teammate Clint Bowyer dropped a position and is now ranked 17th – 14 points back on Newman and two points behind Suarez.

And seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, who suffered a frustrating 19th-place run at Bristol, is now 26 points behind Suarez for that last Playoff eligible points position.

Of the two tracks left to set the Playoff field – Darlington (S.C.) Raceway and then the regular season finale at Indianapolis Motor Speedway next week – Johnson is the only driver among these four with wins at both venues.

Johnson is a three-time Darlington winner – having swept the 2004 season – and scoring his most recent victory in 2011.The driver of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet is a four-time winner at Indianapolis – most in the field and second-most all-time next to his former Hendrick Motorsports teammate, five-time Indianapolis winner Jeff Gordon.

Veteran Ryan Newman is the only other driver among these four with a win at either Darlington or Indianapolis. He won at Indianapolis from the pole position in 2013 and the driver of the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford has top-10 finishes in his last two Indianapolis starts.

Historically speaking, Newman counts Darlington as one of his better tracks as well. Although he doesn’t have a win to his credit, he does have a series-best 13 top-10 finishes along with seven top fives in 20 starts.

Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Suarez and Bowyer will both be looking to turn their fortune at Darlington. Suarez, the driver of the No. 41 SHR Ford, has finished 38th and 29th in his only two Darlington starts.

Bowyer, driver of the No. 14 SHR Ford, has only one top-10 finish in 13 starts at the track. He finished 36th last year after being involved in a crash and was 40th the year before after an early race engine problem. His only top 10 (seventh) came in his second Darlington start in 2007.

Indianapolis has been a better venue for both Suarez and Bowyer. Suarez has finishes of seventh and 18th in his two starts on the historic 2.5-miler. Bowyer has four top 10s in 13 starts and three of them are top five efforts, including a fifth-place finish last year when he led 37 laps.

“We know how important these next two races are,’’ Bowyer said. “Everyone in the sport knows and everyone will be watching. We know if we run like we are capable of running, we will be fine. Now we just have to go out and do it this weekend at Darlington and next weekend at Indianapolis.’’

Larson on the verge

A five-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race winner, one of the most prolific and diverse competitors in the field – racing sprint cars, midgets and IMSA prototypes – Kyle Larson has garnered a large fan base. And lots of high expectations.

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver would love nothing more than to get into the 2019 win column this week at Darlington Raceway, where he boasts a strong history.

Larson has four top-10 finishes in five Darlington starts in the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. Twice he’s finished third – in 2016 and just last year. He led 124 laps in 2017’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 and last year led a race-best 284 laps only to finish third behind Team Penske teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano. Larson’s driver rating of 108.1 is second only to two-time Darlington winner Denny Hamlin (109) since 2005.

“It stings for sure to not get a win in such a prestigious race,’’ Larson said last year following the Southern 500 checkered flag. “I want to win every race, but I want to win the Southern 500 really bad. ‘’

The 27-year old Californian is certainly primed for a good outcome this weekend. Larson is on a streak of four straight top-10 finishes. He has seven top 10s in the last nine races. In all he has five top fives and 11 top 10s on the season highlighted by a runner-up finish at Chicago in June and a pair of third-place showings (at Dover-1 and Michigan) three weeks ago).

Larson has three top-10 finishes in five starts at next week’s Indianapolis Motor Speedway stop and was 14th last year.

Hamlin’s setting the pace

Denny Hamlin’s fourth win of the 2019 season at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway two weeks ago wasn’t just significant statistically. It puts him in the right frame of mind at the right time to make another Playoff run. The victory extended Hamlin’s current streak of top-five finishes to six and provides him with good momentum towards hoisting the biggest trophy of all – the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship hardware.

Hamlin and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. lead the championship field with four wins each as the regular season concludes with races at Darlington, S.C. on Sunday and Indianapolis, Ind. next week.

Arguably, no one heads into the notoriously tough Darlington race weekend with more championship optimism than Hamlin’s No. 11 JGR Toyota team.

He has a season best 13 top-five finishes through the opening 24 races and his sixth straight top five at Bristol was good enough to move him up another position – to third place – in the championship standings. It’s the highest he’s been ranked since April following his Richmond win – after the Daytona 500 winner teetered between first and second in the points during the season’s opening nine races.

And based on his history at Darlington, there’s no reason to believe Hamlin’s current momentum shifts.

He boasts one of the best Darlington records on the grid with victories in 2010 and 2017. He has top-10 finishes in 11 of 13 starts at the track. His average finish is 6.154 – best among all active drivers – and he has never suffered a DNF.

Three times he’s led at least 100 laps – two of those resulting in wins. In 2007, he led 179 laps and finished runner-up. Last year he won the pole position, led 11 laps and finished 10th.

“This FedEx team is on such a roll right now,’’ said Hamlin, whose No. 11 JGR Toyota will carry a paint scheme honoring a former No. 11 driver, three-time Cup champion and NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip.

“We show up fast to the race track each and every weekend and I’m proud of what our entire team has been able to accomplish these past few weeks. We are happy with what we have been doing, but know there is a lot of work ahead of us, especially with the Playoffs just around the corner.’’

Harvick is “Happy” again

Kevin Harvick, long ago given the nickname “Happy” Harvick, is once again in-sync with the moniker. He’s won two of the last five Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races – at New Hampshire and Michigan – and is rolling into the series Playoffs with good momentum.

Few drivers have been as good at “The Lady in Black” as Harvick in recent years. Since joining the Stewart-Haas Racing team five years ago, Harvick has won three pole positions, led 518 laps, earned five top-10 finishes – including four top-five showings. He won the 2014 race from the pole position en route to his first series championship two months later. His 518 laps led in this five-year span is 89 percent of his career total (581) in 22 starts at the track. He’s finished in the top-10 the last six straight Darlington races.

Harvick boasts 11 top-10 finishes in 22 career Darlington races – second only to Ryan Newman’s 13 top 10s. His 100.9 driver rating (since 2005) is third-best among drivers with at least 10 starts. He is the only active driver to have won the Southern 500 from the pole position.

On the year, Harvick has seven top-five and 15 top-10 finishes in the No. 4 SHR Ford including two wins and three poles. He’s ranked fifth in the standings and only Brad Keselowski (three wins), Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin (four wins each) have more victories this season.

“Any good momentum, especially from winning, is huge momentum,’’ Harvick said. “I think for us, you look at last year and probably is was the best year I’ve ever had in my career in not winning the championship. There were probably a few things that go into not winning a championship. But I think you look at the 22-car (Joey Logano) and the momentum they had going into the last 10 races and that was more important at that particular time of the year than what we had done early in the year, so it’s definitely different (this season).

“There are two parts to the season and obviously, to win the championship, you want to be hot at the right time, but winning races also makes the year more tolerable as you go through the first 26 (races), so you’d love to put it all together.’’

Joe Gibbs Racing putting together record-setting season

Not only was Denny Hamlin’s win at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway last weekend impactful for him – his fourth victory of the season – but it gave his Joe Gibbs Racing team 12 wins on the year – the most EVER in NASCAR’s Modern Era through the opening 24 races of the season.

Since 1972 (the start of NASCAR’s Modern Era of statistics) only eight organizations have won at least 10 races in the opening 24-race stretch. It’s happened 10 times, however JGR (2019 and 2016) and Hendrick Motorsports (2007 and 1998) are the only teams to have done so multiple times.

JGR’s 12 wins through the opening 24 races – four victories each from Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr tops the list. Hendrick Motorsports combined for 11 wins in the same period in 1998 with Jeff Gordon (10) and Terry Labonte (one) as did Richard Childress Motorsports (Dale Earnhardt 11 wins in 1987) and Petty Enterprises (Richard Petty 11 wins in 1975).

Monster Energy Series competition highlights

The Joe Gibbs Racing team is easily pacing the series in victories (12). Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and the series most recent winner Denny Hamlin all have four wins apiece. Hamlin’s win from pole position at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway on Aug. 17, however, marked the first pole position earned by the team this season.

Through the first 24 races, there have been 14 different pole winners, which is one off the best season mark (15) of the last 10 years. Twice – in 2017 and 2018 there were 15 different pole winners.

Hendrick Motorsports currently leads teams with seven – William Byron has four, Chase Elliott has three and Jimmie Johnson has one.

The average Margin of Victory in races is 1.177-seconds over the 24-races to date. But 15 of the 24 (62.5 percent) have had a MoV less than one second.

The average number for race leaders (9.00) through the first 24 races this season is the most in five years (10.50 in 2014). And the average number of lead changes per race (17.9) is also the most since 2014 (22.13).

Year-over-year, green flag passes are up 39.1 percent.

Parade Laps: Insights ahead of this week’s driver media rotations

Six drivers from the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series – Roush Fenway Racing’s Ryan Newman, Richard Childress Racing’s Daniel Hemric, Hendrick Motorsports’ Alex Bowman, Hendrick Motorsports’ Jimmie Johnson, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Aric Almirola and Wood Brothers Racing’s Paul Menard – will be participating in this week’s media rotations at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway in advance of Sunday night’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Bojangles’ Southern 500 (6 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Ryan Newman, 41, of South Bend, Ind., is currently tops among the four drivers still vying for two Playoff positions. The driver of the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford has eight top 10s on the year and was 11th at Bristol Motor Speedway before last week’s “off-week” in the Cup Series. He is ranked 15th in the championship standings and holds a 12-point edge on 16th place Daniel Suarez – a 14-point edge on 17th place Clint Bowyer and a 38-point advantage on 18th place Jimmie Johnson. Although Newman has never won at Darlington, he has an impressive 13 top-10 finishes in 20 starts. He has finished top-10 in four of the last six races. His career best showing is runner-up in 2002. He was 19th in the 2018 race.

Daniel Hemric, 28, of Kannapolis, N.C., still holding the Sunoco Rookie of the Year lead – by 51 points on Ryan Preece – but ready to reverse a recent turn of misfortune. Hemric has finished 20th or worse in four of the last six races. His only top-five finish was a fifth place at the spring Talladega, Ala. race and he’s had only a single top 10 (at Pocono, Pa.-2) in the 14 races since. This weekend will mark Hemric’s series debut at Darlington. He has Xfinity Series finishes of 18th and 14th there in the previous two years.

Alex Bowman, 26, of Tucson, Ariz., would like to regain some of that positive momentum he had earlier this season and that propelled him to his first career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory at Chicago in late June. Since that win Bowman has only one top-10 finish in the last seven races (10th at Michigan-2), but remains 10th in the championship standings and already eligible for the upcoming Playoffs. Although Bowman is still looking to earn his first top-20 finish at Darlington, he has improved with each race start at the notoriously tough track. Bowman finished 24th there last year – his first driving the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – and has finishes of 29th (2014) and 24th (2015) previously.

Jimmie Johnson, 43, of El Cajon, Calif., has three top-five and eight top-10 finishes in the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet this season. But his last top-10 – a third-place finish in the Daytona summer race – was seven races ago. He has suffered through three finishes of 30th or worse since and dropped from 13th in the championship standings to 18th – 26 points behind 16th place Daniel Suarez. Darlington Raceway, however, has been a good venue for Johnson, historically speaking. He has three wins there – the only driver among the four still vying for the final two Playoff positions to have a Darlington trophy – and he’s earned nine top-five and 12 top-10s in 20 starts. Johnson swept both races in the 2004 season and won most recently in 2011. Last year, he retired early with an oil pump problem. His last top 10 was third place in 2014.

Aric Almirola, 35, of Tampa, Fla., is eager to get his No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford back on the high-achieving track he started the season with. He has one top-five and 10 top-10 finishes, however Almirola was 33rd (at Michigan) and 29th (at Bristol) in the last two races. He’s led only 13 laps in the last 14 races – one lap at Michigan and 12 at New Hampshire and Almirola’s 13th place in the championship standings is the lowest since he crashed out of the season-opening Daytona 500. Almirola is still looking for his first top-10 and first lap led at Darlington. His best finish in seven previous starts is 11th in 2015. He was 14th last year.

Paul Menard, 39, of Eau Claire, Wisc., is hoping to regain early season form. His only top 10s on the season – sixth at Bristol and 10th at Richmond– came in May. He was 23rd at the second Bristol race two weeks ago. Menard has yet to earn a top-10 finish or lead a lap in 12 previous Darlington starts. His best finish at the track was 13th in 2012. He was 17th last year.

NASCAR Xfinity Series

Historic “Too Tough To Tame” Darlington Raceway is up next

With just three races left in the NASCAR Xfinity Series regular season, championship contenders know their chances are running out to secure their spot in the Playoffs. This weekend the series heads to the historic Darlington Raceway for the 37th annual Sport Clips Haircuts VFW 200 on Saturday, August 31, at 4 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Darlington Raceway is one of the most admired tracks by competitors in NASCAR history; largely due to its unique 1.366-mile egg-shaped layout. The famed facility is located in Darlington, South Carolina, and with 25 degrees of banking in Turns 1-2 and 23 degrees of banking in Turns 3-4, the distinctive track offers a one-of-a-kind challenge to the competitors.

This season’s event will be 147 laps (200.8 miles) with the first stage ending on Lap 45 and the second stage ending on Lap 90. Darlington has hosted a total of 58 NASCAR Xfinity Series races yielding 28 different poles winners and 30 different race winners. NASCAR Hall of Famer Mark Martin leads the series in poles (eight) and wins (eight) at Darlington. In fact, the first NASCAR Xfinity Series race held at Darlington Raceway was on April 3, 1982, just the fifth race of the inaugural season of the series, and the event was won by Geoffrey Bodine driving a Pontiac owned by Frank Plessinger.

Last season, Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski won the Xfinity Series race and the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Darlington Raceway, becoming just the fourth different driver to pull a national series weekend sweep at the track; joining Dale Earnhardt (1987), Mark Martin (1992) and Denny Hamlin (2010, 2017).

Dale Earnhardt Jr. slated to make Xfinity Series season debut at Darlington

Though Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s last few weeks been challenging, don’t think the 44-year-old is slowing down anytime soon as he is still planning on making his NASCAR Xfinity Series 2019 season debut this weekend in the 37th annual Sport Clips Haircuts VFW 200 on Saturday, August 31 at 4 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Earnhardt, his wife Amy, daughter Isla, as well as their two pilots and dog Gus were involved in a plane crash a couple weeks ago during the Bristol weekend. All were reported to be safe following the incident. Despite going through that, the former Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver and two-time NASCAR Xfinity Series champion turned NBCSN TV analyst has indicated he intends to race this weekend.

“I plan on driving still,” Earnhardt told a fan on Twitter after he was asked if he would race as scheduled at Darlington. “My lower back is bruised up real bad. Lots of swelling and I just need that to go down and the pain to chill out. (I’ve) been treating the area every day solely to get well to race. I have a plan B but hope not to use it.”

Earnhardt is expected to be in the JR Motorsports No. 8 Chevrolet with crew chief Taylor Moyer on the pit box.

“There are many things I love about Darlington that contributed to my decision to run there this year, but the main reason is the track surface,” Earnhardt said after the official announcement was made in late February. “I love races where you have to be smart and manage your tires. Darlington is slick, and it wears out tires. It’s one of the few stops on the circuit that provides that challenge.”

Earnhardt has made four Xfinity Series starts at Darlington, posting one top five and two top 10s.

This will be just his second NASCAR national series start since retiring at the conclusion of 2017 season. He competed in a Xfinity Series event at Richmond Raceway last season; he started second and finished fourth.

Shaking the Playoff picture like a Polaroid

There are three races to go until the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs kick off at Richmond Raceway, making this weekend’s Sport Clips Haircuts VFW 200 (Saturday, August 31 at 4 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at Darlington Raceway that much more important to the drivers trying to make the postseason. As the series’ regular season is coming to a close, the Playoff picture is starting to come into focus.

So far, seven drivers have clinched their spot in the Xfinity Series Playoffs by wins or by points – Christopher Bell (six wins), Cole Custer (five wins), Tyler Reddick (standings leader, four wins), Austin Cindric (two wins), Chase Briscoe (one win), Michael Annett (one win) and Justin Allgaier (clinched on points). That’s leaves five Playoff spots still up for grabs heading into this weekend.

In total 11 drivers are still vying for those five spots, but seven of the contenders have already clinched a spot in the Top 20 solidifying their eligibility for the Playoffs, but they still need to clinch a Playoff spot on points or wins to guarantee they make the postseason.

Following Darlington, the simple rule is a driver must be 111 points ahead of. …

  1. a) the 4th highest winless driver if there is a new winner
  2. b) the 3rd highest winless driver if there is a repeat winner

This weekend JR Motorsport’s Noah Gragson and Kaulig Racing’s Justin Haley are the only two championship contenders that can possibly clinch on points, the rest will need a win.

Noah Gragson can clinch on points this weekend at Darlington, if there is a repeat winner (or a win by Justin Allgaier, Justin Haley or John Hunter Nemechek) and he scores 28 points. He could also clinch on points with a new winner and help. The Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender will be making his series track debut at Darlington this weekend.

Justin Haley can also clinch on points with a repeat winner (or a win by Justin Allgaier, Noah Gragson or John Hunter Nemechek) and help this weekend at Darlington Raceway. This will be Haley’s Xfinity series career debut at Darlington.

John Hunter Nemechek is currently 10th in the NASCAR Xfinity Series standings, 160 points ahead of the Playoff cutline. Nemechek, a Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender, will be making his series track debut at Darlington Raceway this weekend as well.

Brandon Jones is now 11th in the NASCAR Xfinity Series driver standings, 33 points behind 10th-place John Hunter Nemechek and 127 points ahead of 13th-place Gray Gaulding – the first spot outside the Playoffs. Jones has made three Xfinity Series starts at Darlington, posting one top 10 (ninth in 2016) and an average finish of 14.6.

Ryan Sieg teeters along the Playoff cutline in the 12th and final postseason transfer spot in the NASCAR Xfinity Series driver standings. Following Road America last weekend, Sieg is just nine points behind Brandon Jones in 11th and 118 points ahead of 13th-place Gray Gaulding – the first spot outside the Playoffs. Heading to Darlington this weekend, Sieg is looking to maintain his status in Playoff contention, but if a driver outside the Top 12 in points wins in these last three regular season races (Darlington, Indianapolis and Las Vegas), he could be bounced out of the postseason. Sieg has made five series starts at Darlington, putting up a best finish of 15th in 2016. His average finish at the egg-shaped oval is 21.6.

Gray Gaulding has found himself in such a points deficit that only a win can cure his Playoff woes. The Virginia native is currently 13th in the NASCAR Xfinity Series driver standings, 118 points behind RSS Racing’s Ryan Sieg in the 12th and final Playoff transfer spot. Gaulding can win his way into the Playoffs this weekend, but will have his work cut out for him as it will be his series track debut at 1.366-mile course.

Jeremy Clements’ best chances for winning his way into the Playoffs might have just passed, as the former Road America winner finished eighth last weekend and now settles in 14th in the driver standings 131 points behind 12th place Ryan Sieg – in the final postseason transfer spot. Clements rolls into Darlington having made eight series starts posting one top 10 (eighth in 2016), and an average finish of 21.8.

Brandon Brown is the fifth Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender trying to make his way into the Playoffs this season, but is the only one on the outside of the postseason cutline. Brown is currently 15th in the NASCAR Xfinity Series driver standings, 205 points behind 12th-place Ryan Sieg – in the final Playoff transfer spot. Unlike the other rookies, Brown does have experience at Darlington Raceway, having made two series starts, posting a best finish of 18th last season.

The next three drivers can still possibly make the Playoffs with a win, but they may need some help to clinch their spot in the Top 20 in points for Playoff eligibility.

Ray Black Jr. can clinch a Top 20 spot this weekend but will need some help. With a win, he could clinch a Playoff spot on wins if he gets the help with clinching a Top 20 spot. Black is currently 16th in points, 249 points behind the Playoff cutoff. Black has made two series starts at Darlington grabbing an average finish of 23.0.

Josh Williams can clinch a Top 20 spot this weekend but will need some help. With a win, he could clinch a Playoff spot on wins if he gets the help with clinching a Top 20 spot. This weekend will be Williams series track debut at Darlington Raceway.

Garrett Smithley can clinch a Top 20 spot this weekend but will need some help. With a win, he could clinch a Playoff spot on wins if he gets the help with clinching a Top 20 spot. Smithley has made three series starts at Darlington Raceway, posting an average finish of 22.7.

Impossible to Clinch:

Stephen Leicht even with a win, would not clinch a Top 20 spot, so he cannot clinch a Playoff berth in the next race. If he can’t clinch a Top 20 spot with a win, no winless driver below him in the NASCAR Xfinity Series driver standings could clinch either.

Christopher Bell’s winning ways are similar to Xfinity Series legends

One thing that’s for sure is Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell is one of the best NASCAR Xfinity Series drivers to ever compete in the series. With his 14th career series win this past weekend at Road America in just his 64th start – a winning percentage of 21.9% – he has tied former Xfinity Series champion and NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee Sam Ard for the most wins in a driver’s first 64 races at 14 each. And to boot, the youngster from Oklahoma has also put up the fourth most top fives in that same time frame.

Xfinity Wins & Top Fives in First 64 Starts
Rank Drivers Wins Rank Drivers Top Fives
1 Christopher Bell 14 1 Jack Ingram 46
Sam Ard 14 2 Sam Ard 43
3 Darrell Waltrip 13 3 Ryan Blaney 37
4 Harry Gant 13 4 Christopher Bell 36
5 Dale Earnhardt 12 5 Darrell Waltrip 35
  Dale Earnhardt Jr 12
Jack Ingram 12

Bell’s six wins this season have him sitting pretty as the No. 1 seed in the Xfinity Series Playoff outlook with 43 Playoff points (including points that would be awarded due to his finish in the regular season standings). In 23 starts this season he has grabbed 15 top fives, 16 top 10s and a series leading 13 stage wins.

Looking forward to this Saturday’s Sport Clips Haircuts VFW 200 (4 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at Darlington Raceway, Bell will be ready to build off his series debut at the track last season. The 24-year old started second in last season’s event at Darlington but finished 34th after being caught in an incident on Lap 67.

Joe Gibbs Racing taps Darlington ace Denny Hamlin

While the Xfinity Series’ Big 3 have managed to corral 15 of the first 23 races of the season – an astounding winning percentage of 65.2% – they just might meet their match this weekend because Joe Gibbs Racing has tapped Darlington ace Denny Hamlin to pilot the No. 18 Toyota Supra in the Sport Clips Haircuts VFW 200 on Saturday, August 31 at 4 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio in his series season debut.

Denny Hamlin’s Darlington statistics are far and away the best of the drivers entered this weekend. He leads the series in poles (five), wins (five), top fives (nine) and laps led (528) among active drivers. In total he has made 11 Xfinity Series starts at Darlington posting 11 top 10s and an average finish of 2.7 (also series-best). What’s even more impressive is Hamlin’s five wins were all from the pole (2006, 2007, 2010, 2015 and 2017).

Hamlin’s last NASCAR Xfinity Series start came at Darlington last season, he started fifth and finished fourth.

NASCAR Xfinity Series, Etc.

Blaney to pull double duty at Darlington: Team Penske will have Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Ryan Blaney strapped into the No. 12 Ford Mustang this weekend at Darlington Raceway for the Sport Clips Haircuts VFW 200. Blaney made his series season debut a few weeks back at Watkins Glen, finishing in the top-five (fourth). But Blaney has had mixed results at Darlington in the Xfinity Series making two starts posting one top 10 (seventh in 2016) and an average finish of 25.0.

Sunoco Rookie Update: Stewart-Haas Racing’s with Fred Biagi’s Chase Briscoe continues to lead the NASCAR Xfinity Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings by 16 points over second place Noah Gragson following Road America. Currently Briscoe, Gragson, Justin Haley and John Hunter Nemechek are slated to make the Playoffs this season. If Brandon Brown does not make the postseason, he will no longer be in contention for rookie of the year honors.  Brown is the only rookie of the five that has made previous starts at Darlington; in two starts he put an average finish of 19.0.

Xfinity YTD Rookie Standings      
Rookie Points Awards Leader Next
Chase Briscoe 787 12 0 0
Noah Gragson 771 6 -16 -16
Justin Haley 707 2 -80 -64
John H. Nemechek 666 3 -121 -41
Brandon Brown 419 0 -368 -247

Manufacturers’ standings update: The NASCAR Xfinity Series manufacturers standings have remained close all season with lots of competition parity among the three OEMs – Toyota (nine wins, 825 points), Chevrolet (six wins, 823 points) and Ford (eight wins, 816 points). Heading to Darlington this weekend all three manufacturers are within nine points of each other.

In total seven different manufacturers have won at Darlington Raceway in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, led by Chevrolet and Ford with 17 wins each and followed by Pontiac (10 wins), Toyota (seven), Buick (four), Oldsmobile (two) and Dodge (one).

Parade Laps: Insights to the drivers participating in Xfinity Media breakouts

Four drivers from the NASCAR Xfinity Series – Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Cole Custer, Richard Childress Racing’s Tyler Reddick and JR Motorsport’s Noah Gragson – will be participating in this week’s media rotations at Darlington Raceway leading into the Sport Clips Haircuts VFW 200 on Saturday, August 31 at 4 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Tyler Reddick (No. 2 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet Camaro)

Birthdate: January 11, 1996

Driver’s Age: 23

Hometown: Corning, California

Hobbies: Riding ATVs, gaming, working on cars

Team: Richard Childress Racing

Crew Chief: Randall Burnett

Xfinity Career Highlights:

  • Won the 2018 NASCAR Xfinity Series championship
  • Also won the 2018 NASCAR Xfinity Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors; just third driver in series history to win the title in his rookie season joining Chase Elliott (2014) and William Byron (2017).
  • In 2017, he captured his first NASCAR Xfinity Series victory at Kentucky, while running a partial schedule. Currently has six series career wins.

2019 Season Highlights:

  • Current NASCAR Xfinity Series driver standings leader, 45 points ahead of second-place Christopher Bell.
  • In 23 starts this season, he has posted three poles (Daytona, California and Daytona-2), four wins (Talladega, Charlotte, Michigan and Bristol), 18 top fives and 20 top 10s – leads the series in both top fives and top 10s this season.
  • Has won three stages and accumulated 23 Playoff points.

Darlington Raceway Performance:

  • Has made two series start at Darlington collecting one top five (third in 2018) and an average finish of 9.5.

Noah Gragson (No. 9 JR Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro)

Birthdate: July 15, 1998

Driver’s Age: 21

Hometown: Las Vegas, Nevada

Hobbies: Downhill mountain biking

Team: JR Motorsports

Crew Chief: David Elenz

Xfinity Career Highlights:

  • Made NASCAR Xfinity Series debut with Joe Gibbs Racing in 2018 at Richmond Raceway; starting 11th and finishing runner-up.
  • In total he made three Xfinity Series starts last season posting two top fives and three top 10s; all while competing fulltime in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series where he finished runner-up in the championship standings.

2019 Season Highlights:

  • Currently seventh in the NASCAR Xfinity Series driver standings 238 points behind the standing lead.
  • In 23 starts this season, he has posted six top fives and 14 top 10s.
  • Currently second in the 2019 NASCAR Xfinity Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings, 16 points behind Chase Briscoe.

Darlington Raceway Performance:

  • Will be making his series track debut at Darlington this weekend.

Cole Custer (No. 00 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang)

Birthdate: January 23, 1998

Driver’s Age: 21

Hometown: Ladera Ranch, California

Hobbies: Watching sports

Team: Stewart-Haas Racing

Crew Chief: Mike Shiplett

Xfinity Career Highlights:

  • In 2018, he made the Playoff’s Championship 4; ultimately finishing runner-up in the final driver standings while his No. 00 Ford won the owner’s title for Stewart-Haas Racing.
  • Made the Playoffs and finished fifth in the NASCAR Xfinity Series championship standings in his rookie year (2017).
  • Has seven career NASCAR Xfinity Series wins (Homestead-Miami, Texas, Auto Club Speedway, Richmond, Pocono, Chicago and Kentucky); including last season’s Playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway to win his way into the Championship 4 finale.

2019 Season Highlights:

  • Currently third in the NASCAR Xfinity driver points standings, 135 points back from the series standings leader Tyler Reddick and 90 points back from second place Christopher Bell.
  • In 23 starts this season he has posted five poles (Bristol, Dover, Pocono, Iowa, New Hampshire), five wins (California, Richmond, Pocono, Chicago and Kentucky), 11 top fives and 15 top 10s.
  • Has won six stages and accumulated 31 Playoff points.

Darlington Raceway Performance:

  • Has made two series starts at Darlington posting one top five, two top 10s and an average finish of 5.5.

Christopher Bell (No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Supra)

Birthdate: December 16, 1994

Driver’s Age: 24

Hometown: Norman, Oklahoma

Hobbies: Dirt track racing, iRacing, golf

Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

Crew Chief: Jason Ratcliff

Xfinity Career Highlights:

  • In 2018, he set the rookie single season Xfinity Series wins record with seven victories; the previous record of five wins was held by three drivers – Greg Biffle (2001), Kyle Busch (2004) and Carl Edwards (2005).
  • Made the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs in rookie season (2018), and advanced to the Championship 4; ultimately finishing fourth in the championship standings.
  • Recorded 14 career NASCAR Xfinity Series wins in just 64 starts tying Sam Ard for the series record of most wins in first 64 starts; including six this season (Atlanta, Bristol, Dover, Iowa, New Hampshire and Road America).

2019 Season Highlights:

  • Currently second in the NASCAR Xfinity driver points standings, 45 points back from series standings leader Tyler Reddick.
  • In 23 starts this season, he has posted four poles (ISM Raceway, Texas, Charlotte, Iowa-2), six wins (Atlanta, Bristol, Dover, Iowa, New Hampshire, Road America), 15 top fives, 16 top 10s and an average finish of 8.3.
  • Has won 13 stages and accumulated 43 Playoff points.

Darlington Raceway Performance:

  • Made his series track debut at Darlington last season; he started second but finished 34th due to an incident.

NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series

Brett Moffitt looking to sweep opening round of Playoffs

Since the introduction of the elimination Playoff format in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series in 2016, no driver has swept a round’s worth of races.

Prior to this season, twice has one driver won two races in a round – Johnny Sauter in the Round of 6 in 2016 (Martinsville Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway) and 2017 (Texas, ISM Raceway).

Brett Moffitt is now hoping to achieve that feat after winning the opening two races of the 2019 Gander Trucks Playoffs at Bristol Motor Speedway and Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.

The Gander Trucks have two weeks off before returning to the track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on September 13 for the final race in the opening round of the Playoffs. And Moffitt’s track record in the Nevada sun shows that he may be the truck to bet on for the hat trick.

Moffitt has a trio of starts at the 1.5-mile track, including a runner-up finish to Kyle Busch this spring. He was third in his first start at the beginning of 2018 and then was 11th last fall.

And the driver of the No. 24 GMS Racing Chevrolet Silverado would just be building on what is quickly becoming his second straight career season. In 2018, Moffitt tallied six wins, 13 top fives and 13 top 10s en route to the Gander Trucks title.

So far, through 18 races in 2019, Moffitt has four wins, 11 top fives and 13 top 10s. And he’s bettered his 2018 season in another statistical column – he has three pole awards this year compared to none last year.

Sauter has unfamiliar view looking ahead

Johnny Sauter has never been eliminated from NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series title contention before the final race of the season during the era of the elimination Playoffs format (since 2016).

But he’s in danger of “going home” following the upcoming Round of 8 cutoff race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Friday, September 13 at 9 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Currently, Sauter sits in seventh on the Playoff grid – two points and one spot behind his ThorSport Racing teammate Grant Enfinger, who currently holds the final position that would transfer to the Round of 6.

Sauter doesn’t find himself on the outside looking in because of a particularly bad performance in either of the opening races of the Playoffs – he was 11th at Bristol and sixth at Canadian Tire. Instead, all of the 2019 Gander Trucks postseason contenders are proving they belong in the title talk and are also posting strong finishes – which gives Sauter little to no room to rise up in the standings.

Here is where each of the eight Playoff drivers finished in the first two races:

Drivers                        Bristol             Canadian Tire            Avg. Finish

Brett Moffitt                 1                      1                                  1

Ross Chastain            3                      8                                  5.5

Stewart Friesen           4                      7                                  5.5

Grant Enfinger            5                      13                                9

Matt Crafton                7                      11                                9

Austin Hill                    10                    5                                  7.5

Johnny Sauter             11                    6                                  8.5

Tyler Ankrum              20                    9                                  14.5

Sauter hasn’t won a race since Dover at the beginning of May – a streak of 12 races without visiting Victory Lane. That’s a bit of an unusual drought for the driver of the No. 13 ThorSport Racing Chevrolet – but it might not be a bad sign for his Playoff hopes. This season, in a way, looks a bit similar to his 2016 campaign – a campaign that ended with the championship trophy hoisted above his head in Miami.

In 2016, he started off the season with a win at the opener in Daytona. He then went winless for 18 races – but excelled when it counted by winning at Martinsville and Texas in the second round of Playoffs. Those were his only three wins that season.

Sauter will need to turn it up at Las Vegas, a track he has one win at – in his first race there in 2009, in order to have a shot at repeating the magic of 2016. He’s recorded six top fives and nine top 10s in 12 starts at the track. And of those, four are runner-up finishes, including both races in 2018.

Playoff contenders’ history at Vegas

Only two of the eight NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Playoff drivers have made their way to Victory Lane at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Johnny Sauter took the win in his first trip to the track in 2009. Second place in that race? His current ThorSport Racing teammate and Playoffs competitor Matt Crafton.

And Grant Enfinger comes to Las Vegas without a win this season, despite taking the regular season championship trophy home. However, he is the defending winner of this fall race at Las Vegas. Second place in that race? Sauter.

Current Playoff drivers finished first (Enfinger), second (Sauter), fifth (Crafton), seventh (Chastain), 11th (Brett Moffitt), 17th (Stewart Friesen) and 23rd (Austin Hill) in last year’s fall race.

The upcoming race will mark Tyler Ankrum’s first race at the 1.5-mile oval – he just turned 18-years old on March 6 – a week after the first trip to the desert this spring.

Overall, Sauter has a win, six top fives and nine top 10s in 12 starts at Las Vegas. His ThorSport teammates Crafton (eight top fives, 12 top 10s in 20 starts) and Enfinger (one win, two top fives and four top 10s in six starts) have also been consistently near the top of the finishing order.

Friesen has the next most starts in the Playoff grid, posting a pair of top-five and top-10 finishes in five starts. Chastain has two top 10s in four starts, while Moffitt as a pair of top-five and top-10 results in three appearances.

— NASCAR —