Five drivers to watch at Darlington Raceway

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Keep an eye on these drivers in Sunday night’s Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on NBC.

Denny Hamlin

A steady competitor at Darlington, Hamlin has a career average finish of 6.5 (10 starts), which tops active drivers. In his last six starts there, Hamlin has one win (2010), two runner-ups (2012, 2013), and five top-10 finishes.

Jimmie Johnson

Johnson is coming off back-to-back top-10 finishes (seventh at Bristol, sixth at Michigan), the first time that’s happened since Martinsville and Texas in the spring. We’ll see if that performance holds at Darlington where he’s notched three top-5 finishes in his last four races, including a win in 2012.

Chase Elliott

The term “fire in their eyes” may fit Elliott perfectly this weekend after a near-miss in Michigan. But at just 27 points over the Chase cutoff, he may have to temper that fire if a win is not in the cards late and just get out of Darlington with a solid finish. His first Southern 500 last year ended in a crash at Lap 229.

Kyle Larson

Larson has had decent runs of eighth (2014) and 10th (2015) in his first two Darlington Cup starts. With the way he’s been running over the last month and a half, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him in that neighborhood again. With a Chase ticket punched thanks to his breakthrough win at Michigan, he and the No. 42 team will enter Darlington brimming with confidence.

Ryan Newman

Larson’s win last week knocked Ryan Newman off the 16th-place bubble, and now he has to erase a 15-point deficit to Jamie McMurray. The good news? Newman has finished ahead of McMurray in each of the last five races at Darlington, and Newman has posted a decent 10.6 average finish at Darlington since 2009.