Who’s hot, who’s not, heading into Darlington

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Just two races remain for drivers to make – or miss – the upcoming NASCAR Cup playoffs.

This weekend, the series moves to the Track Too Tough To Tame, Darlington Raceway for the Bojangles’ Southern 500.

The 1.366-mile egg-shaped oval is considered by many drivers as the most difficult track on the NASCAR Cup circuit.

This will be the 114th NASCAR Cup race to be held at the track also nicknamed the Lady In Black.

Johnny Mantz won the first NASCAR Cup race at Darlington in 1950. Martin Truex Jr. won the most recent race there, last year’s Southern 500.

There have been 11 different winners in the last 11 races.

There are only two races left in the regular season for drivers to qualify for the 16-driver NASCAR Cup playoffs. Drivers below the playoff cutoff line are in must-win situations, including Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano, Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Here’s the hottest of the hot and, well, the not so hot:

Cup – Who Is Hot

No. 18 Kyle Busch (Hot)

  • Won the Trifecta at Bristol: Truck, NXS and Cup races
  • Two wins this season, both came in the last four races (Wins at Pocono and Bristol)
  • Finished top 10 in the last four races, best streak this season
  • One Southern 500 win, 2008
  • Worst finish in the last seven races at Darlington is 11th with five top 10s

No. 11 Denny Hamlin (Hot, Great at Darlington)

  • Third at Bristol
  • Top 4 finishes in seven of the last 10 races including a win at NH
  • One Darlington win, 2010
  • Nine top 10 finishes in 11 races at Darlington, average finish of 6.2, the best all-time among drivers with more than two starts there

No. 4 Kevin Harvick (Hot)

  • Finished 8th at Bristol
  • Finished top-10 in 13 of the last 18 races of 2017
  • One Darlington win, 2014 from the pole
  • Finished top five in the last four races at Darlington
  • Led over 200 laps in two of the last three races at Darlington

No. 77 Erik Jones (Hot but must win, points no longer an option)

  • Finished career best second at Bristol after winning his first career pole and leading 260 laps
  • Finished top 10 in the last four races, best streak of his career
  • One start at Darlington, NXS last year, finished sixth

No. 42 Kyle Larson (Hot in 2017, Good at Darlington)

  • Finished ninth at Bristol, second straight top 10 finish
  • Three wins in 2017, all came on 2.0 mile tracks
  • Finished second in seven races this year
  • Top 10 finishes in all three career Darlington starts, best finish of third last year

No. 19 Daniel Suarez (Hot)

  • Finished 15th at Bristol
  • Finished top-15 in five of last six races including four top-10s
  • Won the Open at Charlotte
  • Will be first Cup start at Darlington, finished top five in both NXS starts at Darlington

No. 78 Martin Truex Jr (Hot, Good at Darlington)

  • Finished 21stat Bristol, speeding penalty
  • Finished in the top-10 16 times this season, the most
  • Won 15 stages this season, the most
  • 35 Playoff Points this season
  • Wins at Las Vegas, Kansas, Kentucky and Watkins Glen
  • Led a series high 1372 laps in 2017, led the most laps in seven races
  • Won this race last year at Darlington, led 28 laps
  • Furniture Row Racing’s first career win came at Darlington with Regan Smith in 2011

No. 20 Matt Kenseth (Hot, Great at Darlington)

  • Finished 4th at Bristol, five top 10 finishes in the last six races, all but Michigan, flat tire in OT while 
running 3rd
  • Now 15th in the playoff standings, +61
  • One Darlington win, 2013
  • Finished top six in four of the last five races at Darlington

Cup – Who is Not

No. 3 Austin Dillon (Has a win but is NOT HOT)

  • 39th at Bristol, only one top 10 finish in the last 12 races
  • Won on fuel mileage at Charlotte
  • Only three top 10 finishes this season, had 10 at this point last year
  • Three Darlington starts, best finish of 11th in 2014

No. 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr (Running out of time)

  • 23rd at Bristol, last top 10 was Sonoma in June (sixth)
  • Only two top-10s in the last 12 races
  • Finished top 10 in his last three Darlington starts including runner up in 2014. DNC in 2016 at Darlington

No. 5 Kasey Kahne (Not, Not, Not… won)

  • Finished 24th at Bristol, only one top 10 finish in the last 14 races, win at Indy
  • Six DNFs from accident this season
  • Won at Indianapolis ending a 102 race winless streak, took a super lucky timed caution and turned it 
into a win
  • Best finish at Darlington in 14 starts is third in 2005
  • Won the pole four times at Darlington
  • Two truck wins at Darlington

No. 22 Joey Logano (Reason for concern, Good lately at Darlington)

  • 13th at Bristol
  • 10 finishes outside the top 20 in the last 15 races
  • Won at Richmond in April but was encumbered
  • Now 117 points outside the bubble, he must win to make the playoffs
  • Finished top five in his last two Darlington starts including fourth in 2015, his best finish there