NASCAR viewer’s guide for Darlington Raceway

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The NASCAR Cup Series playoffs begin this weekend at one of stock car racing’s oldest and toughest tracks — Darlington Raceway.

Originally a 1.25-mile track but later reconfigured to 1.366 miles, Darlington has been a part of the Cup schedule since the 1950 season and typically is ranked by drivers as one of the hardest places to win.

Chase Elliott leads 15 other drivers into the first race of the playoffs — Sunday’s Southern 500.

Austin Dillon won last Sunday’s race at Daytona International Speedway to join the playoff field, and Ryan Blaney took the final playoff spot on points.

Sunday’s race (6 p.m. ET) will be televised by the USA Network.

15 Drivers Chasing Chase

Chase Elliott is one of only five drivers in the playoff field with a championship pedigree. Others are Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson.

Elliott won the title two years ago and, based on seasonal performance, will be the championship favorite rolling into Darlington. He leads the playoff standings with 2,040 points, followed by Logano with 2,025 and Ross Chastain with 2,020.

MORE: Dale Earnhardt Jr. set to race at North Wilkesboro

MORE: NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

The playoff driver with the best victory shot at Darlington, however, is a veteran with zero championships — Denny Hamlin. Sixth-seeded in the playoffs, Hamlin has won four times at Darlington, has finished in the top five in 55% of his Darlington starts and has an impressive average finish of 7.8 at the track, one where a slight misstep can lead to an early exit.

Harvick also has an excellent record at Darlington, having won there three times. He has finished in the top 10 in the past 13 races at the track.

Chevrolet drivers fill eight — half — of the positions on the playoff grid. Ford drivers have five spots and Toyota three.

Larson Has Playoff Punch

Some oddsmakers rate Kyle Larson second only to Chase Elliott in this year’s playoff race, and there’s strong history behind that.

On the way to last year’s championship, Larson won five of the 10 playoff races. Of the past five playoff events, Larson has won four, Alex Bowman being the only driver to break Larson’s run by winning last October at Martinsville.

In last year’s playoffs, Larson won at Bristol, the Charlotte Roval, Texas, Kansas and Phoenix.

Larson is tied Tony Stewart (2011) for the most playoff wins in a season with five.

Hendrick Has Darlington Drought

Although Hendrick Motorsports enters the playoff with four drivers (Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, Alex Bowman and William Byron), the Chevrolet team has a rough recent history at Darlington Raceway.

Hendrick has a record 14 Cup victories at the 1.366-mile track, but the team hasn’t won there since seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson scored in May 2012.

Hendrick has won 89 Cup races on 26 different tracks since Johnson’s victory.

Chevrolet shares Hendrick’s Darlington frustration. Chevy drivers have not won in the past 11 Darlington races.

Entry lists

The Cup entry list for Darlington contains 36 drivers, including Daniel Hemric, Landon Cassill and JJ Yeley.

Darlington Cup entry list

Thirty-eight drivers are entered for Saturday’s Xfinity race. Cup regulars on the list are Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin, Ty Dillon and Ross Chastain.

Darlington Xfinity entry list

This week’s schedule and forecast

(All times Eastern)

Saturday, Sept. 3

Forecast: A few showers early with mostly cloudy conditions later in the day. High of 88. Chance of rain 40%.

  • 10:05 – 10:35 a.m. — Xfinity Series practice (NBC Sports app)
  • 10:35 – 11:30 a.m. — Xfinity Series qualifying (NBC Sports app)
  • 12:05 – 12:50 p.m. — Cup Series practice (NBC Sports app)
  • 12:50 – 2 p.m. — Cup Series qualifying (USA Network, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, NBC Sports app)
  • 3 p.m. — Xfinity Series race (147 laps, 200 miles; USA Network, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, NBC Sports app)

Sunday, Sept. 4

Forecast: Partly to mostly cloudy. A stray shower or thunderstorm is possible. High of 89.

  • 6 p.m. — Cup Series race (367 laps, 501 miles; USA Network, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, NBC Sports app)

NASCAR weekend schedule for Talladega Superspeedway

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The NASCAR Cup Series playoffs roll into Talladega Superspeedway, a center of uncertainty, for the second race in the Round of 12 this weekend.

Sunday’s race (2 p.m. ET, NBC) could place the first driver in the Round of 8. Any playoff driver who wins the race automatically advances to the next round.

Through the playoffs to date, playoff drivers are batting zero in the race-win category. Non-playoff drivers — Tyler Reddick, Chris Buescher, Bubba Wallace and Erik Jones — have scored wins in the first four playoff races.

Joey Logano leads the playoff points entering the race. Ross Chastain, who won at Talladega earlier this year, is second.

The four drivers below the cutline are Austin Cindric, William Byron, Christopher Bell and Alex Bowman. Byron was above the line earlier this week but was penalized 25 points for spinning Denny Hamlin under caution last Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway. That move lifted Chase Briscoe above the cutline.

Playoff races also are scheduled for the Xfinity Series (Saturday, 4 p.m. ET, USA Network) and the Camping World Truck Series (Saturday, 12:30 p.m., FS1) at Talladega.

Here’s a look at the Talladega weekend schedule:

Talladega Superspeedway (Cup, Xfinity and Truck)

Weekend weather

Friday: Sunny. High of 78.

Saturday: Partly cloudy. High of 74.

Sunday: Intervals of clouds and sun. High of 75.

Friday, Sept. 30

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. — Truck Series
  • 10:30 a.m. – 7:30 p.m. — Xfinity Series
  • 2 – 7 p.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 3:30 – 5 p.m. — Truck Series qualifying
  • 5:30 – 7 p.m. — Xfinity Series qualifying (USA Network)

Saturday, Oct. 1

Garage open

  • 8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. — Cup Series
  • 9:30 a.m. — Truck Series
  • 1 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 10:30 a.m. – Noon — Cup Series qualifying (NBC Sports app, Motor Racing Network, Sirius XM NASCAR Radio)
  • 12:30 p.m. — Truck Series race (94 laps, 250 miles; FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 4 p.m. — Xfinity Series race (113 laps, 300 miles; USA Network, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, Oct. 2

Garage open

  • 11 a.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 2 p.m. — Cup Series race (188 laps, 500 miles; NBC, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Short-track ace Sam Ard shares Xfinity record with Noah Gragson

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Former two-time Xfinity Series champion Sam Ard’s name returned to the forefront in the past week as Noah Gragson tied Ard’s series record for consecutive victories at four.

Although Ard has been nominated for the NASCAR Hall of Fame, his exploits generally aren’t well-known among many who follow the modern sport of stock car racing. He was on the Hall voting list for the 2023 class but was not elected.

In the 1970s and ’80s, Ard was a short-track master in the vein of stars like Jack Ingram, Harry Gant and Butch Lindley, drivers who could show up at virtually any half-mile track across the country and take home the trophy.

He won the NASCAR Late Model (now the Xfinity Series) championship in 1983 and 1984, scoring 18 wins across those two seasons. He put together four victories in a row late in the 1983 season, winning at South Boston, Virginia; Martinsville, Virginia; Rougemont, North Carolina and Charlotte.

Ard was so dominant in 1984 that he had wrapped up the seasonal championship with two races remaining. In 28 series starts that year, he had 24 top-five finishes and 26 top-10 runs. He won eight times.

In the next-to-last race of the 1984 season, at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham, Ard suffered critical head injuries when his car slid in fluid from another vehicle and hit the track’s outside wall.

That crash effectively ended Ard’s career and impacted the rest of his life. Ard often talked of learning to walk again as part of his recovery. He said he would use a walker in a pile of sawdust in his backyard so that the landing would be softer when he fell.

Ard eventually was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. In 2006, responding to Ard’s financial problems, drivers Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr., among others, launched a drive to raise funds for his family.

Ard, a native of Scranton, S.C., died in April 2017. He was 78.

 

 

 

 

 

Drivers to watch in Cup Series race at Talladega Superspeedway

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The NASCAR Cup Series playoffs will reach a critical point Sunday in a 500-mile chase at treacherous Talladega Superspeedway.

The overriding factor in any race at Talladega, NASCAR’s biggest track, is the unknown. With cars running so fast and so close together, multi-car accidents are not only possible but expected, and it’s easy to become the innocent victim of someone else’s mistake.

MORE: NASCAR penalizes William Byron for spinning Denny Hamlin

The tension is doubled for the 12 playoff drivers. A bad finish at Talladega could open the door for a probable playoff exit at the end of the round Oct. 9 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.

The playoffs to date have seen four wins by non-playoff drivers, an unprecedented result. Tyler Reddick was the most recent to join that list with a win last Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway.

A look at drivers to watch at Talladega:

FRONTRUNNERS

Denny Hamlin

  • Points position: 6th
  • Last three races: 10th at Texas, 9th at Bristol, 2nd at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: 2 career wins

Although he hasn’t won, Hamlin has finished in the top 10 in all four playoff races. In the past six races at Talladega, he has four finishes of seventh or better. Now if he can just keep people from running into him…

William Byron

  • Points position: 3rd
  • Last three races: 7th at Texas, 3rd at Bristol, 6th at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: Best career finish is a second

Byron stands alone as the only playoff driver who has been able to avoid major crashes and trouble in the pits, and he has finished in the top 10 in all four playoff races. After Tuesday’s penalty for his incident with Denny Hamlin at Texas, he sits below the cutline entering Sunday’s race.

Brad Keselowski

  • Points position: 24th
  • Last three races: 8th at Texas, 13th at Bristol, 25th at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: 6 wins, the active leader

Even in trying times, Keselowski is a threat at Talladega, where he last won in April 2021 (his last Cup victory). He has led 268 laps there in the past 13 races.

QUESTIONS TO ANSWER

Kyle Busch

  • Points position: 15th
  • Last three races: 36th at Texas, 34th at Bristol, 26th at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: 1 career win, in 2008

Is Busch going to steadily disappear into the mist as he rides out the final weeks of his final year with Joe Gibbs Racing? His best finish in the past four races is 26th. On the positive side this week, he’s the only driver to finish in the top 10 in this year’s three races at Daytona and Talladega.

Chase Elliott

  • Points position: 8th
  • Last three races: 32nd at Texas, 2nd at Bristol, 11th at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: 1 career win, in 2019

Can Elliott rebound from a fiery finish and a 32nd-place run at Texas? Playoff points give him some comfort, but a second career win at Talladega would be greatly appreciated in the Hendrick camp.

Martin Truex Jr.

  • Points position: 17th
  • Last three races: 31st at Texas, 36th at Bristol, 5th at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: Best career finish is 5th

Will one of the sport’s most enduring mysteries continue at Talladega? In 70 career starts at Daytona and Talladega, Truex, a former champion and a smooth driver, has zero wins. At Talladega, he has only three top-five finishes in 35 starts.

 

 

 

NBC will broadcast final six NASCAR Cup Series playoff races

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The final six races in the chase for the NASCAR Cup Series championship will be televised by NBC.

The races remaining on the schedule are at Talladega Superspeedway (Oct. 2), the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (Oct. 9), Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Oct. 16), Homestead-Miami Speedway (Oct. 23), Martinsville Speedway (Oct. 30) and Phoenix Raceway (Nov. 6).

NBC’s broadcasting team will be on hand Sunday for what is typically a seasonal highlight — a 500-mile race at Talladega Superspeedway. The next week the playoffs move on to Charlotte for a cutoff race. The lowest four drivers in the playoff point standings will be eliminated from championship competition.

The Round of 8 is scheduled at Las Vegas, Homestead and Martinsville, with the tiny Martinsville track serving as the final cutoff race. The four drivers who advance from Martinsville will race for the title at Phoenix Nov. 6.

The high drama of the Phoenix race, in which the championship will go to the highest finisher of the four competing drivers, will be carried by both NBC and Peacock.

Post-race commentary and analysis for all six remaining Cup races will be carried on Peacock.

Kyle Larson is the series defending champion. Joey Logano carries the point lead into Sunday’s race at Talladega.