NASCAR America: Matt DiBenedetto will pay tribute to Jeff Burton in Southern 500

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For several years, the Southern 500 has given drivers an opportunity to pay tribute to the legends of NASCAR and this year, Matt DiBenedetto will pay homage to Jeff Burton’s No. 99 from the 2000 Cup season.

“You have no clue how excited I am about this one,” Matt DiBenedetto said. “I’ve been wanting to do this one for a while.

“This actually has a back story on it. And this is what got me into NASCAR and into racing. And the first car that I liked – I bought the diecast cars for – this is like really close to my heart.”

“It’s really exciting for me,” Jeff Burton said in a taped interview. “That 2000 paint scheme was really popular with Jeff Burton fans and Exide Racing fans back in the day. A lot of good things happened that year. We won several races that year.”

Burton won four races that year and finished second on five other occasions.

Burton didn’t win the Southern 500 that year, but he came close – finishing second to teammate Mark Martin.

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Kurt Busch’s No. 41 becomes first car revealed for this year’s throwback race at Darlington Raceway

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If Kurt Busch’s car in this year’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 throwback race at Darlington Raceway looks familiar, there’s a good reason for it.

Busch will drive a car with a paint scheme similar to the car he drove at the 1.366-mile egg-shaped track in the 2003 Carolina Dodge Dealers 400.

And what a race that was. Busch’s No. 97 Rubbermaid-sponsored red and gray Ford had a last-lap fender-banging battle with Ricky Craven’s No. 32 Cal Wells Racing Pontiac, which ended up 0.002 seconds ahead of Busch for the win.

Ironically, tomorrow, March 16, marks the 15th anniversary of what at the time was the closest finish in NASCAR history.

Busch’s Darlington black, red and gray throwback scheme – the first of all teams to be revealed for this year’s race – on his No. 41 Haas Automation Ford Fusion, was first unveiled by NASCAR.com.

Busch has never won at Darlington. His 2003 runner-up finish has been his highest finish, though he’s also finished third in 2010 and in last year’s race.

This will be the fourth consecutive year for Darlington’s popular throwback weekend. This year’s theme is “seven decades of NASCAR” across the entire weekend from Aug. 31 to Sept. 2.

Stewart-Haas Racing has won the best throwback paint scheme the last two years (in voting at NASCAR.com), last year with Danica Patrick’s No. 10 car (a blue-and-white look that honored NASCAR Hall of Famer Robert Yates), and Tony Stewart’s car for his final race at Darlington in 2016 that honored Bobby Allison.

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NASCAR America: Austin Dillon greets Darlington fans at 4 a.m. — until a gun shows up

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It was 4 a.m. early Monday morning at Darlington, and Austin Dillon couldn’t sleep after the Bojangles’ Southern 500.

It was kind of understandable: when you finish fourth at a place like the Track Too Tough To Tame, sometimes you get so wired that it’s hard to go to sleep.

And, the way Dillon figured it, if he can’t sleep, he wasn’t going to let others sleep — in a nice and fun way, that is, kind of.

Dillon and a couple of his also wide-awake buddies left his motor home in the infield and walked and rode around, looking for others that were also up at that point in the middle of the night.

“We had a solid run so I just hung out outside my motor home a little bit, had a couple nice drinks and still had my driver’s suit on,” Dillon retold the story on Wednesday’s NASCAR America. “We decided to check out the track, so a couple of us rode my golf cart around the track a couple times, and that was cool.”

And this is where the story gets all the more funny — and risky.

“Heck, I wanted to go see what the fans were up to, so we rolled into the infield and I walked into a couple motor homes,” Dillon said. “It was 4 in the morning at this point. They had gone night-night.

“People were starting to leave, it was pretty funny. I was waving to them, signing autographs. This lady had an Austin Dillon shirt on, leaving with her husband, taking their motor home out at 4:30 a.m.”

Everything was fun and games up to that point — until Dillon walked in the wrong RV.

“We walked in a motor home and one guy said, ‘I’ve got a gun in my sleeping bag,'” Dillon said. “I said, ‘Hey, man, I’m not Kyle Busch, it’s OK.'”

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Denny Hamlin’s two Darlington wins encumbered; crew chiefs each fined, suspended two races

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NASCAR announced Wednesday that Denny Hamlin’s Cup and Xfinity series wins this past weekend at Darlington Raceway were encumbered because of rear suspension violations.

Mike Wheeler, crew chief for Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota in the Cup Series, has been suspended for two races, meaning he would miss the Sept. 17 playoff opener at Chicagoland Speedway. .

While Hamlin will be the winner of record for both races, he will not get credit for the five playoff points from the NASCAR Cup victory in the Bojangles’ Southern 500 because of an L1 penalty for violating section 20.14.2 (rear suspension) of the NASCAR Rule Book.

Joe Gibbs Racing later announced it wouldn’t appeal the penalty.

Hamlin will fall to ninth in the Monster Energy Series playoff standings. Wheeler was fined $50,000, and the team and driver were assessed deductions of 25 points apiece.

Hamlin will remain fifth in the Cup Series standings, 24 points ahead of Brad Keselowski. The top 10 finishers in the regular season will earn playoff points bonuses.

Hamlin’s Xfinity team also was assessed an L1-level penalty for violating section 20.14.2 (rear suspension) in its Saturday victory. JGR Xfinity team crew chief Eric Phillips has been fined $25,000 and will be suspended for the next two races. The team also was penalized 25 owner points.

NASCAR also announced the No. 22 Team Penske Xfinity car of Joey Logano was assessed an L1-level penalty for violating sections 20.14.2 (rear suspension) after its runner-up finish to Hamlin Saturday.

Crew chief Greg Erwin was fined $25,000 and suspended from two races, the team was assessed with the loss of 25 owner points. Logano’s finish also was ruled encumbered.

Matt Kenseth ‘struggles’ to sixth-place finish, hopes to seal playoff spot at Richmond

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Some drivers would be ecstatic to finish sixth at a place such as Darlington Raceway.

Not Matt Kenseth. He was disappointed at his sixth-place showing in Sunday night’s Bojangles’ Southern 500.

“It was a very big struggle,” the Joe Gibbs Racing driver told NBCSN. “We didn’t run well at all, Jason made some good adjustments tonight, getting it better. … We could run decent speeds for 20 laps and then we were totally junk.”

Kenseth still isn’t locked into the NASCAR Cup playoffs. He’s currently in 15th place in the playoff standings. But there’s a big caveat with that: He’s just two points behind Chase Elliott and one point ahead of 16th-ranked Jamie McMurray.

If a driver who is winless this season wins at Richmond, Kenseth needs to make sure he ends up ahead of McMurray and potentially Elliott to make the final spot — lest the Wisconsin driver finds himself on the outside looking in after the final playoff qualifying race.

“We’ve just got to running better,” Kenseth said. “All our cars are running good. We ran OK tonight, we ran top-10, but we didn’t run near good enough to win.

“I don’t feel I do the best job at this racetrack. Richmond’s a good track for us so hopefully we go there next weekend and have a good shot at a win.”