Darlington Raceway

Clint Bowyer peaks with Kyle Petty throwback scheme for Southern 500

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The drumbeat toward this fall’s Southern 500 Throwback Weekend at Darlington Raceway has started, courtesy of Stewart-Haas Racing and Clint Bowyer.

Bowyer’s No. 14 Ford will take inspiration from the No. 42 car that NBC Sports analyst Kyle Petty drove in 1990 when he competed for SABCO Racing and was sponsored by Peak Antifreeze.

Bowyer will be sponsored by Peak in the race.

It’s the latest Darlington throwback to Petty’s career. Kyle Larson drove a Mello Yello scheme in 2015 and Ryan Blaney drove his Wood Brothers Racing scheme in 2017.

In 1990, Petty claimed one Cup win. He led 433 of 492 laps at Rockingham Speedway. It was one of his three wins at Rockingham from 1990-92.

The Southern 500 is tentatively scheduled to open the playoffs on Sept. 6 on NBCSN.

Photo Gallery: NASCAR’s return makes for a memorable week

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The silence was stark. The separation of teams in the garage area was noticeable. Even drivers were alone as part of the social distancing mandated with NASCAR’s return from a 10-week break because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But when engines fired, even though it took place in front of empty grandstands at Darlington Raceway, racing was back. The passing. The crashing. Even a middle finger displayed by the sport’s most popular driver toward a two-time champion.

Then followed the conversation between Chase Elliott and Kyle Busch. And what Elliott had to say to the media about the incident and how he had “no regrets” for his salute to Busch at the time.

The winners each had their own stories. Kevin Harvick scored his 50th career Cup victory, winning last Sunday. Denny Hamlin won for the second time this season. Chase Briscoe scored an emotional Xfinity Series win two days after he and his wife found out she had a miscarriage.

As NASCAR heads to Charlotte Motor Speedway for four consecutive nights of racing – starting with Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 (6 p.m. ET on Fox) – here’s a look back at a week unlike any other for the sport.

Everyone, including drivers, had to pass a health screening before entering the infield. John Hunter Nemechek has his temperature taken at Darlington on May 17. No driver failed the health screening during the week. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

 

Reminders were posted throughout the garage for crew members on the new health regulations. Among the many rules was that everyone at the track had to wear a mask. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

Tyler Reddick‘s crew pushes his car to inspection while following health guidelines that included wearing a mask. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

Instead of standing shoulder to shoulder, as they did before the COVID-19 pandemic, crew members stand with space between them during the national anthem before the May 17 Cup race. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

Leading on the final lap of stage 1 during the May 17 Cup race, Jimmie Johnson made contact with Chris Buescher‘s car and crashed, ending Johnson’s race. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

With the return of racing, came the return of pit stops. Joey Logano‘s team services his car. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

 

Getty Images photographer Chris Graythen told NBC Sports that this photo is the one that resonated the most to him after a week of shooting the action at Darlington. Graythen said: “To me, that (moment) kind of boiled everything down into one picture because it shows, yeah, it’s good and it’s great, NASCAR is back, we have a winner, Harvick has got his 50th win, this is all very exciting for the industry. But it also has that mask, that starkness, that quietness that shows the time that we’re in.” . (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

For the first time since 1984, the Cup Series raced on a Wednesday night. Ty Dillon‘s sponsor, GEICO, took advantage of the rare event with a special paint scheme. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

Matt DiBenedetto continues to search for his first NASCAR win, but he showed he’s prepared for that moment with his special mask. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

Chris Buescher spins during the May 20 Cup race at Darlington Raceway. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

 

Denny Hamlin with his unique mask after winning the May 20 Cup race at Darlington. Said Hamlin of the mask: “I basically had the idea right after Sunday and to get it all done by Wednesday took a feat. We wanted to actually create different types of emotions.” He only needed the smiling version on this night. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

BJ McLeod displays his unique mask before the May 21 Xfinity Series race at Darlington Raceway. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

To abide by social distancing guidelines, spotters were spread among the top rows of the empty stands for each event instead of being packed on the spotters stand. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

After rain postponed the May 19 Xfinity race and delayed it on May 21, the series finally got to run this week. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

 

Chase Briscoe prays after his emotional win in the May 21 Xfinity Series race. The victory came two days after he and his wife found out she had a miscarriage. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Will Coca-Cola 600 fortune shine upon William Byron?

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William Byron had a terrible experience in his first Coca-Cola 600, crashing a third of the way through and finishing next-to-last in the 2018 race.

His sophomore effort was significantly better: He started on the pole and finished ninth.

He’s looking for a similar, if not better, result in Sunday’s 600.

“It takes a lot of patience, a lot of adjustments, a lot of pit stops, things like that, so you just have to progress your way through the event,” Byron said.

Byron said he feels fine from the first two Darlington races this past Sunday and Wednesday, when he drove a combined 487 laps around the 1.366-mile track — the equivalent of 665 miles, 65 miles longer than the scheduled 600 miles he’ll run Sunday.

Byron acknowledged that he and crew chief Chad Knaus will have to improve long-run speed, which was a problem at times in the two races at Darlington.

He finished 35th there last Sunday due to a loose wheel, but rebounded to a 12th-place finish on Wednesday.

“We had some issues to work through in the Wednesday race that we didn’t really figure out until after the race, so that was kind of is what it is,” Byron said. “But the Sunday race, we had a really good car and obviously had the misfortune there with the loose wheel.

“(Darlington was) kind of a mixed bag. We weren’t as good on Wednesday, but I think we know why and we just have to work towards getting ready for the 600. We just have to try to carry over what we’ve been doing speed-wise at HMS.

“We’ve had some really good cars this year. We just have to put together solid races and have good execution. It sounds kind of boring and simple, but it’s really what it comes down to. Hopefully we’ll get to the end of the race and have the opportunity.”

In addition to hosting the 600, Charlotte Motor Speedway also will hold another Cup race Wednesday that will be 312 miles.

“You’re going to have a different feel just because of the ability everybody has, not just the driver’s ability, but the team’s ability to learn from the previous race and get better,” Byron said. “I guarantee you’ll probably have five or six guys that run well in one race that won’t run well in the other, or a new player that’s a dominant factor in each race is probably going to be different.

“I think you saw that at Darlington. Obviously, some of the players were the same at the front, but there were some different.

“So, I think that’s going to continue with these doubleheader type races where you have a couple of days to go back, review what happened, what went well, what didn’t go so well and make adjustments to your car or make adjustments as a driver to get better.”

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Cup drivers express desire for choose cone rule for restarts

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During the course of Wednesday night’s Cup Series race at Darlington, Martin Truex Jr. was “murdered” on restarts as his No. 19 Toyota restarted in the inside lane most of the night.

At Darlington, where the outside lane is typically the strongest, that factored into Truex finishing 10th after running near the front much of the night.

Truex “would have loved to have seen” a choose cone in play to allow him the opportunity to choose to restart on the outside.

A choose cone, a method used on short tracks around the country, allows drivers to pick the lane they’ll restart in following a caution. A number of front runners could choose to restart in the preferred lane while a driver whose farther back could wind up choosing to restart on the front row next to the leader, giving them the chance to take advantage of track position.

“Probably had a top-three car and finished 10th because of inside restarts every single time,” Truex said Friday in a Zoom press conference. “That was frustrating. I would definitely be for (the choose cone). I think it’s a good option. I think it works well on the short tracks where they do it. I think with this rules package that we have at bigger tracks it would be something that as drivers we would all be interested in.”

The leading voice among drivers regarding the choose cone in recent days has been Richard Childress Racing’s Austin Dillon, who tweeted about implementing the choose cone as far back as 2018.

Dillon brought the topic up again on Twitter Thursday morning after he finished 20th at Darlington.

Dillon addressed the subject in further detail Friday in a Zoom press conference.

“As a sport we’re always changing,” Dillon said. “We’ve done a really good job with the mile-and-a-half program and brought it back to life. I think the next thing is trying to make it better for the fans and create more drama than it already has.

“The choose cone is something that is utilized throughout short tracks in America. Dirt track, asphalt, you name it. You see it on a weekly basis at places that, heck, when I was Legends car racing at 14 with no radios, you could figure out how to make the choose cone work. You just chose and that was your line you had to make. This puts it in the driver’s hands. It kind of allows us to decide our fate when it comes down to restarts.”

Dillon also pointed to games played by drivers on pit road, as they brake check in order to leave pit road in a spot that will allow them to restart in the preferred lane.

“It takes out pit crew’s fast stops,” Dillon said. “Your pit crew could’ve gained a couple of spots there, but instead you’re giving up two spots because you’d rather start on the outside. That’s gotta stop. I think it’s gonna knock someone’s nose in at the end of pit road before too long, so that will end a guy’s race. I don’t feel like it is a hard thing to do.”

Dillon said a group of drivers have discussed the choose rule and “feel like we can accomplish it as a group.”

“We’ve been able to bring our sport back through a pandemic, I think we can make a choose rule work,” Dillon added. “It’s not that complicated in my eyes.”

Dillon recommending trying the procedure out at a track like Michigan, a 2-mile speedway where the high line is strong and drivers would have more time to choose their lane.

“You lose three or four spots by the time you get to Turn 1 because of the draft there,” Dillon said. “So it would create a long time for them to straighten it out by the time we got around. I think, personally, the drivers can straighten it out themselves. You choose a line, you must stay in that line after that mark. If you swap lanes you’re automatically black flagged, brought to the back and if you don’t give up your position before the start, it’s a lap penalty.”

However, Dillon isn’t in a rush to force NASCAR into making a decision.

“I think they’re definitely open to it from the discussions I’ve had,” Dillon said. “I just feel like there’s a lot going on right now, so I can’t push too hard because they have a lot on their plate, but it is something that I wish that they would put kind of on the driver’s plate to kind of handle a little bit.”

Hendrick Motorsports’ William Byron believes a choose cone “would definitely be welcome for” drivers.

“Especially with how critical restarts are with this package, just the sheer track position that you can gain or lose in one restart alone is pretty huge and how close the field is,” Byron said. “I think the top 10-12 cars are typically, reasonably the same or close pace to each other. I think a choose cone would allow you to have some different options to be able to make a run and let’s say you lose track position on a pit stop or whatever. You could have the potential to gain that back. I can see something that’s maybe for the top 20 cars and maybe the last 20 just doubles up like normal so it’s not a huge confusion coming to a restart.”

Joey Logano is also a proponent of the choose rule.

“It’s not news I don’t think to any driver here, every meeting that I’ve had I’ve always brought up the choose rule.  Let’s do it,” Logano said Friday in a Zoom press conference. “I see nothing bad that it can bring. It brings another strategy to the table, it’s definitely something to talk about. You don’t have luck becoming involved. …

“I tell you, if I see a bunch of 12-year-olds do it in the Summer Shootout at Charlotte Motor Speedway, I’m pretty sure all of us could figure it out.”

Chase Elliott on Kyle Busch: ‘He made a mistake … I was on the wrong end of it’

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Chase Elliott said Kyle Busch was “deserving” of the middle finger Elliott gave him after being wrecked, but also stated that he didn’t think Busch crashed him on purpose Wednesday at Darlington Raceway.

Elliott said he was upset with Busch’s move that led to the contact and cost Elliott a chance to win the most recent Cup race. Elliott finished 38th. Busch, who finished second, said he made a mistake after the race and later apologized to Elliott.

“I think that (Busch) was trying to make a spot that wasn’t there,” Elliott said in a Zoom call with media Friday. “Much like I told him, I get that mistakes happen and that’s part of life. I get it, but he’s just not a guy that makes many mistakes. For me to be on the poor end of a rare mistake on his end, at the end of the day, is unfortunate for me and my team.”

Elliott said he has no regrets about the gesture he gave Busch after the incident when Busch drove by the accident scene.

“I thought it was warranted, and he was deserving,” Elliott said.

He also said: “I don’t think (Busch) did it on purpose. I hate that I was on the rare end of a rare mistake on his end. For a guy who doesn’t make many, hated that it was me that took the blow.”

MORE: Would retaliation by Chase Elliott send wrong message?

Even though Busch has owned the mistake, the question remains if and how Elliott might pay back Busch.

“Who knows the situations or the circumstances you will be presented down the road,” Elliott said about any retaliation. “At the end of the day, the whole reason Wednesday was as unfortunate as it was is because we were battling for a win. So I guess the bottom line is to try to put ourselves in position to win more and that’s a good problem to have. That’s my goal.

“Nobody is perfect. I get that. Everybody makes mistakes. I’m sure I’ll make plenty of mistakes as time goes on. I get it. I  just hate that I was on the wrong end of a rare one on his end.”

Elliott said he appreciated Busch owning the mistake.

“Kyle and I have gotten along for many years,” Elliott said. “I feel like I’ve raced him with a lot of respect because I respect him. I think he’s really good and he is. A two-time champion should be respected in my opinion. I think he’s earned that right.

“The respect from my end was there prior to the event. To hear that from a champion and a guy who we have raced really hard and clean together over the years, I think, goes further than someone who I don’t care for as much or somebody who I don’t get along with as well, or someone who doesn’t race with that kind of respect or that kind of integrity on track.

“What did it tell me about him? I learned he made a mistake and I was on the wrong end of it. He apologized to me. Unfortunately, that doesn’t change the result. At the end of the day, it still costs us a shot at a win. At the end of the day that’s really the bulk of what matters to me and my team because we’re in the business to perform more than anything.”

Elliott will have plenty of chances to race Busch in the coming days. They’ll both be in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway and the Wednesday Cup race there. Elliott also is scheduled to compete in Tuesday night’s Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series race at Charlotte. Busch also is entered.