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Thursday, September 3, 2015

Darlington Weekend Preview

Sept. 3, 2015

Staff Report
NASCAR Wire Service

Time is running out for Kahne and Biffle to make Chase

In basketball terms, Kasey Kahne and Greg Biffle must hit a buzzer beater to make the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

With just two races remaining in the regular season, Kahne (-37 points) and Biffle (-83 points) are virtually too far below the points cutoff line to get into NASCAR’s playoffs without a victory.

The two veteran drivers will get the first of their final two chances to take a checkered flag in Sunday’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway (7 p.m. ET on NBC).

Kahne is no stranger to the pressure of his current “win or go home” situation. Winless heading into Atlanta on Labor Day weekend last season, he piloted his car to Victory Lane in a last-ditch effort to secure a spot in the Chase.

Kahne has never won at Darlington, but does lead active drivers there with four poles and ranks fourth in laps led in the past 10 races at the South Carolina track (327).

“It would mean a ton to win the Southern 500,” Kahne said. “It’s always been one of the races that I’ve wanted to win. We’ve come close but haven’t been able to do it, so to do it in this car that time of the year right before the Chase would be a perfect time.”

Biffle has struggled this season with just two top-five and three top-10 finishes in 24 starts, but he has been successful at Darlington throughout his career. The Roush Fenway Racing driver boasts two wins at the track “Too Tough to Tame” and leads all drivers in laps led there over the last 10 races (637).

“Darlington is a fun place. It’s one of the toughest places that we race,” said Biffle of the 1.366-mile egg-shaped oval. “Driving into the corner at 190-plus MPH and sliding up about three or four inches from the fence, or at least you hope that’s where it stops sliding and riding the fence all the way around. It’s a demanding, tough, fast race track and I look forward to going back there with the new package and tires. I’m pretty excited about it.”

Elliott eyes repeat win at Darlington

Egg-shaped with long straightaways and short quick turns, Darlington Raceway eats up and spits out even the most experienced drivers.

No one told Chase Elliott that last year.

The then 18-year-old driver made a mad dash from sixth with two laps remaining to visit Victory Lane in his first-ever start at the track “Too Tough To Tame.” That day, Elliott defeated NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stalwarts Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Joey Logano.

“Darlington is a special place for me and my family and last season was an unbelievable feeling,” said Elliott whose father, Bill Elliott, won five times at Darlington in his Hall of Fame career. “Words cannot describe what it meant to me.”

Elliott gets the chance to defend last season’s Darlington win on national television in Saturday’s VFW Sports Clips Help a Hero 200 (3:30 p.m. on NBC). In the process, he will also attempt to close the 16-point gap that separates him from leader Chris Buescher in the NASCAR XFINITY Series standings as he tries to earn his second straight series championship.

Championship points and wins aren’t the only items on the line for Elliott. If he finishes higher than Daniel Suarez, Ty Dillon and Brian Scott, he’ll win an extra $100,000 as part of the NASCAR XFINITY Series Dash 4 Cash program. The No. 9 JR Motorsports driver has shown good form down the summer stretch with top-10 finishes in his last seven starts.

“I want to make the most of the opportunity this weekend and try and continue to gain in the championship point column,” Elliott said. “It’s definitely cool going for $100,000 too in the (NASCAR) XFINITY (Series) Dash 4 Cash program.”

NASCAR Race Weekend Guide

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
Race: Bojangles’ Southern 500
Track: Darlington Raceway
Date and Time: Sunday, Sept. 6 at 7 p.m. ET
Tune-in: NBC, MRN, SiriusXM Ch. 90
Distance: 501.3 miles (367 laps)
What to Watch For: Jeff Gordon – NASCAR’s active wins leader at Darlington with seven victories – makes his final start at the South Carolina track. … 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick tries to defend his 2014 victory at Darlington. … Chase Elliott makes his fifth and final NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start of 2015 as he prepares to take over for Jeff Gordon in the No. 24 car next year. … Winless drivers have only two more chances to visit Victory Lane to earn an automatic berth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. … Drivers will sport retro paint schemes on their cars as part of Darlington’s “throwback” weekend.

Race: VFW Sports Clips Help a Hero 200
Track: Darlington Raceway
Date and Time: Saturday, Sept. 5 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Tune-in: NBC, MRN, SiriusXM Ch. 90
Distance: 200.8 miles (147 laps)
What to Watch For: Ty Dillon, Brian Scott, Chase Elliott and Daniel Suarez will compete for the $100,000 bonus in the final round of the NASCAR XFINITY Series Dash 4 Cash. … Chase Elliott tries to defend his 2014 Darlington win. … Chris Buescher (standings leader), Chase Elliott (-16 points) and Ty Dillon (-19 points) continue their race to the NASCAR XFINITY Series championship.



Darlington Not ‘Too Tough To Tame’ For Gordon
Making his final start at Darlington Sunday in the Bojangles’ Southern 500 (7 p.m. ET on NBC), Jeff Gordon will attempt to add to his active record of seven wins at the track “Too Tough To Tame.”

Gordon ranks third on the all-time Darlington wins list behind NASCAR Hall of Famers David Pearson (10) and Dale Earnhardt (9). The active driver with the next-highest total is Jimmie Johnson (3).

The No. 24 Chevrolet driver is currently 15th on the Chase Grid, 52 points above the cutoff line. On the season, he has three top fives, 12 top 10s and three Coors Light Pole Awards.

In Need Of A Win
With two races to go before the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Clint Bowyer owns the 16th and final spot on the Chase Grid - a comfortable 35 points ahead of the cutoff line. With Bowyer having such a large points lead, the drivers behind him virtually need to win one of the last two races (Darlington and Richmond) to get into the Chase. Here’s a snapshot of how some notable drivers currently off the Chase Grid have done at Darlington. 

Kasey Kahne – Despite having earned four Coors Light Pole Awards at Darlington, Kahne has never won at the 1.366-mile track. In 12 Darlington starts, he has three top fives and four top 10s with a high finish of third (2005). Kahne is no stranger to the pressure of making the Chase though. Winless heading into Atlanta on Labor Day weekend last season, he took the checkered flag in a last-ditch effort to secure his spot in the Chase.

Kyle Larson – Acclaimed as one of the top young drivers in NASCAR, Larson has suffered a bit of a sophomore slump with just one top-five and six top-10 finishes in 2015. That follows a Sunoco Rookie of the Year campaign that saw eight top fives and 17 top 10s. In his lone start at Darlington last season, Larson finished eighth.

Austin Dillon – Dillon, who finished 11th in his first-ever start at Darlington last year has showed some speed recently. The 2013 NASCAR XFINITY Series champion challenged for his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win at Michigan three weeks ago, leading 19 laps on his way to a fourth-place finish.

Greg Biffle – Biffle has struggled mightily this season with just three top-10 finishes, but is a proven winner. He has 19 career victories, including two at Darlington. Biffle owns the fifth-best driver rating (105.7) at “The Lady in Black.”

Aric Almirola – Almirola won at Daytona last year to qualify for the Chase when he wouldn’t have made it otherwise through points. In three career starts at Darlington, Almirola’s best finish is 19th. On the season, he has one top 10 (Dover).

Harvick Heads To Darlington Eyeing A Repeat
Kevin Harvick’s back.

Back on the track called the “Lady in Black.”

Harvick returns to Darlington Raceway as its defending winner attempting to improve upon his run of eight top-two finishes in the 20 starts since his last victory (March 15, 2015 at Phoenix).

In 18 career starts at the South Carolina track, Harvick claims one win, four top fives, seven top 10s and one Coors Light Pole. His Darlington victory last year came from the pole.

Although he only has two wins and the most runner-ups (10) since Bobby Allison’s 1972 total (12), Harvick leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in most statistical categories. He ranks first in top fives (17), top 10s (21), average finish (7.5), average running position (7.5), fastest laps (923), laps led (1,406) and driver rating (119.7).

Elliott To Make Final Sprint Cup Start Of 2015
Defending NASCAR XFINITY Series champion Chase Elliott will compete in his fifth and final NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race of the season Sunday. The 19-year-old Chevrolet driver is running a partial NSCS schedule this year as he prepares to take over for Jeff Gordon in the No. 24 car next year.

Elliott’s results in his first four NSCS races: Martinsville (38), Charlotte (18), Richmond (16), Indianapolis (18).

Last season, Elliott won the NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Darlington in his first-ever appearance at the track.

2 To Go Until Chase For The NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers have just two races left to qualify for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup – Darlington and Richmond.

As of now, 11 drivers are qualified for NASCAR’s playoffs with wins as long as they start the next two races and remain in the top 30 in points: Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kurt Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards.

The five remaining drivers on the Chase Grid have to either visit Victory Lane or stay high enough in the points standings where they don’t get bumped by a new winner outside the top 16.

These drivers are Jamie McMurray (76 points above the cutoff line), Ryan Newman (+63), Paul Menard (+54), Jeff Gordon (+52) and Clint Bowyer (+35).

The winless drivers who have won at Darlington in the past and have yet to earn Chase berths this season are Gordon and Greg Biffle.

The winless drivers who have won at Richmond in the past and have yet to earn Chase berths this season are Gordon, Clint Bowyer, Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart.

For the first time, a winless driver CAN clinch a spot in the Chase. If a repeat driver wins at Darlington, a winless driver would need to have a 45 point lead on the fifth-highest of the winless drivers (or 44 points, depending on tie-breakers). If there is a new winner, a winless driver would need to lead the fourth-highest winless driver by 45 points (or 44, depending on tie-breakers).

History Lesson: A Nod To The Greats
The concept of a “throwback weekend” could not become a reality without cars that look the part. To that end, a majority of teams are adopting retro paint schemes this weekend with classic designs and logos.

Here’s a look at some of the paint schemes that pay homage to cars from years past.

Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Miller Lite Ford
The Miller High Life scheme is a throwback to NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Allison’s 1983 championship season.

Austin Dillon – No. 3 American Ethanol Ford
Dillon’s colors this week honor grandfather – and team owner – Richard Childress, who started 285 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races as a driver.

Kasey Kahne – No. 5 Chevrolet
The No. 5 paint scheme honors the No. 5 All-Star Racing Chevrolet driven by Geoffrey Bodine in 1984, Rick Hendrick’s first year in NASCAR.

Trevor Bayne – No. 6 AdvoCare Ford
Bayne’s car is a tribute to the 1998 No. 6 Ford driven by Mark Martin to a career-high seven wins.

Sam Hornish Jr. – No. 9 Winn Dixie Ford
Winn Dixie joins Hornish with a scheme reminiscent of the one Mark Martin drove to Victory Lane 39 times in the NASCAR XFINITY Series.

Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Sport Clips Toyota
The red-and-white paint scheme is similar to the No. 11 driven by NASCAR Hall of Famer Cale Yarborough in the 1970s.

Clint Bowyer – No. 15 Buddy Baker Tribute Toyota
This hand-painted scheme is the same as the No. 15 driven by Buddy Baker in 1974.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ­– No. 17 Cargill Ford
The No. 17 is a replica of the No. 17 driven by NASCAR Hall of Famer David Pearson for Holman-Moody from 1968-71, when he won two of his three championships.

Jeb Burton – No. 23 Estes Toyota
Burton’s paint scheme honors the colors his father Ward drove to victory in the 2001 Southern 500 and 2002 Daytona 500.

Chase Elliott – No. 25 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet
The design of the No. 25 honors Elliott’s NASCAR Hall of Fame dad, Bill, and the car in which he won the Winston Million in 1985.

Josh Wise – No. 32 Ford
Wise will run the paint scheme used by Ricky Craven when he beat Kurt Busch in the 2003 Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 at Darlington in the closest race in NASCAR history. It was also the last time the No. 32 visited Victory Lane.

Landon Cassill – No. 40 #Snap Honor Chevrolet
Sterling Marlin ran this “Proud to be an American” paint scheme in 2001, shortly after the 9/11 attacks.

Kurt Busch – No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet
Busch honors car owner Gene Haas’ first paint scheme, with driver Jack Sprague in 2002.

Kyle Larson – No. 42 Mello Yello Chevrolet
The iconic Mello Yello paint scheme was originally featured in “Days of Thunder” and later run by Kyle Petty.

Aric Almirola – No. 43 STP Ford
Almirola’s sponsor and colors honor boss Richard Petty, and his 1972 Plymouth – the first year of the historic pairing.

Justin Allgaier – No. 51 Brandt Chevrolet
Allgaier’s red paint scheme is a nod to racing legend A.J. Foyt’s car driven in the 1970s.

David Ragan – No. 55 Ol’ Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota
Ragan is honoring his father Ken with a paint scheme he raced in 1987.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. – No. 88 Valvoline Chevrolet
The Valvoline paint scheme honors one driven by NASCAR Hall of Famer Cale Yarborough in the early 1980s, including his 1982 Southern 500 win.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

NBC releases details of Darlington coverage:

NBC releases details of Darlington coverage: Retro paint schemes are only part of the throwback celebration with the Southern 500's return to Labor Day weekend for the first time since 2003. NBC, which will broadcast Saturday's Xfinity race and Sunday night's Sprint Cup race from Darlington Raceway, also will add to the nostalgia. Among the nods to years past in Sunday's broadcast:
" Ken Squier, Ned Jarrett and Dale Jarrett will call the race at some point, taking over briefly for NBC's crew of Rick Allen, Jeff Burton and Steve Letarte.
" Features during the Countdown to Green show include Squier's essay on Darlington Raceway, Kyle Petty talking with Bill Elliott and Chase Elliott on the 30th anniversary of Bill Elliott's Southern 500 win that also earned him the Winston Million bonus, and Jeff Burton going around the track in the NBC Sports Toyota Camry On Track Car while Petty is on track as well in the Wood Brothers' #21 car from 1971.
" Booth and studio talent will appear in 1970s-era clothing.
" Also featured throughout the weekend will be retro highlights, graphics and music.
"To bring it back on Labor Day, I think this is perhaps one of the best moves that NASCAR had made in a decade," Squier said in a conference call with reporters Tuesday about the Southern 500's return to this date.(NBC Sports)(9-2-2015)