Darlington Raceway is set to play host to tonight’s Bojangles Southern 500 for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, where 40 drivers will battle the track Too Tough to Tame.
The famed track in South Carolina that once had it’s traditional Labor Day weekend date taken away nearly 15 years ago has surged back as a favorite of drivers and fans, young and old.
Part of it is the new tradition of teams donning paint schemes that pay homage to the generations of racers that paved the way for what NASCAR is today. Some teams and drivers even dress the part, with old school outfits and appearances.
Several drivers in yesterday’s Xfinity Series race went as far as to break out facial hair looks from days past. Tommy Joe Martins and Cole Custer rocked mustaches their fathers probably had 30 years ago, and Timmy Hill sported a fu manchu.
But an even bigger part of what has made Darlington’s bounce back successful is the quality of racing. The oblong track shape, very narrow preferred line near the wall, and worn surface that eats tires, forces the very best out of each race team.
To illustrate the grip fall-off in the tires, the drivers who posted the 15 fastest times in Friday’s final practice ran an average of 30.6 laps in the session. But each of those 15 drivers posted their fastest lap of the session on their first timed lap.
Tonight’s race is expected to be much of the same, as teams have just two races left until the playoff start. Will the big three of Martin Truex, Jr., Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick dominate tonight as they have all season, or will a surprise winner emerge?
Bojangles Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, Darlington, S.C.
1.366 mile oblong oval
367 laps = 501.322 miles
Stages end: lap 100, lap 200, lap 367
Green flag: 6:15pm eastern
Coverage: NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM
Defending winner Denny Hamlin was quickest in Friday’s first practice, followed by Kyle Larson and Brad Keselowski, but those three all placed 15-21 in final practice. Practice times were very skewed as teams were on different strategies for which practice they would do their mock qualifying runs.
In Saturday’s qualifying session, Hamlin and Larson again placed first and second, as those two will lead the field to green tonight. Truex, Jr., Alex Bowman and Kyle Busch round out the top five starters.
Harvick is the favorite to win tonight’s race at 5/2 odds, according to VegasInsider.com. Kyle Busch and Truex, Jr. follow at 13/4 and 7/2 respectively. Front row starters Hamlin and Larson each are at 6/1 odds.
Last time at Darlington
Harvick earned the top starting spot for last year’s Southern 500, but Truex, Jr., Hamlin and Larson proved to be the class of the field quickly. Truex Jr. won both stages a season ago, but couldn’t quite hold on for the win.
There were eight total cautions and 20 lead changes in last year’s race, but the final caution came with more than 100 laps to go. The field took the green for the final time on lap 266, with Hamlin leading. Over the course of the final 100 laps there were five lead changes, including Hamlin storming around Truex, Jr. with three laps to go to capture the win.