The next stop in NASCAR's Next Gen chassis debut tour presses on with a Mother’s Day weekend date at the Track Too Tough To Tame. Darlington Raceway hosts the Goodyear 400, the first of two dates on the 1.366-mile oval that hosted NASCAR’s first major oval track race in 1950. While Throwback Weekend puts a plethora of legendary paint schemes on display, a field of 36 will be looking to put their stamp on the present by adding this crown jewel to their resume.
Some of the sport’s best active drivers still have yet to win at the Lady in Black. Reigning NASCAR champion Kyle Larson has three straight runner-up finishes but not wins. Chase Elliott? He’s struggled at the Cup level, posting just two career top-5 finishes in 10 starts. Polesitter and 2018 Cup champion Joey Logano has only led 122 laps at Darlington over the course of his career, finishing no better than third. Teammate Ryan Blaney? He’s got just one top 10 in six years.
It’s a track that eats up drivers and spits them out, Darlington Stripes wiping the paint off cars and the patience of those behind the wheel. Winning here is the perfect mix of handling, tire conservation while racing the track as much as you’re racing anyone else. Add in the Next Gen, a new set of wheels and it’s a very tricky scenario for drivers that have already struggled at far easier tracks.
“It takes longer to figure things out,” Joey Logano said of the Next Gen chassis. “I think that … the car really doesn’t do a good job being sideways like the old car wanted to be sideways. This one doesn’t really like it, so when you start to get in trouble, it’s gone.”
“Goodyear has a good tire that wears all four tires out,” Kevin Harvick added. “Which is something we haven’t really seen so far because the left-side tire’s been pretty conservative. Darlington is just a tough racetrack, right? Still, it had a lot of fall-off and I think that’ll be fun, but it’s definitely going to be a full day’s work.”
Elliott has already learned the hard way, crashing his primary car in Saturday’s practice. Harvick and Denny Hamlin will also start at the rear after making unapproved adjustments to their cars.
It sets up a series of fast drivers working through traffic at a place where passing comes at a premium. Once again, unpredictability reigns at a race this year, a throwback survival-style event the perfect pairing with those legendary schemes.
Expect a little chaos, a lot of cautions and some serious competition at a racetrack that rarely disappoints. Happy Mother’s Day!
Date: Sunday, May 8
Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
Track: Darlington Raceway (Darlington S.C.)
Radio: MRN, SIRIUS XM Channel 90
Who's at the Front: Hendrick Motorsports
Chase Elliott’s win at Dover gave the four-car HMS program five wins in the first 11 races. Each of their drivers has a victory, putting all of them in playoff position early and allowing the entire organization four full months to get ready.
It’s unprecedented parity for a group that always had one of its drivers lagging behind the rest. Now, they’re in the best position of perhaps any team to put all four of their drivers in the Championship 4 to race for a title amongst themselves.
Who's at the Back: Austin Cindric
Remember when Cindric started the year with an unlikely Daytona 500 victory? He’s still living off the high of that moment. Not a single top-5 finish has happened since, Cindric crashing at Dover Motor Speedway to run dead last. He’s plummeted to 18th in the standings and could be in playoff jeopardy if this season produces over 16 winners.
William Byron became the final driver within Hendrick Motorsports’ four teams to sign with the organization long-term. Byron’s contract extension runs through 2025 and keeps him in the No. 24 made famous by four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon.
Matt Kenseth, former crew chief Kirk Shelmerdine and Herschel McGriff are the new 2023 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductees. The trio was chosen after a Wednesday vote that elects two modern-day NASCAR personnel and one selection from the Pioneer Ballot. 2003 Cup champion Kenseth made the cut along with Shelmerdine, the head wrench by Dale Earnhardt’s side for four of his seven career NASCAR championships. McGriff rounded out the selections as a Pioneer ballot candidate whose career started prior to 1963; the four-time Cup winner raced in various NASCAR divisions all the way up until age 90.
Two more teams got hit with four-race suspensions after losing wheels at Dover. Both Denny Hamlin’s No. 11 and the Kaulig Racing No. 16 team will lose their crew chiefs, jackman and a tire for four weeks after not all their lug nuts were secure after a pit stop. Eight total penalties of this size have occurred at the Cup level in 2022 after not a single one was assessed the previous year.
NASCAR by the Numbers
Laps led by Kyle Busch at Dover, the most for him in a NASCAR Cup race since Bristol in September 2020.
Laps led by Ross Chastain in 11 races this season. He’d led just 75 in 115 previous Cup Series starts.
Playing the Odds (Fantasy Spin)
Kyle Larson is expensive for a reason: he’s come so close here so many times, leading an average of more than 80 laps per race in eight career starts. He has three straight runner-up finishes, three stage wins, and starts this race outside the front row. It puts him in position to get out front early, racking up both laps led and fastest-lap bonuses. Sometimes, paying the premium to get a top-tier driver like this one is the only way you’re going to win. It’s worth the price.
It’s been a disastrous year for Denny Hamlin, failing to earn a top-10 finish aside from his victory at Richmond Raceway. But Darlington is a track that typically makes it all better, a 7.1 career average finish that includes four victories and a whopping 79 percent top-10 rate in 19 starts. Add in a 35th-place starting spot and position differential bonus points are there for the taking.
Brad Keselowski is looking to turn his season around after a difficult start in his new role as part-owner of Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing. Darlington is the type of track where a lot is put in the driver’s hands, giving hope he’ll improve dramatically on a 23rd-place starting spot. Keselowski does have a win here, back in 2018, and earned a top-10 finish as recently as last fall (seventh).
Daniel Suarez has a teammate at Trackhouse Racing Team (Chastain) tearing up the Cup Series. At some point, the No. 99 will get a sniff of that momentum and Darlington is a track where the team ran 13th last fall, producing a position differential of plus-13. Suarez has yet to earn a top-10 finish here but there’s always a first time for everything, right? Plus, you need room for an expensive pick like Larson on your roster.
Landon Cassill at Darlington? Really? The full-time NASCAR Xfinity Series driver, hopping in the No. 77 for Spire Motorsports, hasn’t even raced a Cup event here since 2019. But Cassill has a history of preserving his equipment and making it to the end at Darlington (best finish: 20th) where just doing that will be enough for a top-25 performance. If that happens with his 33rd-place starting spot? Position differential will be there for the taking.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. shocked just about everyone with a runner-up finish Monday at Dover. Can he keep the good vibes going at a place where he’s never earned a top-10 finish? His Darlington track record has improved as of late, posting three straight top-20 finishes here with his No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet. A top-15 performance from his 26th starting spot would be an A+ effort at the bottom of your roster.
What Vegas Thinks
Who’s got the edge in this Goodyear 400? Vegasinsider.com has the odds on Kyle Larson (+500) with Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch next up at +750. Polesitter Joey Logano (+800) is the final driver with odds better than 10/1.
And hey, if an 80/1 longshot can win the Kentucky Derby, someone can do it in NASCAR. Aric Almirola is the driver at 80/1 this week while Stenhouse sits at 100/1.
What I Think
I’m going with Kyle Larson for the second straight week. We’ll see if he comes through as Hendrick Mororsports looks to continue their momentum from another strong weekend at Dover.
— Written by Tom Bowles, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and the Majority Owner of NASCAR Web site Frontstretch.com. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @NASCARBowles.
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