VFW Sport Clips Help A Hero 200 Preview

VFW Sport Clips Help A Hero 200 Preview

by April 10, 2014 0 comments

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

DARLINGTON, S.C. — The NASCAR Nationwide Series makes its lone trip of the year to the storied Darlington Raceway for Friday night’s VFW Sport Clips Help A Hero 200.

A common story that has been talked about for most of the year (for a good amount of the past several years as well might I add) is the presence of the Sprint Cup Series drivers racing in the Nationwide Series. Some fans and pundits believe that having the Cup drivers in the second-tier series takes away opportunities for the Nationwide Series regulars to win; evidently, the regulars are doing just fine.

Six races into the season we have had two series regulars take wins, Regan Smith at Daytona, and Chase Elliott last Friday in Texas. The chance for another win by a driver competing for Nationwide Series driver points this weekend is looking slim as the last time a series regular won in Darlington was in 2003 when Brian Vickers took the checkered flag.

The opportunity of having the Nationwide Series regulars go three-for-seven this year at Darlington will be a daunting task for them, many of whom are still new to racing in one of the top-three NASCAR series. A proper adjective to describe Darlington Raceway would be punishing; not many drivers survive a race at the 1.36-mile egg-shaped oval without having a Friday night date with the wall at one point during their 147 laps of racing. It’s quite the intimidating circuit for a youngster, possibly more so than Daytona or Talladega.

Four past Darlington winners are entered for the event – Jeff Green, Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, and Joey Logano.

Logano will make his second start of the year in the No. 22 Snap-On Tools Mustang for Team Penske, returning to a track that he claimed victory at in 2012. Out of all 40 entrants for Friday’s race, Logano has the lowest average finish at Darlington – 5.7. In his Darlington debut for Team Penske last season, Logano finished fourth after fighting his way up the field from a 14th-place starting spot. Despite not being able to earn any drivers points for his race on Friday, Logano believes that running the Bojangles’ Southern 500’s companion event will provide him with a valuable insight into how he should plan his attack on the circuit for Saturdays’s Sprint Cup race.

“I wouldn’t say it helps because the cars are so different, but Darlington is one of those tracks like the road courses that you like to get extra laps on because you are right on the edge most of the time,” Logano said. “So you can practice your line and know where to push it, see how the tires react and just get yourself mentally prepared, that will carry over onto the Cup side. It makes for a busy weekend, which makes for more opportunities to screw up, but the more time you can be on the track, the better it’s going to be for you.”

Winning the pole position at any track is great, however, winning the pole position in Darlington should mean a bit more for the 40 entrants – in five of the last eight NNS Darlington races, the pole-winner went on to win the race.

Busch should be happy with this fact, he has the most poles (2) out of all drivers entered for the race and has the lowest average start – a figure of 4.7 accumulated across nine races. Busch is a two-time Darlington winner in the series and will be looking for some speedway redemption after coming close to winning at Fontana and Texas earlier in the year.

Busch’s teammate, Kenseth, has proven to be incredibly consistent at Darlington in the past. In 17 series starts at the track, Kenseth has finished in the top-10 in 13 of those starts. The driver of the No. 20 GameStop Camry had a strong result in his debut for Joe Gibbs Racing at Darlington last season finishing fifth to Busch and will look to earn his first victory of the season and his fourth career victory at Darlington on Friday night.

Kyle Larson had a strong showing in his first-ever race at Darlington Raceway last season, finishing sixth for Turner-Scott Motorsports. Larson has had an incredibly consistent year thus far in the Nationwide Series, finishing in the top-10 in each of his six races this season. Larson and the No. 42 are excited to return to Darlington and will be looking to improve on their impressive debut at the track last season, hopefully finding themselves in victory lane by the end of the night for the second time this season.

“I’m really excited about returning to Darlington this weekend,” Larson said. “We had a good run here last year in our Turner Scott Motorsports car and I think this time around will be even more successful for us. This team continues to perform each week and after getting another top-three finish last week at Texas, I think it’s safe to say that we’re more determined than ever to get back into victory lane. The turns at Darlington are really mismatched, which means you have to be really easy getting into the corners and get as close as you can to the wall. I think as long as we stay smooth and hit our line, we’ve got a good chance at this thing Friday night.”

Coming off of a victory in Texas, JR Motorsport’s Elliott will be making his NASCAR debut at Darlington on Friday. The current points leader stated for that he’s excited to head to one of his favorite race tracks – acknowledging as well that it will be quite the challenge.

“Although this will be my debut at Darlington, it is still one of my favorite places to watch races at,” said Elliott. “I can’t tell you the last time I was even at that track. It always seems to put on really good shows, and I’m looking forward to being there this weekend. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun to race at, but definitely a tough one to race at. The biggest thing is going to be getting used to the place as quickly as possible so we can start tuning our car the right way.”

Elliott’s teammate Smith finished seventh in last year’s Darlington race, coming home with a top-10 in his first Nationwide Series race at the circuit in six years. Smith’s goal for the weekend will be to earn as many points as he can to close the points gap or even retake the points lead from his teammate. Smith is returning to a track that he earned his sole Sprint Cup Series victory at three years ago, a memory that should make him feel quite confident heading into Friday’s race.

“I was really proud of Chase, Greg and everyone at JRM after the 9 car’s win last week,” Smith stated. “The entire company has a lot to be proud of. It’s looking like they will be a team we have to battle all the way to Homestead for the championship. From an organizational standpoint, that’s a good problem to have. The JRM teams made a lot of noise from a competition perspective last week and we want to carry that momentum on to Darlington. I never get tired of making the drive down to Darlington. It truly is a special place, even more so after you win there.”

Roush-Fenway Racing’s stable of three drivers, Trevor Bayne, Ryan Reed, and Chris Buescher head to Darlington with what could be perceived as an anomaly for the team. The driver with the best results at the track is not Bayne (as has been the case for the past six races), but Buescher. Both Bayne and Buescher have had two starts at Darlington in the Nationwide Series, with Buescher filling in for his more-seasoned teammate when he was sidelined with an illness in 2011. In those two starts, Buescher has an average finish of 14.5 while Bayne has an average finish of 24.0. Buescher will be looking for a big rebound after crashing out of last Friday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 300, what better place to make such a recovery than at the only circuit where he has made two starts at prior to this season?

The VFW Sport Clips Help A Hero 200 will air live on ESPN2 this Friday with coverage beginning at 7:30 p.m ET.

Kyle Pokrefky
Follow Kyle Pokrefky on Twitter at @KPokrefky

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