Five Drivers To Watch In The 2018 Bojangles’ Southern 500 At Darlington Racewayby Carter Buffkin September 1, 2018 0 comments
DARLINGTON, S.C. – It’s Labor Day Weekend, which to racing fans means the stars of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series return to Darlington Raceway for the Bojangles’ Southern 500.
With a track as challenging as Darlington, it’s a long, grueling 367-laps where the best of the best can rise to the top, or as many drivers have learned, suffer a disappointing night. We go through the field and tell you who to watch out for on Sunday, as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series returns to the Pee-Dee region.
Kevin Harvick, No. 4 Busch Beer Throwback Ford
For someone who always seems to be running up front at Darlington Raceway, it’s easy to forget he only has one victory, coming in the final non-Labor Day weekend running of the Bojangles’ Southern 500 in April of 2014.
The driver of the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 Busch Beer Throwback Ford comes into this weekend looking to continue a historical season, already gathering seven wins, most of which have come in dominating fashion. With 12 races remaining, the Bakersfield, California native has shown no signs of slowing down heading into the NASCAR Playoffs.
But, whether it’s a slip up on pit road, run in with another driver late in the race or just a disagreement with the Lady in Black, Harvick just can’t seem to close the deal here at the frequency that he has shown he is capable of.
With six of his last eight starts at Darlington resulting in top-10 finishes, including four of those in the top-five, Harvick has shown time and time again that anytime he comes to the track Too Tough To Tame, he’s going to be a force to reckoned with.
Kyle Busch, No. 18 Skittles 1998 Retro Toyota
Another member of 2018’s “Big Three”, Kyle Busch comes into Darlington hoping to rebound after the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series off-week, following a rough weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway. In Bristol, Busch found the wall in both, the NASCAR XFINITY Series, and Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races.
Like Kevin Harvick, Busch has enjoyed tremendous success this season, gathering six wins at the two-thirds mark of the season. Busch is leading the regular season point standings, while trailing Harvick by a slim margin in the NASCAR Playoff points standings.
But, even after the misfortunes coming from Bristol, there’s no reason to believe the No. 18 Skittles 1998 Retro Toyota won’t find his way to the front at some point during the Bojangles’ Southern 500. With one win, three top-five and eight top-10 finishes at Darlington, Busch has proven he has what it takes to conquer the track Too Tough To Tame.
Martin Truex Jr., No. 78 Bass Pro Shops/5-hour ENERGY Toyota
You guessed it, all three of the drivers that have shown to be the class of the field on every given week are contenders this weekend, including the defending series champion, Martin Truex Jr.
While three of the past four races have resulted in finishes outside of the top-10, Truex and Furniture Row Racing in general, have found success at Darlington Raceway. Along with his win in the Bojangles’ Southern 500 two years ago, Truex comes in with an average finish of 11.333, sixth best among active drivers.
Following a rough run in with Kyle Busch two weeks ago at Bristol, and last year’s heartbreaking finish in the Bojangles’ Southern 500 where he caught the wall while leading, giving the win to Denny Hamlin, you can count on the No. 78 Bass Pro Shops/5-hour ENERGY Toyota team coming to South Carolina with something to prove.
Kyle Larson, No. 42 DC Solar Chevrolet
It’s well known that the preferred line around Darlington requires you to ride very close to the wall, hoping to avoid the infamous Darlington Stripe, and Kyle Larson doesn’t mind that one bit.
With a track like Darlington, it’s hard to imagine the style of Larson hasn’t landed him a trip to Victory Lane here. But with three top-10 finishes and an average finish of 10th, it’s not because he hasn’t been able to keep the No. 42 Chevrolet up front.
While Chip Ganassi Racing seems to be steadily locked into the NASCAR Playoffs, the team is still yet to capture that elusive first win of 2018. But, while the win hasn’t come, the team has shown strength, finishing in the top-10 in 13 races so far this season.
With his Davey Allison inspired DC Solar Chevrolet, it’s guaranteed that even if Kyle Larson doesn’t find the checkered flag first on Sunday, he’ll put on one heck of a show trying.
Denny Hamlin, No. 11 FedEx Throwback Toyota
You can’t make a list of contenders for the Bojangles’ Southern 500 without including the defending race winner, Denny Hamlin. The driver of the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 FedEx Throwback Toyota comes into the weekend with one of the strongest Darlington resumes.
Boasting two wins, seven top-five finishes and a series-best average Darlington finish of eighth, you have to believe the Joe Gibbs Racing organization comes in confident they can join the elites of the legendary race with a third win at Darlington Raceway.
On top of the stellar career at the egg-shaped oval, Hamlin has never finished behind the lead lap. That’s 12 races at the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series level where Hamlin managed to stay on the lead lap, with his worst finish at Darlington is a modest 19th.
Hamlin’s car this weekend may serve as extra motivation as his paint scheme serves as a thankful nod to his parents, as well as the people who helped Denny work his way through the ranks of the south’s Mini Stock divisions early in his career.
With the team struggling as of late with only two top-10 finishes in the last seven races, maybe a trip to see the Lady In Black is just what the Chesterfield, Virginia native needs to garner momentum with only one race left following this weekend before the NASCAR Playoffs.