DARLINGTON, SC ( Associated Press) – It’s next gen versus old school when NASCAR’s new racer takes on its oldest superspeedway at Darlington Raceway on Sunday.
“It got me thinking about it this week,” said Ross Chastain, who won twice this season. “The Cup Car is very unstable to drive right now, especially the first few laps of practice, and I don’t expect Darlington to be easy.”
It’s rarely more than 72 years of racing.
There is a saying that only the most experienced pilots succeed on a track called “Too Tough to Tame”. According to track president Kerry Tharp, only a handful of racers – Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Larson – took part in a tire test here last month.
Tharp said the tire fall looked as serious as ever, although defending Cup champion Larsen had some difficulty finding balance in the Test.
“Kyle sprinted twice and hit the wall,” Tharp said.
Eric Jones, who won here in 2019, believes things may not always be too different. Darlingtons are always a handful as drivers are forced to run closer to the wall – and avoid the dreaded “Darlington Stripe” – to compete.
Turns 1 and 2 are shaped differently from turns 3 and 4 (resulting in a smaller pond that builder Harold Brassington contractually could not fill), meaning that racers could not easily enter corners.
“I expect to slip as much as ever,” said former NASCAR champion Brad Kiselowski, who won the Southern 500 here in 2018.
Reviews of Next Gen have been positive in the first half of this season. There have been nine drivers to win the first 11 races, with only Chastain and William Byrne carrying the checkered flag more than once this season.
Chances are strong it will be a Hendricks Motorsports driver at the end of Sunday’s 293-lap race.
Chase Elliott wins Dover rain-delayed race, becoming the last of Hendricks’ four entries to win the race this season. He likes what he’s seen so far about Next Gen Cars and expects his team to put up another strong showing on NASCAR’s most unconventional track.
Elliott said he wasn’t able to put together an entire race until last week’s win at Monster Mile. “We have to execute optimally for the whole event,” he said. “I think as long as we’re doing things we can run and compete with the best of the garage.”
odds and ends
No surprise here: According to the FanDuel sportsbook, the drivers of Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing are the favorites to win in Darlington this Mother’s Day., Hendricks’ Kyle Larsson is the betting favorite at 5-1, followed by JGR’s Martin Truex Jr. at 6.5-1. Hendrick’s Chase Elliott and Gibbs’ Denny Hamlin lead 8-1, JGR’s Kyle Busch 10-1 and Hendrick driver William Byrne 12-1.
throw it back
Darlington is hosting its latest tribute to NASCAR history with its Throwback Weekend. Many of the cars competing in the Cup Series, Xfinity Series, and Truck Series will have paint schemes honoring the sport’s rich history. This is the first time since 2019 that the festival will be run without COVID-19 guidelines, though officials caution visitors to be smart and safe.
NASCAR champion Kyle Larson will race in a car painted to look like the one driven by the late Tim Richmond in 1984.
Larson said Richmond was known for leaving it on track. “He will absolutely send on crazy tricks and things that other drivers won’t even try,” Larsson said. “So I’m going to go out there and try to play it like Tim.”
Retired cup racer Eric Almirola paid tribute to the man he considers his inspiration, his grandfather Sam Rodriguez.
Rodriguez was a three-time Tampa Bay Area Racing Association (TBARA) Dirt Sprint Car Champion and carried his love of motorsports to Almirola. So Almirola has ditched its number 10 cup car in its grandfather’s fiery red color scheme.
“He loved red because red is sharp,” said Almirola. “He was very particular about his race cars always being spotless.”
Hendrick Motorsports this week announced a three-year contract deal with racer William Byrne, meaning all four of its drivers are locked in the company until 2023.
Chase Elliott has been signed until 2027 and Byron until 2025. His teammates Kyle Larson and Alex Bowman have deals expiring after next season.
Elliott believes the Hendricks teams are “in a really solid place right now,” he said. “I think we all work very well together. It’s like a smooth flow of operations.”
The quartet has registered five wins in the first 11 races of this season.
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