PREVIEW: Sports Clips Haircuts VFW 200 at Darlington Raceway
While everybody is having fun across social media with the various throwback images, there is still a race to be contested this weekend as the NASCAR Xfinity Series takes on the track too tough to tame.
The big storyline entering the weekend besides the 90’s swagger is Dale Earnhardt Jr. making his return behind the wheel. Since retiring from full-time competition in 2017, the sport’s Most Popular Driver has come back to run a single event each season. Last year, that was in the form of a fourth-place finish at Richmond Raceway.
It makes sense with his love for the history of the sport (Anybody remember the TV show Back in the Day?) that he would be right in there with the throwback flair. However, the Lady in Black has not always been kind to Earnhardt, with just four top-five’s in 22 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races.
He’ll have his hands full with the competition, as the BIG THREE hope to leave an impact this weekend.
Cole Custer has been the most successful of his counterparts at Darlington, scoring a ninth and second in his pair of races there for the best average finish of drivers entered. He could use a good result after finishing 10th at Road America, behind his fellow foes.
Christopher Bell did the best job on the road course, picking up the victory last Saturday after leading the last eight laps. He has not had the best of luck at Darlington, though, finishing 34th after a crash last year.
Tyler Reddick enters the weekend on top of the standings, 45 points ahead of Bell following a third-place finish at Road America. In two races at Darlington, he has finished 16th and third.
With many predicting these three will make up the Championship 4 at season’s end, a lot of eyes have shifted focus to the rest of the grid in wonder as to who will join them.
Recently, Austin Cindric has made the most splash, but he is known for road course racing so it’s no surprise he won two of those three events in August. Now returning to tracks solely focused on left turns, he did not have much luck in his first trip to Darlington, crashing out en route to finishing last.
Justin Allgaier has been a driver in the championship discussion since returning back full-time to the Xfinity Series, but has had a quiet season with no trips to victory lane. It has not been due to lack of effort, though, as the No. 7 has led 417 laps, including a race-high on a couple occasions this year. However, bad luck has ultimately hampered their efforts at the wrong times. He knows his way around Darlington, though, with two top-five’s and five top-10’s in eight starts.
There’s also the influx of Cup stars, with both Ryan Blaney and Denny Hamlin looking for glory this weekend. Blaney finished seventh in 2016, while Hamlin has five wins in 11 starts – but will start at the tail of the field on Saturday due to wrecking in practice. Don’t count either of driver out, though, as Team Penske and Joe Gibbs Racing have won the last two races at Darlington.
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