By Sarah Tonsmeire
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series had a brief hiatus, but returned with a bang at Darlington Raceway last weekend. With the Labor Day weekend date returning home to Darlington, all of NASCAR embraced a throwback weekend complete with throwback paint schemes, vintage clothing, and a wig or two. From the television booth, to pit road, to the cockpit of the cars, fans witnessed quite a show.
Sunday night’s race was the second appearance of NASCAR’s low downforce rules package, producing an even better performance this time around. This package placed emphasis on drivers maneuvering and handling the car, versus the original package this year that placed emphasis on the initial setup and engineering of the car. The features of this package significantly increased the amount of passing we saw on track, as well as the “keep you on the edge of your seat” kind of racing. Not only did NASCAR fans proclaim their love for this package, many drivers raved about it post-race.
With a record eighteen cautions during Sunday’s race, the 500-mile race seemed to last for days. The overall race was won on pit road. Not only was it important for teams to have quick stops to gain track position, the Crew Chiefs were left with strategizing on how and when to best utilize their limited sets of Goodyear tires. Tony Stewart for example, showed significant gains last weekend with leading laps, but a couple of bad pit stops led to his sixteenth place finish. Brad Keselowski led the most laps, 196 of the 367, but was second off pit road on the final stop. It was Carl Edwards who won the final race off of pit road and held off Keselowski for the final laps to win the Bojangles Southern 500. Not only was his crew fast on pit road, they proved to be the quickest thinkers by placing white tape on the track wall to read “Carlington” in place of Darlington. Edwards was clearly on a mission Sunday when he rallied from being a lap down to secure his second victory this season. It was his first win at Darlington Raceway.
Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top five. Kevin Harvick is still the points leader.
NASCAR has announced that no rules package changes will be made for the Chase. They are currently working on solidifying the 2016 package and plan to make an announcement soon.
In other NASCAR news, Denny Hamlin tore the ACL in his knee while playing basketball earlier this week. Despite the injury, Hamlin has received medical clearance to continue racing.
This week, the pressure is on for those drivers who are still working to secure a spot in the Chase. NASCAR heads to Richmond International Raceway for the final regular season race, and the final determination on which drivers continue to chase the Championship. Drivers will maneuver 400 laps around the three-quarter mile track to complete 300 miles in the Federated Auto Parts 400. Short track racing, combined with the anticipation and tempers of drivers will produce incredible racing action. This week’s Fast Five accounts for drivers’ previous success at Richmond and like short tracks and the level of momentum they have. Here’s the Fast Five for Richmond: Kyle Busch, who holds the best average finishing position, most wins among active drivers, and has already clinched his spot in the Chase; Kurt Busch, who won the Spring race at Richmond and is a top-rated driver at this track; Kevin Harvick, who posted a second place finish at Richmond in the Spring and seems to be unstoppable regardless of what obstacles he face during a race; Joey Logano, who has had great momentum this season, posted a top five in the Spring race, and is already clinched in the Chase; and Jeff Gordon, who has undoubtedly struggled this season, but his best finishes have come on short tracks this season. In addition to the Fast Five, keep an eye on Jamie McMurray and Ryan Newman as dark horses. They are also drivers who have control over making the Chase based on their finishing position.
Tune into the race Saturday at 7:30 p.m. on NBCSN.