Darlington Raceway is the site of the penultimate race in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regular season as the field of 16 drivers gets closer to being set for the playoffs. With 13 drivers in based on a win, Chase Elliott, Matt Kenseth and Jamie McMurray currently occupy a playoff spot based on points. A number of drivers ineligible to get in on points will have to win one of the next two races. Clint Bowyer, who sits 17th in points, is the final driver that has the possibility to make it in on points. But he knows it will more than likely take a win to make the cut as he trails McMurray by 58 points. "We have to win," Bowyer said. "Win and the points will take care of themselves." Elliott is the top driver in on points and carries a 69-point advantage over Bowyer with Kenseth 61 ahead. Kenseth is the only one of the three currently in that has a Cup Series win at the challenging Darlington track, in 2013. "It’s one of those tracks where you need to have good track position, you need to not make any mistakes in order to keep your car off the wall and you need to adapt to the changing conditions throughout the race," Kenseth said. "The hardest thing for anyone to learn at Darlington is to not to stick it in the fence and yet still be fast. It may sound easy, but it’s really not." Another thing Kenseth has going for him is momentum. He's been one of the best drivers in the last six races this season, posting the second-best average finish (8.0) in that span. In those races, Kenseth has added 58 points to his cushion above the cutoff line. Elliott and McMurray's respective best finishes at Darlington in the Cup Series are 10th (2016) and second (2010).
Since Joey Logano's win at Richmond was encumbered, he finds himself 117 points below the cutoff. Team Penske has not won at Darlington since 1975 with Bobby Allison, a stat Logano would like to change. He'll also be running the XFINITY Series race on Saturday, which will utilize a new tire combination that will also be the same one used in Sunday's race. Logano's teammate, Brad Keselowski, participated in the Goodyear Tire test in July at Darlington.
Erik Jones was the only driver not qualified for the playoffs that participated in the test at Darlington. He's another driver that's carrying a bunch of momentum with four straight top 10s. Jones posted a career-best finish of second after leading a race-high 260 laps in the last race at Bristol.
Jones' teammate, Martin Truex Jr., is the defending Bojangles' Southern 500 winner. Truex will clinch the regular-season championship if he leaves Darlington with a 61-point lead.
Truex’s 2016 victory marked the 11th different winner in the last 11 Darlington races. Drivers outside the playoff grid will be hoping to add their name as the 12th on Sunday.
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
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