NASCAR Pre-Race Media: Sunday’s Southern 500 (6 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN) race preview

TRACK: Darlington Raceway (1.33 mile oval). DISTANCE: 367 Laps — STAGE 1: 115 Laps, STAGE 2: 115 Laps, FINAL STAGE: 137 Laps, MILES (501 Miles)

Starting Lineup

Favorites – Can Harvick or Hamlin win?

Kevin Harvick

He won NASCAR’s first race back during the pandemic at Darlington on May 17. Harvick, was third in the second race. He then won the Southern 500 for 2 wins in 3 Darlington starts a year ago. He also had nine consecutive top 10 finishes on the track including eight of them being inside of the top five before this past May’s race. He led 63 total laps here in 16 starts at Darlington with RCR. He’s already led 729 in 11 starts with SHR. Is this his time to get going on the season?

Martin Truex Jr. 

He has swept the last four stages in Darlington including leading 248 laps in his win on Mothers Day weekend. He led 196 laps in this race last year and nearly won again.

Kyle Larson

He’s finished runner-up in his last two Darlington starts including three straight top three’s and four in his last five Darlington tries in general. Also, Larson has 10 top three finishes in the last 15 races on the season too.

Denny Hamlin

He won the second Darlington race back in May. Hamlin, has seven top 10 finishes in his last nine “Lady in Black” starts including six of them being in the top five. He’s a three time Darlington winner and also has three runner-ups there too.

Kyle Busch

He was runner-up in the second May race at Darlington and has three top three finishes in his last five Darlington starts. Furthermore, he has 10 top seven finishes in his last 12 starts on the track dubbed “Too Tough To Tame.”

Chase Elliott

He also was fourth in the first race at Darlington on May 17 and if not for being wrecked by Kyle Busch on May 20, he likely would have won. He then dominated in leading 114 laps during the Southern 500 but crashed while battling with Martin Truex Jr. for the win with 15 to go.

Top Sleepers?

William Byron

He was fifth in last year’s Southern 500 and fourth back in May.

Alex Bowman (+2000)

Worth a risk. He’s already a winner this season and had 2 top six finishes in 3 Darlington starts last year.

Kurt Busch (+3500)

Busch has five top eight finishes in his last seven Darlington starts. He’s a veteran needing of a good finish at Darlington could be the spot.

Tyler Reddick (+4000)

This track was made for Reddick. Running the high line right up against the wall. He was strong in Homestead on a similar track back in February and Reddick had a top 10 in the day race last May at the Lady in Black too.

Aric Almirola (+8000)

Almirola, was 12th, 7th and 9th respectively at Darlington last year so why not risk him here?

Who To Fade?

Christopher Bell

For some reason he’s struggled on this track. He was 24th, 11th, 34th and 14th respectively in four tries.

Brad Keselowski

He enters the weekend on a cold streak with just two of his last 15 races being in the top five. He’s also only had five top 10’s in his last 15 starts on the year too. Furthermore, Keselowski was 24th back in May and 11th in this race last year.

Ryan Blaney

Not a strong suit for him. Blaney, was eighth back in May but that is his only top 10 in nine Darlington starts too.

Joey Logano

He’s had two top five finishes in his last seven at Darlington and one top five in his last 10 races on the season too.

Race Preview

The opening race of the playoffs are here. Sunday starts a 10 week stretch which ends at Phoenix in November to crown a champion. Darlington is a spot that’s not just a race everyone wants to win, but one that all 16 playoff drivers want to start on the right footing too.

It’s also the third time though since 2004 that we’ll race on the Lady in Black twice in the same season. Two of those came last year. But, here we are for the annual Southern 500 in a race that should be a barn burner to win.

Kevin Harvick won 2 of the 3 Darlington races last year. Denny Hamlin won the other. Harvick, has led 729 laps in 11 Darlington starts with SHR but had only 63 laps led in his career on the Lady in Black prior. He and Hamlin are both winless this year.

Hamlin, has three top fives in his last four Darlington tries and if not for an issue on his final pit stop in the Southern 500, it would be 4 straight.

Martin Truex Jr. has to be the favorite despite backpedaling into the postseason. He’s scored just two top five finishes in his last 10 starts on the season but also dominated in each of the last two races at Darlington too.

Kyle Busch was third in May and has seven top five finishes in the 12 races since the Coca-Cola 600. The only races that he didn’t was Nashville in a race that he was just off, Loudon in a race he was leading and crashed in the rain on an oval, Indy in which he was in the top five but was collected in a crash when the curbing broke and Michigan when he was in the top five until the end.

But, you also can’t overlook Hendrick Motorsports either.

Alex Bowman was sixth in last year’s Southern 500 and has two top sixes in his last four tries. William Byron was fifth last year in the Southern 500 and fourth in May while Kyle Larson with Chip Ganassi Racing had two straight top three results and three in his last four overall. He was runner-up in May.

Then you have Chase Elliott who should have won the second Darlington race last May as well as the Southern 500 too.

Top Stat

The eventual race winner during the stage era at Darlington has finished in the top 5 in 6 of the 7 races in the second stage.

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