Richard Petty will lead the NASCAR field to green in Sunday’s Goodyear 400 (3:30 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN) at the Darlington Raceway. No, he’s not on the pole. The 7-time champion is still retired. However, he literally will lead them there though as he’ll drop the green flag on the 12th race of the Cup Series season this weekend.
Then, Petty moves up to the broadcast booth after for NASCAR’s annual Throwback weekend. The thing is, I expect the race to feature a throwback Darlington race too. Credit that to the Next Gen car.
This new car that debuted in the season opening Daytona 500 back in February, has made a huge difference in what we’re seeing on track. Take last week for example. Dover was almost left for dead but this new car produced 1,511 green flag passes. By comparison, last year’s model allowed just 659 like passes.
Fontana was set to get demolished and turned into a short track. After phenomenal race earlier this year, the grandstands are still standing with the track untouched.
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This new package can help revitalize a new Darlington that wasn’t like the old. There were only 18 lead changes in 501 miles of racing in the Southern 500 the last two years. Combined. That’s due to less downforce and more horsepower.
At Darlington, the fast way around is around the top of the 1.33-mile South Carolina oval. If you have good grip up top and not sliding around, how can you pass below them?
By comparison, the Xfinity Series had the opposite package and put on a far better show. They had nearly the same amount of lead changes lately (17, 13, 19) in 200 fewer miles of action.
That, plus this being a day race now like last year’s version can help.
The Cup race last year during this weekend was all run during the day and featured 19 lead changes in 400 miles. The Southern 500 had 101 more miles but 1 less lead change too.
Imagine now with the new car.
Tire fall off is going to be crucial as always which makes this race most similar to dare I say…Richmond.
That was a grown up race then. Managing tire fall off and when to pit or not pit was the name of the game. Same thing happens at Darlington.
If you go back to Talladega last Fall, we’ve seen 15 of the last 17 races won in the Cup Series by a driver under the age of 30. Richmond, was 1 of the 2 not.
The young drivers are fast. They’re brash. They get everything they can out of the car. The veterans, well they’re patient. They take care of the tires and let these young guys go in knowing that they’ll see them again on older surfaced tracks a few laps later.
41 year old Denny Hamlin topped 46 year old Kevin Harvick by .552-seconds in the Toyota Owners 400 at the Richmond (VA) Raceway last month. 41 year old Martin Truex Jr. was third.Richmond, was a throwback type of NASCAR race. Maybe on throwback weekend, Darlington will look similar too.
There’s a reason as to why the last 5 races at Darlington have all been won by a driver who’s now in their 40’s. 12 of the last 13 races all saw veterans win.
Hamlin, Harvick and Truex have each combined to win the last 5 races on the Lady in Black to go along with 7 of the last 9 overall.
However…Harvick has 1 top 5 finish all season. Hamlin has 1 top 10 all year. Truex has no finishes better than 4th in 2022. They have to show up and contend this weekend.
Maybe Darlington favors a dirt guy. This Next Gen car has favored dirt guys in a sense that you get a limited amount of practice before qualifying then racing. That’s like your local Saturday night dirt track anyhow.
Plus, this car is a lot more difficult to handle and you can hang it out there like on a dirt track. That could favor these guys then at Darlington.
Kyle Larson (3 straight Darlington runner-ups), Chase Briscoe (NXS winner at Darlington), Austin Dillon (2 top 5’s including a runner-up in 2020 as well as 4 top 11’s in his last 6 at Darlington), Christopher Bell and Alex Bowman may then shine.
Bell, has no top 10’s in 5 Darlington starts, but does enter this weekend having 4 top 7 finishes in his last 6 starts on the season and arguably had the 2nd best car at Richmond.
Bowman, has won on aged tracks like Darlington (Dover, Richmond, Fontana, Chicagoland) and has 6 top 10 results in the last 7 weeks too.
While Chevrolet is 0 for their last 10 at Darlington, I don’t think you can discredit them this weekend since Toyota who’s won 3 of the last 4 including 7 of the last 10 overall there has only reached victory lane twice in the last 15 races overall dating back to last season and in those races, they only led a combined 6 laps.