Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Denny Hamlin is 4/1 to win 2021 Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond

Denny Hamlin

11 FedEx Ground Toyota
Joe Gibbs Racing

Saturday Race Info:

Race: Federated Auto Parts 400 Salute to First Responders
Date/Time: Saturday, Sept. 11/7:30 p.m. ET
Distance: 400 laps/300 miles
Track Length: .75 mile
Track Shape: Oval

Express Notes:

Darlington Recap:
Denny Hamlin kicked off the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs with a win Sunday night at Darlington Raceway – his first of the season. Hamlin battled Kyle Larson for much of the event on the historic oval, but the driver of the #11 held off a late-charging Larson on the final lap of the race to bring home his third Southern 500 trophy. The win punched Hamlin’s ticket to the Round of 12 of the Playoffs, with two more races remaining in the opening Round of 16.

Richmond Preview: Race #2 of the Round of 16 takes Hamlin to his hometown track of Richmond Raceway, a three-quarter-mile oval where the Chesterfield, Va., native owns three wins in 29 Cup starts. The FedEx Ground Toyota team performed well at the track in April, starting and finishing the race in second. Saturday night’s race falls on a somber anniversary – the 20-year mark since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. In commemoration, the 300-mile race has been specially named the Federated Auto Parts 400 Salute to First Responders.

Hamlin Statistics:
Track: Richmond Raceway
Races: 29
Wins: 3
Poles: 3
Top-5: 14
Top-10: 18
Laps Led: 1,911
Avg. Start: 9.7
Avg. Finish: 9.0

Hamlin Conversation – Richmond:

Does having one win already in the Round of 16 change the way you approach the rest of the round?

“We want to win these next two races, too. We’re not going to take these next two weeks off. We want to keep this momentum going. That way, when we get to the treacherous second round, we’re ready and we’re in Playoff form.”

Do you remember where you were on the day of the 9/11 attacks?

“I was putting the exhaust on my new late-model car that my parents spent every dollar they had on, and tragedy struck, and we all were glued to the TV for the next eight hours. It was certainly a defining moment in our country. We don’t take lightly everything that happened, and we have such an appreciation for all the first responders who went to the scene and especially for those who never went home again.”

FedEx Ground Along For The Ride: The SCAL district’s focus on “Safety Above All” lands them a placement on the B-post of the No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota race car during the Sept. 11 Richmond Raceway race.

FedEx Office – Closest to Richmond Raceway: 1111 E Main St, Richmond, VA (804) 783-9880

Hendrick Motorsports driver quotes for Richmond

Kyle Larson, driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, on the spring Richmond race: “Richmond was really the only bad race from start-to-finish we’ve had this year. I know we’ll be better this time around because we learned a lot. Alex (Bowman) won there and we have their notes, but we learned a lot even from how we ran in the spring.”

Cliff Daniels, crew chief of the No. 5 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, on confidence level heading into Richmond following the race earlier this season: “We were absolutely terrible in the spring. Once we were able to compare notes (with other Hendrick Motorsports teams) it made sense – we know where we were weak and need to get better. We’re very fortunate to have the success of the 48 (team) and their baseline.”

Chase Elliott, driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, on 9/11: “Sept. 11 is always a day that I think sticks out to any American. I don’t think you could ever just ignore that or act like it’s just any other day. That’s a major tragic event in our history and one that we’re all going to live with for the rest of our time. Our sport is patriotic, but just being an American, you could never forget about that.”

Elliott on the challenges of the playoff format: “It’s a cutthroat 10 weeks. Unfortunately, the more the rounds go on you just can’t have poor races. A lot of times having a poor race doesn’t mean you did a bad job or you weren’t fast, it just means something didn’t go your way. Unfortunately, that could be the end of your season. Do I necessarily agree with that all the time? No, but at the same time we had 26 weeks to win races and to accumulate playoff points. The more of those you accumulate, you’re hedging your bet to make it further in the round. That’s the best thing you can do, try and build that buffer and get those points and get yourself in a better position to where if you do have a bad day you can still recover.”

Alan Gustafson, crew chief for the No. 9 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, on if a specific playoff round matches up best for the No. 9 team: “There’s not one round that stands out to me. You could go to any of the races and have a problem or issue and have a terrible points day and then start significantly worse than you expected for the next race, like Darlington for us. All of those things can happen at any point in time, so you are always apprehensive and a bit nervous. But, at the same time, I have a lot of confidence in what we can do. We should be on the attack mode not conserve mode. I feel good about it, but I certainly respect all of the tracks and all the potential hurdles that they all have. I think we can compete well at any one of them and win at any one of them and that’s what we are going to try to do. At the same time, we certainly understand that you’ve got to be at your best form and really super prepared because at a moment's notice anything can happen that puts you in a bad spot.”

William Byron, driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, on racing at Richmond: “Richmond has always been a challenging track for me. The track already has very low grip and making sure the tires last during a long run is key. The surface resembles Atlanta (Motor Speedway) but has characteristics of Phoenix (Raceway). I feel like every time I’ve run there that I’ve learned a bit more and improved each time. With Darlington not going the way we hoped, we will need to really execute this weekend and maximize whatever situation we are in to set us up for Bristol and advancing on through the playoffs.”

Rudy Fugle, crew chief of the No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, on rebounding for race two of the Round of 16:
“Obviously, this isn’t the position we want to be in this weekend on the outside looking in, but we’re also are by no means out of the hunt, either. The No. 24 team has the speed capable of winning and I think we’ve done a good job of showing that, especially lately. Unfortunately, we’ve just been wrong place wrong time the last couple weeks. We’ve already put that behind us, though, and moved on to the next task at hand – Richmond. We had a top-10 car there earlier this season and the guys are putting in extra hours this week to make sure we bring a rocket to the track for Saturday night. This isn’t a must-win situation, but we’re going to execute what we need to maximize on our results.”

Alex Bowman, driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, on returning to Richmond after winning there in April: “Going back to Richmond is something to look forward to this week. Richmond is a track where our No. 48 team feels really strong at, and we are bringing the same car from earlier this year when we ended up in victory lane. After last week, we need to rebound and capitalize on a good night on Saturday. There’s not a lot of comfort going forward the next two weeks, but we are going to two places we know we can be strong at and have good runs.”

Greg Ives, crew chief of the No. 48 team, on chassis for Richmond: “It is going to be the same car and same chassis but obviously different things that you’re able to do, either to make it better or in NASCAR’s world, you’re able to regulate or put a little more sight and difficulties on you. Whatever that scenario is, whether it’s true or false or to allow other guys to get their cars get better, you have to keep up with it. That’s ultimately the goal – to bring a better race car and try not to reinvent the wheel. For the most part, the general setup is going to be very close. Just trying to fine tune and then make things a little bit better.”

Ives on how quickly the playoff rankings can change: “You got to look at history, right? The biggest factor I see (are) the unknowns. Putting yourself in a bad situation and then hurting yourself. You kind of look at the history of last year’s playoffs and we scored the second-most points in the playoffs. We didn’t go to the final four but, in the end, it calls for a really good run and the 4 team there with Kevin Harvick, they had how many wins last year? Eight wins and a lot of points and they got themselves in a bad spot and wasn’t able to transfer to the final four. It definitely is a tough grind and tough season, but then you add on the quickness of a reset and going to probably one of the toughest racetracks (Darlington) to either get the handling right (or) the toughness on the teams from a pit standpoint (or) the ease of getting damage to the car and putting yourself in a bad situation with the wreck. It’s a tough place to start out, for sure, and you have to be pretty flawless. If not, you got to learn how to overcome dramatically. Unfortunately, that’s what we have to do – overcome a really bad situation.”


Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Hendrick Motorsports driver quotes for 2021 Southern 500

Kyle Larson, driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, on Darlington and the start of the playoffs: “This is the best opportunity I’ve had to win a championship. There’s nothing easy about Darlington. It’s tough because we run so close to the wall and it’s so tough getting to pit road. It’s a crown jewel that we all want to win, and it means even more since it starts off the playoffs.”

Cliff Daniels, crew chief of the No. 5 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, on point standings affecting race strategy: “I have not looked at points (during the races) all year – I did not look at the points even once (last) Saturday night at Daytona. If we do our jobs correctly, the points should take care of themselves.”

Chase Elliott, driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, on working with kids from Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta on DESI9N TO DRIVE: “The program is a really big deal to me, personally. I don’t think all of these kids watch NASCAR every weekend, so we have that opportunity to introduce some of them to it and allow their ideas and designs to come to life. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about to me. It’s about giving them some excitement, something to look forward to whether they watch racing or not. It doesn’t matter. If it gives them three hours of excitement or five minutes of excitement, that is a win, in my opinion. Obviously, the proceeds of the auction items benefit Children’s, which is bettering their program. It’s all for a great cause. For the kids specifically, it’s just about their imagination and ideas coming to life.”

Elliott on kicking off the playoffs at Darlington: “We are super excited for Darlington this weekend. These next three weeks are exciting races. Three, I feel like, really cool racetracks with fun environments for us. It’s getting to be that time of year. Fall is an exciting time of year for a lot of things around sports and our season is getting down to it, as well. We are just excited to get going. It’s hard to believe we are 26 weeks in. It doesn’t really seem like it, but here we are starting another playoffs and heading into the final 10 of the year. It goes by fast, but over two months of racing is still a long time. They will click off and you’ll get in certain moments that you might like, some you might not like, and we’ll make the most of them all.”

Elliott on crew chief Alan Gustafson: “He has really seen a lot through his career and I feel like people sometimes don’t realize that and how much experience he does have. I am certainly thankful for that. He does a fantastic job with just keeping our team super levelheaded and really just riding the waves, both the ups and the downs, kind of with the same mentality. He does a great job of not only exemplifying that but making sure the rest of us understand that that’s important, too.”

Alan Gustafson, crew chief of the No. 9 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, on making his 600th Cup start as a crew chief: “That’s a lot of races. Surviving 600 races is a pretty big feat in itself. I’m certainly honored to be able to do what I do. I’ve been able to work with some great people and that’s the biggest thing that stands out to me – those relationships and working through, you know, like you mentioned, the ups and downs, the successes and the failures together. Overcoming that, the relationships you form – that, to me at this point of my career, is the sweetest thing about victory – is just being able to do that with people you care about and work with and see them enjoy it. That’s what really motivates me and fuels me and gets me excited. It’s crazy; it’s a big number, so I feel super fortunate. Hopefully, I can get quite a few more.”

Gustafson on the pressure of the playoffs: “It is a little daunting, but I really enjoy it. This time of the year, I enjoy that feeling or pressure, however you want to describe it, of the urgency and finality of if you don’t get it done. I like that. It’s something that I enjoy and feel like our team thrives in. We are ready to do it. The past is the past and all the talk about the future is really kind of pointless. It’s just doing what you have to do and that’s what we need to focus on. Focus on what we can control and if we do that, we will be in great shape.”

Gustafson’s mindset heading into 14th career playoffs: “My mind set is just to get the team and everybody operating at their maximum potential. You got to be operating at 100%. I feel we got the team, the car, the sponsors. We got what we need to do it; we just have to make sure that everybody is operating at their maximum ability. If we do that, I feel very confident that we can compete with anybody. That’s it and peaking at the right time and all those things you hear from Chase, that’s what it’s about. Just getting everything working to see what’s optimal. (We’re) trying to get that.”

William Byron, driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, on racing at Darlington for the first race of the playoffs: “Darlington is a track that has a lot of character. I feel like you really have to drive your car to its limit all while understanding the grip and limit of your tires. You can’t exceed that level every lap. You have to stay within a certain limit. I think that is a factor at just about every track, but it’s really magnified at Darlington. Any time the drivers are challenged like they are at Darlington, it brings out the desire and passion within all of us. It just makes it that more intense when it’s kicking off the most intense part of our season with the playoffs. It’s definitely a cool race if you can win it track-wise but also because it sets the tone for how the next nine races go.”

Rudy Fugle, crew chief of the No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, on what it will take to be successful in the playoffs: “Daytona was a tough one for us, just because we had a car that could have won and the extra playoff points would have been nice. Unfortunately, preparation doesn’t always equal results, but you can’t get results without the preparation. While we’ve been preparing every week like we’ve already started the playoffs, we’re resetting for the start of the Round of 16 this weekend. The playoffs are a long, hard-fought war, but it starts with small battles. Our team has had the speed all year; we just need to execute and put ourselves in the best position to keep moving forward and get through the rounds. Obviously, the goal is to make it to the final four at Phoenix, but we need to win the small battles along the way to ensure we get there. This team is fully capable of doing that and it starts this weekend at Darlington.”

Alex Bowman, driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, on the momentum the team has going into Darlington: “Last year, we had some rough weeks during the summer but showed up in the playoffs strong each and every week. I believe we have the ability to repeat that and go further in the playoffs this year. Hendrick Motorsports has a lot of momentum right now as an organization and the No. 48 team is bringing some fast Ally Camaros to the track every week. Darlington is a place where we have had good results in the past, and I think it is one of three or four in the playoffs that suits our program."

Greg Ives, crew chief of the No. 48 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, on bringing the energy from last season’s playoff run to this year: “I feel like having three wins in the first 26 races is definitely marked for a good season. You can check off some boxes like getting a win, getting a pole and making the playoffs. Obviously, there are a couple of races that we would want to take back and think we could have run better at. Most teams, if not all teams, find the one or two things that didn’t go right during certain races and focus on improving those going into the playoffs. We had a great playoff run last year and we are going to try to pull from that experience going into the playoffs this year.”

Ives’ thoughts on how the repave will affect Sunday’s race: “The repave at Darlington in turn two is going to provide some challenges for teams just because we don’t know how it will affect the tire wear. Going to a track that has been repaved typically doesn’t wear tires as much and has a tendency to run edgy free versus more of a slidable free. You also tend to run a little faster, for sure. It is going to be fun and exciting to figure out on Sunday. There are some things that we can look at doing differently as a team with the setup, but ultimately the teams and drivers that adapt quickly will be successful with it.”

Cole Custer is 300/1 to win 2021 Southern 500 at Darlington



Darlington Advance

No. 41 Demo Day Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing



Event Overview


● Event: Cook Out Southern 500 (Round 27 of 36)

● Time/Date: 6 p.m. EDT on Sunday, Sept. 5

● Location: Darlington (S.C.) Raceway

● Layout: 1.366-mile oval

● Laps/Miles: 367 laps/500 miles

● Stage Lengths: Stage 1: 115 laps / Stage 2: 115 laps / Final Stage: 137 laps

● TV/Radio: NBCSN / MRN / SiriusXM NASCAR Radio


Notes of Interest


● Cole Custer and the No. 41 Demo Day Ford Mustang team for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) are bearing down for the final 10 races of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season after their strong bid for a top-five finish last Saturday night at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway was foiled when Custer was caught in a multicar accident on the next-to-last restart of the race. Custer and the team left Daytona more determined than ever to lock down their first victory of the season during the home stretch, which begins with Sunday night’s Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway.


● Appearing on Custer’s SHR Mustang for the first of two consecutive races Sunday night will be Haas Automation’s Demo Day in leadup to this year’s annual event held at the network of nine Haas Factory Outlet (HFO) locations throughout the country. Demo Day provides HFOs an opportunity to feature the latest CNC machines, innovations and technology from Haas Automation. HFOs will showcase machine cutting demonstrations, as well as educational seminars to explain how the latest Haas machines and options can make companies more efficient and profitable. Current Haas users, potential customers and anyone in the manufacturing industry are also invited to attend. To find the nearest HFO, and for more information, click here.


● Saturday’s 500-mile race will be Custer’s 66th Cup Series start and his and his fifth on the 1.366-mile, egg-shaped oval. The reigning Cup Series Rookie of the Year’s 12th-place finish in the Southern 500 last September was the best of his three Darlington outings in 2020. In this year’s Southern 500 at Darlington in May, an accident during Stage 2 of the race ended his day prematurely.


● The native of Ladera Ranch, California, was credited with the victory in his most recent NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Darlington in 2019 after finishing second the previous year and ninth in 2017, all behind the wheel of the No. 00 SHR Ford. In the 2019 race, he crossed the finish line .602 of a second behind the apparent race-winner Denny Hamlin. But Hamlin’s racecar was disqualified after a ride-height violation was discovered in postrace inspection, giving Custer his eighth of nine career Xfinity series victories. In the September 2018 Xfinity Series race at Darlington, Custer was runner-up to Brad Keselowski by .738 of a second.


● After last weekend’s 24th-place finish on the 2.5-mile Daytona oval, Custer arrives at Daytona 28th in the driver standings.


● Returning to Custer’s No. 41 Ford Mustang is team co-owner Gene Haas’ newest holding, Haas Tooling, which was launched as a way for CNC machinists to purchase high-quality cutting tools at great prices. Haas cutting tools are sold exclusively online at and shipped directly to end users. products became available nationally last July, and the cutting tools available for purchase at have proven to be even more important during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as CNC machines have become vital to producing personal protective equipment. Haas Automation, founded by Haas in 1983, is America’s leading builder of CNC machine tools. The company manufactures a complete line of vertical and horizontal machining centers, turning centers and rotary tables and indexers. All Haas products are constructed in the company’s 1.1-million-square-foot manufacturing facility in Oxnard, California, and distributed through a worldwide network of Haas Factory Outlets.


● September is Hunger Action Month, and SHR, its partner Wow Wow Classic Waffles, and Feeding America®, the largest hunger relief organization in the United States with a network of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programs, are asking fans to think about their answer to a simple question: How will you choose to end hunger? Hunger Action Month is an annual campaign dedicated to driving awareness and inspiring action to help end hunger in America, both on a national scale and on the ground in local communities. It’s a time when the Feeding America network of food banks and the public come together to raise awareness and inspire action to help people facing impossible choices due to hunger. Fans are encouraged to visit the Hunger Action Month page via the Feeding America website to learn how they can take action through sharing, volunteering, pledging to advocate, fundraising and making a donation. Each $1 donated helps provide at least 10 meals secured by Feeding America on behalf of local member food banks. Custer and the No. 41 SHR Ford team have accumulated nearly 100 volunteer hours to date, working with Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina in packing bags and helping with drop-off events at Charlotte-area schools.


● Fans can do their part by texting HUNGER to 50555 to make a $5 donation to Feeding America, by visiting the Feeding America donation page on Facebook, or the donation page via the Feeding America website. Each $1 donated helps provide at least 10 meals secured by Feeding America® on behalf of local member food banks.


Cole Custer, Driver of the No. 41 Demo Day Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing


Is there a race you’re looking forward to more than any of the others over these last 10 events of the season?

“I would say Darlington is one I’m looking forward to. It’s one of those races that every driver looks forward to because of the challenge behind it and how much you can do as a driver. There are so many different lanes you can work and you’re running right up against the wall. It’s just a driver’s racetrack and I feel there’s not one guy who doesn’t feel excited when they hear Darlington is coming up.”


How do you feel the team has progressed to this point, where you’re about to enter the home stretch of the season?

“There have been just so many things to work through this year that were a little unexpected, there were a lot of curveballs thrown against us. Everybody’s worked so hard to figure out what direction we need to go in. We’ve got more of an idea on what direction to go, it’s just a matter of fine-tuning that. I think we’re headed in the right direction, it’s just a matter of working the final details.”


What did it mean for you to be in the playoffs last year as a rookie?

“I think it meant the world. It was a great experience to see how everybody raced each other under tight circumstances. It was definitely a great experience and hopefully we can be right back in the thick of things next year. In the meantime, we’ll just work as hard as we can to build all the momentum we can through these final 10 races this year, maybe even pick up a win or two.”


Do you feel the playoffs are a good way to determine a champion?

“It’s how we play the game. I don’t know how else to say it. I think it generates a lot of excitement. I think it’s a lot like other sports where we have playoffs and I think it’s always been good. In all sports, you have times where the best team doesn’t win the whole thing, doesn’t win the championship. That happens in our sport, too. It’s just part of it. Our sport is a little bit unique because we do race at different tracks and things can happen. Some teams are better at certain tracks than others, but at the same time it’s the game you play. We have a playoff system and I think it’s been great for the sport in having a lot of excitement and you just have to make it happen those last 10 races.”

Kevin Harvick is 8/1 to win 2021 Southern 500 at Darlington



Darlington Advance

No. 4 Busch Light Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing



Event Overview


●  Event:  Cook Out Southern 500 (Round 27 of 36)

●  Time/Date:  6 p.m. ET on Sunday, Sept. 5

●  Location:  Darlington (S.C) Raceway

●  Layout:  1.366-mile oval

●  Laps/Miles:  367 laps/501.3 miles

●  Stage Lengths:  Stage 1: 115 laps / Stage 2: 115 laps / Final Stage: 137 laps

●  TV/Radio:  NBCSN / MRN / SiriusXM NASCAR Radio


Notes of Interest


●  Kevin Harvick is running a fan-inspired paint scheme in the Cook Out Southern 500 NASCAR Cup Series race Sunday night at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. Scott MacDonald, a NASCAR fan since 1977 who witnessed Busch’s entry into NASCAR when the brand sponsored driver Cale Yarborough in 1979, was chosen by Busch to influence the design of Harvick’s No. 4 Busch Light Ford Mustang. MacDonald has been a Harvick fan since 2007 when he watched him win the Daytona 500 by just .020 of a second over Mark Martin. MacDonald caught the racing bug as a 6-year-old growing up in Haddonfield, New Jersey. He became a regular visitor to his two nearest Cup Series venues – Dover (Del.) International Speedway and Pocono (Pa.) Raceway – and has since been a part of the NASCAR Fan Council. “To have the opportunity to design a car for a driver like Kevin Harvick is a dream come true,” MacDonald said. “Plus, to have it run at the Southern 500 – a crown-jewel race – I can’t stop smiling. Stewart-Haas Racing and Anheuser-Busch have given me the opportunity to become a part of NASCAR history. Nothing can compare to that! When anyone watches this race again, they’ll see my design, especially when Kevin wins!” When the 50-year-old MacDonald was asked which will be more satisfying – seeing the car he inspired out on the racetrack or bragging to his friends and co-workers that he was behind the look of Harvick’s Busch Light Ford, MacDonald said, “Oh, I’ve already started bragging, but I think when I see that car out on the racetrack, that will definitely be more satisfying.”


●  The NASCAR Playoffs begin Sunday at Darlington and for the 15th time in his career, Harvick is a part of it. Harvick qualified for the playoffs by virtue of his ninth-place finish in the regular-season standings. This is his 12th consecutive playoff appearance. Harvick won the championship in 2014.


●  There’s a sense of déjà vu in this year’s playoffs. Despite going winless in this season’s first 26 races, Harvick pointed his way into the playoffs by finishing ninth in the regular-season standings. Back in 2011, Tony Stewart – the “Stewart” in Stewart-Haas Racing – went winless in the season’s first 26 races and pointed his way into the playoffs by finishing ninth in the regular-season standings. Despite declaring that he was “wasting” a spot prior to the first race of the 10-race playoffs, Stewart went on to win that race and four more, including the season finale where he beat Carl Edwards for the championship by virtue of a tiebreaker, as Stewart’s five victories trumped Edwards’ lone win. Harvick seeks to emulate the championship run Stewart performed 10 years ago.


●  Harvick is the defending winner of the Southern 500. In last year’s race, the driver of the No. 4 Busch Light Ford Mustang led three times for 32 laps, including the final 13, to beat second-place Austin Dillon by .343 of a second. It was Harvick’s eighth win of 2020. He would go on to win one more race – the Sept. 19 Bass Pro Shops/NRA Night Race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. His nine wins in a single season were a series-best and career-best, all in Harvick’s 20th year of NASCAR Cup Series racing.


●  Darlington is known as “The Track Too Tough To Tame” but Harvick has tamed the venerable 1.366-mile oval three times. The 45-year-old racer from Bakersfield, California, owns two Southern 500 victories (2014 and 2020) and one win in the track’s 400-mile race. In fact, Harvick enters Darlington with an impressive record – he hasn’t finished outside the top-10 since 2012. How long ago was that? “Gangnam Style” and its music video by South Korean singer Psy went viral in 2012, four years before the social media app TikTok became reality.


●  That’s a long time, but not nearly as long as Darlington has been around. The 2021 season marks the track’s 71st anniversary, with the egg-shaped oval having hosted 120 NASCAR Cup Series races. The first came on Sept. 4, 1950 and it was the first 500-mile race in NASCAR history and the first on asphalt. Johnny Mantz drove his Plymouth to the win with an average speed of 75.250 mph and the race took 6 hours, 38 minutes and 40 seconds to complete. Juxtapose that with Harvick’s win in last September’s Southern 500. His Ford Mustang had an average speed of 132.256 mph and the race finished in 3 hours, 47 minutes and 26 seconds.


●  COVID-19 stopped racing in its tracks last year. After the checkered flag dropped March 8 at Phoenix Raceway, NASCAR went on a 10-week hiatus as the world grappled with the scale of a pandemic not seen since the Spanish Flu of 1918-1919. NASCAR had to navigate a brave new world, and the sport was one of the first to return to action when racing resumed May 17 at Darlington. It was a welcome surprise, as one version of NASCAR’s hypothetical return featured a start date of Oct. 25 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with a stretch of 30 races in 64 days that would wrap with three straight races at Phoenix… on Jan. 1-3 of 2021. In a time of great uncertainty, seeing sports’ return with NASCAR pacing the field proved both prideful and poignant. Harvick never let off the gas even as the season ground to a halt. He focused on all the little details that go into wheeling a 3,400-pound racecar around tracks faster than 39 of his competitors. The result? After finishing second March 8 at Phoenix, Harvick one-upped that result by winning in NASCAR’s return to racing May 17 at Darlington.


●  That win on May 17, 2020 at Darlington was Harvick’s milestone 50th career NASCAR Cup Series victory. Harvick led 159 of the race’s 293 laps to secure his 11th straight season as a Cup Series winner. His career win total now stands at 58, which puts him 10th on the all-time Cup Series win list. Next on the all-time win list is Kyle Busch with 59 victories.


Kevin Harvick, Driver of the No. 4 Busch Light Ford Mustang 


What are your expectations as you enter the playoffs?

“Well, you have to be in it to win it. Our guys have done a great job of navigating through the year. Obviously, we would’ve loved to win all the races and win as many races as we have in the past, but those things weren’t in the cards this year. Our team has done an absolutely phenomenal job of getting the most out of every weekend, so if you look at that and the guys and everything we’ve had to do, I think the people are on point. Our cars have run well for the last month and a half or so. We’ve had a little bad luck over the last two weeks with some accidents, but as you look at the speed, that’s been there. Now, we just have to go out and race the first few weeks and see where it falls after that.”


Have you had to reset your expectations going into the playoffs compared to previous years?

“I don’t think so. I think you do the exact same things that you’ve done in previous years. You look back at 2014, for us, obviously that was a championship year that didn’t have the year that 2015 or 2019 had and you end up winning the championship. There’s not a recalculation of anything. The expectations are still the same. You might have a different route to get there, but we haven’t even run a race, yet. So, right now the expectations are the same as they always have been.”


You say you’re not going to change your approach, despite not scoring a win yet this season. Is it hard to stick with what got you to the playoffs, or is this where your experience comes into play?

“You can pull something apart a whole lot faster than you can build it. As you look through the years, it’s very easy to sit back and just chime in and jump all over people. That’s really easy. Obviously, there are still times that you need to do that, but the thing I’ve learned is the fact that you’ve got a group of people around that you know can win and do the things that you need to do, but sometimes you’re just off. The problem solving in our world is difficult, and sometimes it’s a whole bunch of small things, and trying to push something – and I’ve done it a couple of times this year on the racetrack – you try to push something a little bit further than it can go and you wind up with the fenders torn off and you make bad worse. There’s no reason to make the problem worse than it needs to be. You have to be part of the process and the solution in order to solve the equation. Obviously, we all want to win and run better and do the things that we need to do, but Saturday night (at Daytona) kind of sums up the way it’s gone this year. You think you’re in a good position and don’t make it through the last corner. That’s just kind of the way that it’s gone. You ride the wave down just like you ride the wave up. You just hope that your wave down is shorter than most people’s and you can ride that wave back up when it’s right.”


Your car owner, Tony Stewart, won his third and final championship after going winless during the regular season. Do you draw any inspiration from his championship run in 2011?

“The only thing I remember about 2011 is that Tony won the championship. I know he won half the races, but I don’t know what happened in the other five because there was still a tie at the end. So I think that explains the extreme ups and downs that come with playoff racing because if he won five races and they were still tied at the end of Homestead, there was some bad side to that, too. Quite a feat, obviously, coming out on top, winning the championship. Doesn’t say how he got there, it just says he won. Hopefully, we can do something like that. There’s nothing that says we can’t right now, so we’ll go with that.”


The playoffs start with one of the toughest races on the schedule. What is your mindset as you kick off the playoffs with 500 miles at Darlington?

“Darlington, from a preparation standpoint with the team and things with the car, those will be business as usual. From a physical and mental preparation standpoint, you just have to be able to put yourself in a good spot because Darlington is a super-long race. It’s a very difficult racetrack to keep yourself out of trouble, and you just have to keep yourself on the lead lap and not bang up against the wall and not miss pit road and get yourself into the pit box with no mistakes. And if you can do that for 400 miles, then you’re probably going to be somewhere toward the front of the field and have a chance. It’s a really long race and it’s a very difficult racetrack, and you have to be prepared for that, mentally.”


Is Darlington a good track to start the playoffs?

“The Southern 500 has always been one of our sport’s best races so I think it’s a great place to kick off the playoffs. There’s no other place that we go to that just screams the history that Darlington does just because of the fact that the track layout is the same, the surface is unique and worn out – obviously turn two is newly repaved, but I think that just adds more character to what Darlington already has. There’s just nowhere else on the schedule where you can go that has the same, unique feel that Darlington does. It’s just a great place to race.”


You have three wins at Darlington and 792 laps led in 27 career starts. How satisfying it to have that kind of success at a track that’s so notoriously difficult its nickname is “The Track Too Tough To Tame”?

“It’s been a lot of fun to have been able to win there a few times now. As you look at the last Southern 500 and being able to go back to victory lane and celebrate in front of some fans was different from the first time of dead silence. Darlington is one of those historic racetracks that everybody loves going to because of the fact that it’s forever tied to the guys that used to race there with the same shape of the racetrack. It may be a different surface, but it’s the same racetrack that they raced on in the 1950s. It’s a unique place to go race and a place that has so much history in our sport.”


Is there a particular key to your success at Darlington?

“Yeah, don’t hit the wall!”

Chase Briscoe is 300/1 to win 2021 Southern 500 at Darlington



Darlington Advance

No. 14 Federal Credit Union Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing


Event Overview


● Event: Cook Out Southern 500 (Round 27 of 36)

● Time/Date: 6 p.m. EDT on Sunday, Sept. 5

● Location: Darlington (S.C.) Raceway

● Layout: 1.366-mile oval

● Laps/Miles: 367 laps/501.3 miles

● Stage Lengths: Stage 1: 115 laps / Stage 2: 115 laps / Final Stage: 137 laps

● TV/Radio: NBCSN / MRN / SiriusXM NASCAR Radio


Notes of Interest


● As the final 10-race stretch of the season begins for Chase Briscoe and the No. 14 Ford Mustang team for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, so does the final push in the pursuit of the NASCAR Cup Series Rookie of the Year title. Though Briscoe is not part of the playoff field, he does have a chance to become just the third driver to earn Rookie of the Year honors in NASCAR’s top three national series. He would also be the first former ARCA Racing Series Rookie of the Year titleholder to accomplish the feat.


● Joining on the car for Sunday’s race is Founders Federal Credit Union. HighPoint provides a range of solutions and services for Founders, including collaboration, endpoint security, network infrastructure, SD-WAN, and wireless technologies.


● Headquartered in Lancaster, South Carolina, Founders Federal Credit Union has been setting the pace for credit unions across the Carolinas for more than 70 years. With tools like Founders Online and the Founders App, it offers all the perks of a big bank with local, personalized service. Founders serves more than 220,000 members through more than 30 locations across the Carolinas. As a credit union, it focuses on its members and communities by providing better rates on savings and loans, friendly and personalized service, financial education and an assortment of tools to give you control of your financial future. Founders provides for all its members’ financial needs, from mortgages and auto loans to savings and checking accounts. And, as it continues to grow, it continues to develop new, innovative ways to serve. Founders understands its members work hard, day in and day out, and they deserve a financial institution that works just as hard as they do.


● When the Cup Series visited Darlington on May 9, Briscoe started 22nd and worked his way into the top-10 over the course of the 293-lap race. With two laps to go, while battling for a 10th-place finish, he made contact with the outside wall and ultimately crossed the line 11th.


● In the Xfinity Series, Briscoe claimed the victory in the series’ first trip to The Lady in Black, outdueling the winningest driver in Xfinity Series history, Kyle Busch. In his three career Xfinity Series starts at Darlington, Briscoe has finished no worse than 11th.


● With 26 races complete in the Cup Series season, Briscoe is 23rd in the driver championship and leads the Rookie of the Year battle by 218 points over Anthony Alfredo.


Chase Briscoe, Driver of the No. 14 Federal Credit Union Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing:


There’s a patch of new asphalt in turn two at Darlington. Do you know what to expect with that?

“I really don’t. I think it’s definitely going to change some things. For me, I always run down on the apron of turn two pretty consistently and, looking at the pictures, it appears there’s still old pavement on the apron. So, I don’t know how much that will change for me. It will definitely be smoother, and you’re going to carry a lot more brake into (turn) three since you’ll have more speed. It’ll definitely change some things. I’m just not quite sure what that means, yet.”


That low line in turn two is not the norm. There are drivers who run right up at the wall. Did you find that line by running where other guys don’t?

“I don’t know. Since my first race there, I’ve run that line. I don’t know that it’s right or wrong. A lot of guys run higher. I get to the fence and almost scrape it in the center and diamond the corner. I just use the apron to get my car to turn. As the race goes on, there are times when it has more grip and then may lose it, but I guess it’s just a comfort thing for me and how I’ve always done it.”


We know you’re capable of winning at Darlington, and the May race result showed that your comfort with the track has transferred to the Cup Series. Can you improve on that finish this weekend?

“I really think this will be a good racetrack for us. It’s too bad we’re not in the playoffs, but we ran really well there in the spring and nearly had a top-10. We’ve got a good baseline to work off of and hopefully we can keep chipping away at it this weekend and show the progress we’ve made.”

Kyle Busch is 6/1 to win 2021 Southern 500 at Darlington



Primed for the Playoffs


HUNTERSVILLE, North Carolina (Sept. 1, 2021) – On its own, the 1.366 mile egg-shaped oval at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway is a daunting challenge for NASCAR Cup Series competitors. But add in the fact that Sunday’s Cook Out Southern 500 is the first of the 10-race Cup Series playoffs, and it’s a recipe for a long, grueling night this Labor Day weekend.

Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), is certainly up to the task. The two-time Cup Series champion enters the postseason in much better shape than last season, carrying 22 playoff points to start the playoffs as opposed to just three playoff points a year ago. He sits fourth on the playoff grid to kick off 2021’s 10-race dash to the championship.


As Busch and the M&M’S team head back to Darlington, they return to a place where they’ve won before and Busch has enjoyed recent success. In fact, Busch has brought home top-five finishes four times in the last seven races and is had a strong third-place finish in the first Darlington race this season in May.


The Las Vegas native conquered “The Track Too Tough To Tame” in May 2008, which earned him the distinction of being the youngest Cup Series winner – at 23 years of age – in the track’s storied history. Busch also has two Xfinity Series wins at Darlington, coming in May 2011 and 2013. Last year, the Cup Series competed three times at Darlington after the COVID-19 pandemic spurred a revamped 2020 schedule, and Busch brought home best runs of second place in the Wednesday-night race in May 2020, and seventh place in the Southern 500.


So as the Cup Series heads to Darlington for Sunday’s 58th running of the Southern 500, he knows he’ll need to not only race his fellow competitors, but also the “Lady in Black,” as the aptly names racetrack will be a challenge of its own. However, adding the fact it’s the kickoff to the 2021 playoffs will make for compelling racing to start an exciting and entertaining final 10 weeks of the schedule as the series looks to crown a champion in early November.

KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M'S Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing: 


Where do you feel you stack up for this year’s playoffs?


“Top five probably, I’d say. Any of the four Hendrick cars are really good. Three of them are really good. Denny (Hamlin) has been fast a lot of weeks. We’ve been fast a lot of weeks, too. As we saw at Michigan, sometimes you don’t always have to be the fastest car, you just have to have the right push to win. That’s how we won our race in Kansas earlier this year and (Ryan) Blaney won last week. There can be surprise moments any time but we are hoping for a strong start to the playoffs with our M&M’s Camry this weekend.”


What are your thoughts on the first round of the playoffs and advancing through?


“Hopefully we can get a couple wins in the first round. We’ve got Darlington and we ran third there in the spring. Richmond, we always run well at, and Bristol we always run well at. It would be nice to get a win or two in the first round. That would be great. The second round is probably the most challenging round for us with the Roval and Talladega being in there. Just have not had a good Roval experience, yet, and Talladega is always Talladega.”


How do you think the new strip of pavement in turn two at Darlington will affect the race this weekend?


“That’s going to be interesting, for sure. I feel like you are going to be slow into turn one and into turn two, and you are going to get to the grip patch and you are just going to be hauling butt off of turn two. You are going to go as fast as you can. I haven’t seen it, yet, so I don’t see where it ends. I don’t know if it’s on the end of the turn or onto the straightaway on where it ends, but if you can get a good run off of turn two and be fast off of that corner, you are going to be getting off into turn three way quicker than you need to be for the asphalt grip you’ll have going into turn three.”


Darlington was repaved prior to 2008 and it’s back to a surface that’s worn and chews up tires. How much does the surface there change from year to year?


“Darlington gets worn out a lot more every year we race there. We’ve gone back there the last couple of years and it’s really slickened up and fallen off. The pace falls off a ton over the course of the run and really chews up the tires for the first little bit of the race. As the rubber gets down on the track, it starts to level off a little bit, but still the day races there are treacherous and slick and hard to hang on. Especially coming back this year, we’ll have the lower-downforce, higher-horsepower package, which will be a lot more to have to hold onto.”


At Darlington, do you wait to get toward the front as it gets later in the race when the sun is starts going down? How does the track change as it goes from afternoon to early evening there?


“You start the race off there and you just don’t want to hit the wall. We know how easy it is get into the wall and get a Darlington ‘stripe.’ You don’t want to hit the wall and take yourself out of a chance to win the race. The early stages of the race, you are biding your time and racing the racetrack and you are trying not to put yourself in a bad spot, and you aren’t worrying about competition, and you aren’t trying to take too many chances. As it gets deeper into the race and closer to the checkered flag, you are definitely going to be going for it and, if you can find even a half-inch of grip by getting a half-inch closer to the wall because that’s where the speed is at, you’ve just got to do it.”



Event Overview:

● Event: Cook Out Southern 500

● Time/Date: 6 p.m. EDT on Sunday, Sept. 6

● Location: Darlington (S.C.) Raceway

● Layout: 1.366-mile egg-shaped oval

● Laps/Miles: 347 laps, 501.3 miles

● Format: Stage 1: 115 laps / Stage 2: 115 laps / Final Stage: 137 laps

● TV/Radio: NBC/ MRN/ SiriusXM NASCAR Radio