Underrated Storylines Ahead of Sunday’s Darlington Race


NASCAR driver Erik Jones

The NASCAR Cup Series caps off Throwback Weekend with the Goodyear 400 at Darlington Raceway. There are multiple drivers with the opportunity to reach Victory Lane on Sunday, including a dark horse option. Erik Jones, the driver of the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro, boasts an impressive streak and highlights one of the multiple intriguing storylines.

Jones has made six starts at The Track Too Tough to Tame, never finishing outside of the top-10. He has two eighth-place finishes, two fifth-place finishes, and a fourth-place finish. He also took the checkered flag in the 2019 Bojangles’ Southern 500. Jones will now have the opportunity to continue his impressive streak while driving a John Andretti throwback scheme.

There is one major difference between Jones and the driver that posted six consecutive top-10 finishes. His previous outings were as a member of Joe Gibbs Racing. He previously drove the No. 20 Toyota Camry. Now he races for RPM, a team that struggled to fight for wins in previous seasons. However, Jones has two top-10 finishes in 2021, one at Bristol on dirt and the other at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Cautions breed cautions at The Lady in Black

GettyChris Buescher spins during The Toyota 500

One of the most iconic tracks in motorsports, Darlington Raceway has a reputation for chaos. Friday’s Camping World Truck Series race is only the latest example. There were a record-setting number of cautions during a wreck-filled race, including one thrown after the proverbial Big One collected a multitude of vehicles. Saturday’s Xfinity Series race added another nine cautions.

The Cup Series is similar in that six of the past nine trips to Darlington have resulted in more than 10 cautions. The Toyota 500 in 2020 featured 11 prior to Denny Hamlin’s win. There were 10 cautions in The Real Heroes 400 before Kevin Harvick reached Victory Lane.

Of course, the most cautions in Darlington history occurred in 2015. Carl Edwards took the checkered flag in the Bojangles’ Southern 500 after leading 15 laps and holding off Brad Keselowski and Hamlin. He celebrated the win after a record-setting 18 caution flags flew at the South Carolina track.

Chevrolets have not won any of the recent trips to Darlington

GettyWilliam Byron drives the No. 24 Chevrolet

A variety of Cup Series drivers have reached Victory Lane in the most recent trips to Darlington. Harvick has three wins since 2014, Hamlin has two, Martin Truex Jr. has one, Jones has one, Edwards has one, and Keselowski has the other.

While only three of these drivers are former Cup champions, they all have something in common — none drive Chevrolets. Five wins featured a Toyota stock car while three featured a Ford. Only Harvick’s win in 2014 featured a Chevrolet, but he later moved to a Ford.

While the Chevrolet drivers have not reached Victory Lane in recent years, they have fought for the win. Austin Dillon finished second behind Harvick in the Southern 500 while Alex Bowman, Kurt Busch, and Chase Elliott finished second, third, and fourth behind Harvick in The Real Heroes 400. Kyle Larson finished second behind Jones in the 2019 Bojangles’ Southern 500.

Despite the recent lack of success at Darlington, a Chevrolet driver holds the second-best odds. Larson enters Sunday’s race with 4-1 odds. Hamlin currently holds the best odds considering his strong performances in 2021 and his recent success at Darlington.

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