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What to Watch: Darlington

Goodyear 400 at Darlington Raceway (⏰ 3:30 p.m. ET | 📺 FS1 | 📻 MRN, SiriusXM)

Everything you need to know for Sunday’s race, the 12th points-paying NASCAR Cup Series event of the 2021 season. 

Where: Darlington Raceway, a 1.366-mile track located in Darlington, South Carolina
Green flag: 3:13 p.m. ET
TV/Radio: FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Forecast: Sunny, with a high near 85. Light and variable wind becoming southwest 11 to 16 mph in the morning. Winds could gust as high as 25 mph, according to NOAA.gov
Race Distance: 293 laps, 400.238 miles
Stages: 90 | 185 | 293
Pit-road speed: 45 mph
Caution car speed: 50 mph
Darlington 101: Get the full lowdown
Starting lineup: See the full lineup

Pit-stall assignments: See who is pitting where | Expert breaks down pit selections

DARLINGTON, SOUTH CAROLINA - SEPTEMBER 06: Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Throwback Chevrolet, and Bubba Wallace, driver of the #43 Cash App Chevrolet, lead the field during the NASCAR Cup Series Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on September 06, 2020 in Darlington, South Carolina. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images) | Getty Images

Five to watch

Here are five big story lines we’ll be following at Darlington Raceway.

1. Every Sunday we’ve been saying it could be the day when Denny Hamlin will earn his first victory of the 2021 season. Well, we’re going to say it one more time. Hamlin won one of the three races at the South Carolina oval in 2020, now owning three total race victories there. The No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing driver has been ultra-consistent so far, with just one finish outside the top 12 in the first 11 races. He’s also the odds-on favorite to go to Victory Lane on Sunday.

2. The driver who won the other two Darlington races last year was Kevin Harvick. The No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing driver is looking for any spark to ignite a season that has been pretty hot and cold. Harvick does have a little bit of momentum on his side, though. He finished fourth at Talladega Superspeedway and second last Sunday at Kansas Speedway, which makes up two of his four total top-five results this season. Darlington looks like a promising track to keep that streak going.

3. William Byron became the youngest driver in NASCAR history to earn nine straight top-10 finishes, taking the record away from former No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports driver Jeff Gordon. Byron is quickly becoming a part of the race-winning conversation consistently each week. The team led by Rudy Fugle has brought fast cars off the truck all season, and Sunday afternoon at Darlington will be no different. Byron finished fifth in the series’ last trip to Darlington in 2020.

4. If you’re looking for a good long-shot pick for Sunday, look no further than Erik Jones. Although the results don’t exactly show it, the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports driver has been performing well with the smaller team and contending for a top-10 finishes now and then. Jones’ Darlington stats are stellar with no finishes outside the top 10 in his six career starts there. He won the Southern 500 in 2019 and has an average finishing position of 5.2, which is best among drivers with at least two starts. He also won Wednesday’s eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series event at Darlington in the new Next Gen car for 2022. It would not be a surprise to see him up toward the front Sunday.

5. Tyler Reddick has earned seventh-place finishes in the past two races at Talladega and Kansas. The No. 8 Richard Childress Racing also finished seventh in his first race at Darlington last season. You can see an upward trend as he consistently finds speed to compete for top-10 finishes as the season progresses. Darlington fits Reddick’s driving style, a track where running up high and nearly against the wall is the fastest way around. Reddick could extend the current streak to 12 different winners in the first 13 races after Sunday’s race.

Race-day staplesKes Com Powerrankings Hero

Our biggest pieces of the week — get covered for race day from all angles.

Power Rankings: Keselowski eyes second win at Darlington | Scope the ranks
Paint Scheme Preview: Check out the designs taking on Darlington | See the schemes
Fantasy Fastlane: See which drivers to use, avoid | Full Fantasy advice | Set your roster
Preview Show: Jonathan Merryman and Alex Weaver preview the race | Watch the show

Get in on the action

Think you know NASCAR? Put your mettle to the test with gaming, fantasy.

Betting odds for Darlington raceSee the odds
Darlington betting: Erik Jones is an interesting long shot for Darlington | Find out why
Different rules package at Darlington complicates betting handicap | Find out why
Take a shot at winning cash prizes with the free-to-play Jackpot Races app | Hit the jackpot
Full guide to 2021 NASCAR Fantasy Live game | Get the FAQ

Throwing it back

It’s throwback weekend at Darlington Raceway. Take a look at past moments and paint schemes before Sunday.

Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images

Remember this?: Memorable moments from Darlington | Watch the moments
Retro looks: Throwback paint schemes for Darlington | See the cars
Blast from the past: Comparing throwback looks from years past | Take a look

Fast facts

Hard-hitting, race-relevant statistics, brought to you by the experts at Racing Insights.

Kevin Harvick and Erik Jones are the only drivers to finish top 10 in all three Darlington races in 2020.
Erik Jones has never finished outside the top 10 at Darlington.
Ten different winners through 11 races is tied for the all-time most.
Chevrolet has not won at Darlington in the last eight races, tied for the longest winless streak dating back to 1972 at Darlington.
Joey Logano, Kurt Busch and Chase Elliott are the only active drivers with a Cup championship who are winless at Darlington.

Catch the pack

Read up on all the headlines from the week leading up to Sunday’s race.

• Stock reborn: NASCAR unveils Chevrolet, Ford, Toyota Next Gen models for 2022 | See the cars
• Ready whenever:
Next Gen cars have the ability to go hybrid, electric | Read more
• Ins and outs:
Get to know the new Next Gen car for the 2022 season | Watch more
• Sense of normalcy:
Infield, garage access expands beginning at Darlington | Read more
That Jones boy: Erik Jones wins eNASCAR Pro Invitational Series race at virtual Darlington | Read more
• Packing the stands:
Three race tracks to have full capacity grandstands for summer, fall races | Read more

Say what?

Notable quotes from the stars of the sport heading into Sunday’s race.

“It‘s been a lot of fun to have been able to win there a few times now. As you look at the last race there, winning the 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 (after the resumption with no fans during the pandemic). Darlington is one of those historic race tracks 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 race track. It may be a different surface, but it‘s the same race track 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.” — Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford.

RICHMOND, VIRGINIA - APRIL 18: Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #19 Auto-Owners Insurance Toyota, waits on the grid prior to the NASCAR Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway on April 18, 2021 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) | Getty Images

“The low-downforce package will definitely change things up quite a bit and put us on edge a little more. I would expect that to help passing compared to what it was with the 550-package the last couple years. But Darlington is always going to be slick and tire management is going to be the biggest thing over the long run. Being a day race and hot outside should make it even slicker, so that will make it a handful and that‘s what makes Darlington fun.” — Martin Truex Jr., driver of the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.

“Darlington is a track that is known for its old, worn-out surface and how hard it is on tires. You‘re always elbows up at that place, but you also have to know when to press forward and when to manage your equipment so you‘re not over-taxing your tires. I‘ve tried to manage that as best as I can, but that‘s what makes Darlington such a tough track. It‘s not an easy task while, at the same time, it‘s easy to lose focus for a moment and that‘s all it takes to end your day.” — William Byron, driver of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

“Darlington has always been one of my favorite tracks. It‘s a special place and we‘ve had some good wins there. Obviously, the last couple of weeks haven‘t gone the way we‘ve wanted them to, but Darlington is a place where we can bounce back and maybe even get into Victory Lane.” — Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.