Friday, September 1, 2023

PREVIEW: Cup playoff drivers set to face off at Darlington - on Saturday?

PHOTO: @ryanellisracing

by Brock Beard Editor-in-Chief

Saturday, September 2, 2023 (3:30 P.M ET, USA)
XFINITY Race 25 of 33
Sport Clips Haircuts VFW Help A Hero 200 at Darlington
2022 Last-Place Finisher: Tommy Joe Martins

There are 39 drivers entered for 38 spots, meaning one will fail to qualify.

DRIVER CHANGE: #10-Kaulig Racing
Kyle Busch's XFINITY Series retirement continues with his fourth series start of the year and first since Watkins Glen, where he took 27th. Busch takes the place of fellow Cup regular Justin Haley, who took 10th in Daytona. Busch enters the race with two XFINITY wins at Darlington, plus the 2008 Cup race.

RETURNING: #17-Hendrick Motorsports
A factor in the outcome of the last two straight XFINITY races at Darlington, Kyle Larson is back once more, looking to play spoiler in the penultimate race of the regular season. This is Larson’s first XFINITY start since Sonoma, where he finished 3rd after a late-race miscue. The Hendrick #17 team last ran at Watkins Glen, where Alex Bowman finished 9th.

DRIVER CHANGE: #19-Joe Gibbs Racing
Darlington also means Denny Hamlin looks to steal a XFINITY Series victory from the regulars with the support of race sponsor Sport Clips. Hamlin – winner of five XFINITY races and four Cup races at Darlington alone – takes the place of Trevor Bayne, who finished 29th after leading 26 laps before he wrecked on a late-race restart.

MISSING: #22-Jordan Anderson Racing
DRIVER SWAP: #27-Jordan Anderson Racing
After finishing 12th in the “throwback” paint scheme honoring his father Ward, Jeb Burton returns to his #27 entry in place of team owner Jordan Anderson, who keeps the new #22 entry at the shop. 

DRIVER CHANGE: #24-Sam Hunt Racing
Corey Heim makes his fourth career XFINITY Series start and first since his 37th-place finish at Pocono due to late-race suspension issues. After entering the off-weekend for the Truck Series as the overall point leader, Heim takes the place of Connor Mosack, who himself finished 37th after he was collected in Daytona’s mid-race crash. 

DRIVER CHANGE: #35-Emerling-Gase Motorsports
The Emerling-Gase team didn’t have a driver listed for their #35 for much of the week, following Joey Gase’s 14th-place finish in Daytona. That changed on Wednesday with news that team co-owner Patrick Emerling would return for the first time since his 34th-place finish in Michigan. This would be Emerling’s third XFINITY start at Darlington following finishes of 24th and 21st in the last two spring races.

PAINT SCHEME: #43-Alpha Prime Racing
Alpha Prime Racing keeps Darlington’s “throwback weekend” going in the fall with a massive three-car undertaking. As the current team owners of the three numbers once used by Petty Enterprises in Cup from 2000-2003, and with the blessing of Kyle Petty, the trio each run a paint scheme from that era. Ryan Ellis remains in the #43, welcoming new sponsor Southern Elevator on a tribute to the late John Andretti and his blue-and-yellow Cheerios Pontiac run after STP’s departure in mid-2000. 

DRIVER CHANGE: #44-Alpha Prime Racing
The #44 carries Kyle Petty’s 2003 version of the #45 Georgia-Pacific Dodge, which sponsor Titan Construction and Development preferred to the 2001 version of G-P’s car driven by Buckshot Jones. After Caesar Bacarella finished 31st in Daytona, there were conflicting reports that Sage Karam or Leland Honeyman, Jr. would run this car. It instead goes to Dawson Cram, who last drove for CHK Racing at Michigan, taking 28th. Saturday would be Cram’s first start for Alpha Prime.

DRIVER CHANGE: #45-Alpha Prime Racing
Completing the trio in the #45 is Rajah Caruth, who nearly pulled off his first Truck Series victory when he ran here for GMS Racing this past spring. Taking the place of Jeffrey Earnhardt, who finished 11th in Daytona, Caruth runs a “throwback” to the late Adam Petty’s Sprint Chevrolet, this time sponsored by Caruth’s backer Circle.

DRIVER CHANGE: #53-Emerling-Gase Motorsports
Matt Mills seeks to make just his third XFINITY Series start of the year, returning to the series for the first time since the spring race here, where he ran 28th with this same Emerling-Gase team. Sponsored once more by J.F. Electric, Mills takes the place of Natalie Decker, whose run at Daytona was spoiled by rear-ending another car, then stalling at pit entrance, leaving her 35th.

RETURNING: #66-Motorsports Business Management
Timmy Hill is back in action on the XFINITY side for the first time since his 30th-place run at Dover in what MBM hopes will be their first series start since Sage Karam’s 25th-place performance at Michigan. This, too, would be just the third XFINITY start of the year for Hill, who has ten previous series starts at Darlington with a best of 16th in 2012.

In place of Alex Guenette, who finished last with crash damage in Daytona, comes still another Cup Playoff contender in Ross Chastain. Chastain carries the “Use Your Melon Drive Sober” colors on DGM’s #91 Chevrolet for what will be his seventh XFINITY start of the year and first since Watkins Glen, where he finished 4th.

DRIVER CHANGE: #07-SS-Green Light Racing
Taking the wheel of the #07 once more is Stefan Parsons, who has a “throwback” themed scheme of his own on the Pops Market Chevrolet. Parsons seeks his 11th XFINITY start of the year and first since his 33rd-place showing at Watkins Glen for Alpha Prime. He takes the place of J.J. Yeley, who this week focuses on the Cup side after his disappointing 30th-place run in Daytona.

DRIVER CHANGE: #08-SS-Green Light Racing
Chad Finchum continues to keep Darlington on his part-time schedule as he takes the place of 9th-place Daytona finisher Gray Gaulding in the second Bobby Dotter entry, his sponsored by Power House Diesel. Finchum has made four previous XFINITY starts at Darlington, but none since this race in 2020, when he finished a track-best 20th.

CUP INVADERS: #10-Kyle Busch, #17-Kyle Larson, #19-Denny Hamlin, #91-Ross Chastain

Sunday, September 3, 2023 (6:00 P.M. ET, USA)
CUP Race 27 of 36
Round of 16: Race 1 of 3
Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington
2022 Last-Place Finisher: Chase Elliott

The Cup Series Playoffs begin with only the 36 Chartered teams entered for 40 spots, marking the 26th consecutive race with a short field.

MISSING: #13-Kaulig Racing
MISSING: #36-Front Row Motorsports
MISSING: #62-Beard Motorsports
None of the three “open” entries from Daytona are entered this week as their full-time XFINITY drivers Chandler Smith, Riley Herbst, and Austin Hill focus on this Saturday’s action. Last week’s race saw the trio finish 15th, 38th, and 14th, respectively.

DRIVER SWAP: #15-Rick Ware Racing
DRIVER CHANGE: #51-Rick Ware Racing
Ryan Newman returns to the site of his series return in the spring, where he finished 28th, and for the first time since his most recent race at Richmond takes the wheel of the #51. Newman takes the place of 19th-place Daytona finisher J.J. Yeley, who moves back to the #15 in place of Daytona’s last-place finisher Brennan Poole, who nearly earned the Lucky Dog before he slammed the inside wall during the Lap 95 pileup off Turn 4.

DRIVER CHANGE: #42-Legacy Motor Club
One to watch this week will be the return of Carson Hocevar to the Cup Series, this time taking the place of 22nd-place Daytona finisher and XFINITY regular Josh Berry. Back in a Cup car for the first time since Gateway, where his strong run for Spire Motorsports was spoiled by the first of the day’s several catastrophic brake failures, Hocevar - much like with Heim and Caruth on the XFINITY side - looks to turn heads during a career year in Trucks. 

Friday, September 8, 2023
TRUCKS Race 19 of 23
Round of 10: Race 3 of 3
Kansas Lottery 200 at Kansas
2023 Last-Place Finisher: Brett Moffitt

The Truck Series takes the week off and returns next week for their first elimination race of the season.

TODAY IN LASTCAR HISTORY (September 1, 1975): H.B. Bailey picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Winston Cup Series career in the Southern 500 at Darlington when his #36 Almeda Auto Parts 1975 Pontiac fell out with carburetor issues after only 1 lap. Bailey had started last in the day’s 40-car field. He wouldn’t finish last again until 1981.

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