In a week of contrasts that featured the unveiling of NASCAR’s sleek Next Gen Cup Series cars, Darlington Raceway hosts its immensely popular Throwback Weekend, where race teams pay homage to the past.
But while race fans will see a panoply of paint schemes dedicated to bygone heroes of the sport, drivers will be looking ahead toward the finish line—particularly those accustomed to winning who haven’t done so yet this year.
By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service
At the top of that list are Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick and Chase Elliott, who haven’t scratched in the win column during the first 11 NASCAR Cup Series events of the 2021 season. Those three drivers combined to win 21 of the 36 points races last year—58.33 percent of the schedule.
In all probability, all three will be contending for the victory in Sunday’s Goodyear 400 at the 1.366-mile track (3:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Though winless, Hamlin leads the NASCAR Cup Series standings by a whopping 87 points over Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. in second. But runs of 32nd at Talladega and 12th at Kansas broke a streak of six straight top-five results for the driver of the No. 11 Toyota.
“Darlington has always been one of my favorite tracks,” says Hamlin, who has three Cup wins and a five NASCAR Xfinity Series victories at The Lady in Black. “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.”
Hamlin’s most recent triumph at Darlington came in last year’s second race there, during a season gerrymandered because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Harvick likewise is a three-time winner at the track. On the way to his series-best nine victories in 2020, the driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford won twice at the ‘Track too Tough to Tame’. Harvick also is the last driver to win at Darlington in a Chevrolet, a feat he accomplished in 2014 before Stewart-Haas switched to Ford.
“It’s been a lot of fun to have been able to win there a few times now,” Harvick says. “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 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.”
Elliott, the reigning series champion, hasn’t won a Cup race at Darlington, but he did prevail in his first NASCAR Xfinity Series start there (2014).
“You want to be fast enough where that guy behind you is nowhere close,” Elliott says of his approach to the challenging track. “That’s where I want to be, and that how you want to position yourself at the end of those races, if you can.
“We definitely can be better, but I was pleased with our speed last year. We had some really good runs and were certainly solid, so we have something good to build off of.”