Darlington Raceway seems to be the holiday track as the Goodyear 400 will run on Mother’s Day, a somewhat longstanding tradition.
Round 12 of the NASCAR Cup Series season may be 293 laps long or just over 400 miles, but it’s one of the challenging races on drivers, pit crews and machines. Just ask Chase Elliott, last Monday’s Dover winner, how tough “The Lady In Black” is after his practice crash in one of the fastest cars in the field.
Shaped like an egg with narrow corners, Darlington Raceway in Darlington, South Carolina is a page of the past in today’s world. Although the low line seems safe and comforting, success is found by riding the high line, just up against the wall to have maximum grip.
Drivers like Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Larson and Kevin Harvick come to mind as some of the modern day specialists of this unique speedway. Being a proficient tire whisperer and like Aerosmith’s song, “Livin’ on the Edge,” may prove as vital toward a winning afternoon as having a lucky moment such as a late race caution.
This weekend, Ashley Hobbs, Cody Shoppe, Jasmine Sharpe, Kobe Lambeth, Luis Torres, Matt Sisoler, Michelle Raynor, Nathan Solomon, Taylor Kitchen and yours truly ruminate over the strong start of Hendrick Motorsports, a resurgence for Joey Logano and maximizing a race day at Darlington.
Podium Preview: Goodyear 400 at Darlington Raceway
With Hendrick Motorsports winning five of the first 11 races, are we seeing this organization warming up like they did last year, or will they have some competition during the summer months?
Solomon : I think a little bit of both. Hendrick Motorsports is firing on all cylinders right now and they seem to be the first team to figure the new car out. But, later in the season, I expect other powerhouses like Team Penske and Joe Gibbs Racing to rack up some wins while Hendrick continues to have a strong year.
Tiongson : Firstly, a 45.45% chance of winning is nearly on par with their 47.22% winning rate last year. Of course, that’s an incredible percentage that may not be duplicated a year later but this year’s hot start is commendable and noteworthy.
Certainly, William Byron seems to be off to a hot start like Alex Bowman while Elliott and Larson have wins for their teams. It’s hard to say if one of the quartet will win 10 or more races this year because the competition will surely close the gap. However, just when it seemed like the likes of Team Penske and Joe Gibbs Racing figured out this current car, Hendrick Motorsports find various ways to win with good, clean pit stops, strong runs and overcoming setbacks on race day.
Kitchen : I believe this is just the beginning for Hendrick Motorsports’ 2022 season. Their stats are about on par with what they had last year. Plus, I feel like all their drivers have hit their stride.
I will say, I am a bit shocked at the lack of consistency we have yet to see from Larson. However, I am impressed to see how well Byron and Bowman are doing. Also, with Elliott finally getting his first win of the season while leading in points, I now see him as a serious championship threat.
That being said, I do think that HMS will have to watch out for the No. 1 of Ross Chastain. With two wins already and an average finishing position of 12.5, he has given the other competitors something to worry about.
Joey Logano’s great finishes at Martinsville and Bristol have been offset by some tough results at Talladega and Dover. Will Logano and his No. 22 team right the ship soon?
Lambeth : The last two races haven’t really gone in favor of Joey Logano, but winning the pole for the Goodyear 400 was definitely a nice shot in the arm after two weeks of bad luck. I’m not sure if a Team Penske driver will end the day at Darlington in victory lane, but it’s the perfect race for the No. 22 Ford Mustang to click off a good finish and restart the momentum displayed on the short tracks.
Sisoler : Fans of the No. 22 can only hope that this pole position for the Goodyear 400 will be the spark that helps Logano get his motor kickstarted. With the team he has behind him, he’s got as good a shot as any to get hot in the coming races, so it’s definitely not time to bail out on Joey just yet.
Shoppe : While their consistency is nowhere where it needs to be, I expect them to be able to contend for a win here and there. The team car of Ryan Blaney has been one of the strongest and most consistent this year so it’s not time to panic yet for Joey Logano.
Darlington tends to wear tires out, a pivotal factor considering how drivers and teams had to manage their tires last weekend at Dover Motor Speedway. While we know four tires and fuel will be the way to go for pit stops, which driver and team stands out prominently as tire whisperers for Sunday’s race?
Hobbs : It is difficult to say, especially with this season on new tires. It seems most races have not fared well for the new Goodyear; several drivers have encountered some sort of issue either with installation or the tire itself. No matter how good someone may be at handling their car and their tires, if something is off with the tire, it will ruin their day.
Torres : When it comes to tires, this current car has been an odd ball so far. As we saw in the Monday portion of Dover, as the race went on, tire woes became less stagnant. That’s where guys like Martin Truex, Jr. and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. shined best. The one I can see standing out may well be Truex and his No. 19 team. They’re the defending race winners and while Dover ended in frustration, it’s the shot in the arm that should lead to motivation. Such that’ll help everyone deliver a big result and if they have superb pit stops, they’ll be unstoppable.
Sharpe : Darlington is like a “cheese grater” for tires. The track during its original opening weekend had drivers scrambling for tires, some were using heavy-duty truck tires just to stay competitive. Even now, the place has a reputation for munching on tires, even after being repaved.
After watching both practice and qualifying, these Next Gen tires are not exactly looking great. A couple of drivers had tires go down with one (Chase Elliot) hitting the wall and damaging the car to the point of having to go to a backup car for Sunday’s race.
Even after extensive testing, these new tires just don’t seem like the best choice. Even with the ‘perfect’ pitstop, issues can arise. I think this will come down to word of mouth and text message for those in the pits as well as spotters keeping their drivers informed on the flurry of updates that are bound to come out.
Conley : I’d like to say experience leads to victory lane, but with this new car and the success of the under 30 crowd, it’s hard to tell. Darlington still isn’t back all the way to its old days where they wouldn’t even roll tires through the garage because the surface was so worn out, but I still think that understanding how to race Darlington will be a huge asset.
The last five Darlington winners are all in the over 40 crowd, and I think that trend continues with Martin Truex Jr. leading the way. He knows when to push it and when to hold back, and that is Darlington racing at its finest.
Three laps around Darlington means we need some new Goodyear tires! First, let’s head to pit road and reflect on last week’s DuraMax Drydene 400 at Dover Motor Speedway with our race and points reports!
Ashley Hobbs crunches the numbers for Sunday’s Goodyear 400 in ways that cannot be calculated.
Here’s the top 10 starters for Sunday’s DuraMax Drydene 400 at Dover Motor Speedway.
Lastly, here’s our picks for Sunday’s DuraMax Drydene 400 at Dover Motor Speedway!
Tiongson : After having a podium stolen on the final lap at Dover, Martin Truex Jr. will be ready for a win at Darlington Raceway. I look for the No. 19 team to throw it back to last year with another win.
Conley : I said in my preview response. Experience of knowing when to push and when to hold back. Martin Truex Jr. has the knowhow to save tires and be aggressive, two qualities that are needed at Darlington.
Raynor : Truex is good at this track and is knocking on the door to win.
Torres : Ross Chastain has been able to adapt in each type of circuit this season. There’s really not one single weak spot from the No. 1 Trackhouse Racing squad. But their ultimate challenge is surviving Darlington and Chastain is no stranger of having strong runs. This was the track where he broke through in the Xfinity Series with Chip Ganassi Racing nearly four years ago.
Now as a Cup driver, he’s going to be tough to beat based on how consistently strong everyone has been. He’ll definitely sip a nice cold Coca-Cola and bring the Twin Ring Motegi throwback into victory lane. Make that win number three for “Ross the Boss.”
Kitchen : Ross Chastain has been knocking on the door of another win the past few weeks and I think we might see it this weekend at Darlington. We have yet to discover how well he can do at this track in Trackhouse equipment and I am hoping he does well!
Shoppe : “The Watermelon Man” is the best thing in the cup series right now! And with arguably the best throwback in the field, how can I not pick Ross Chastain to win at “The Lady in Black!”
TPF Stats : Kyle Larson may only have one victory this year, and it seems like forever ago, but his last three (3) trips to The Lady In Black have been podium finishes. But, this time, he will come out on top of the podium.
Hobbs : I will be sticking with the TPF Machine on this one and also choose Kyle Larson. He has a nice string of top-six finishes going on and his record at Darlington is quite impressive.
Sisoler : The last three times that Kyle Larson had raced in the Cup Series at Darlington, he finished second each time to the JGR cars of Erik Jones in 2019 and Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin respectively in 2021.
This time, no car, JGR or otherwise, will beat the No. 5 to the checkered flag, as I believe Larson will get his first win in his ninth try at the Lady in Black.
Lambeth : Tyler Reddick‘s been close to securing his maiden NASCAR Cup Series win multiple times but hasn’t sealed the deal yet. Darlington is the type of track that suits his driving style of running next to the wall or “ripping the fence” as some say.
In the Goodyear 400, I believe it’ll finally be Reddick’s day and the “Lady In Black” will finally ask him for a dance in the winner’s circle!
Solomon : I feel like Sunday will finally be the day Tyler Reddick breaks through with a victory. He’s ran well all season and doesn’t have the results to show for it. Reddick is good at any place when you can run tight on the fence, and Darlington is an example of that. He ran well in Xfinity before a crash, so expect Reddick to win on Sunday.
Sharpe : Darlington has been a great track to Erik Jones in the past. The RPM/GMS collaboration has proven to be great so far with Erik finishing better overall than last year.
We’re ready for some racing. How about you? What do you think are the biggest storylines heading into the race? Who are your favorites to win? Tweet us now @ThePodiumFinish and tell us now!
Thanks as always to the TPF team for their amazing efforts this week! While we progress toward a new kind of normal, please do your part to curb the impacts of the pandemic by washing your hands and getting your COVID-19 vaccine or booster. Also, Happy Mother’s Day to all our moms!
The opinions and thoughts expressed in Podium Preview are solely of the authors. They do not reflect any organizations affiliated with the participants and author outside of TPF. This weekly feature is strictly for entertainment purposes. Ultimately, they are not indicative of TPF, the organization and its staff.
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