Darlington had what is becoming its annual throwback weekend with NASCAR’s Cup and XFINITY series each having a number of cars with paint schemes resembling those from the past. But no matter how enjoyable it is to take a look back in time, there is no time like the present for many drivers as there is now just one race left in NASCAR’s regular season.
With the laps winding down Sunday night, Denny Hamlin was chasing Martin Truex, Jr. like there was no tomorrow. The different race strategies had Truex Jr. trying to save fuel and tires in the closing laps, and Hamlin digging for all he could get as he gradually clicked seconds off Truex’s lead. When Truex finally blew a tire near the end, Hamlin easily sped through the open door for his second win of the season. But also as the laps closed down, no matter the strategy, the first three cars were Toyotas and when you think about the present rather than the past, it’s hard to see a Toyota not being a heavy favorite to win the title.
Any hopes Clint Bowyer had of making the playoffs on points ended rather quickly with engine problems on Sunday night. Bowyer now will join the win or you’re out club heading into this Saturday night at Richmond. Bowyer has been involved in drama at Richmond before (though he would probably like to forget that infamous night). Joining him in the win or you’re out club will be Joey Logano, Erik Jones and of course, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., among others. It would certainly add to the drama if Junior pulls off what would be an upset win, but right now, if I had to pick any of these guys to earn the playoff-clinching win, it would be Jones, who not coincidentally, drives a Toyota.
Throwback weekend at Darlington has become one of, if not the, best weekends on the NASCAR schedule. The best thing about it is that everyone has gone all-in for the concept. It starts with the teams and drivers with paint schemes for the cars, and even the pit crews, sporting the old time colors. It also helps that NBC has gotten into the act with Ken Squier, and Ned and Dale Jarrett getting some air time. Though admittedly, they weren’t quite as sharp this year as last year. But you do have to give Krista Voda some props for the Madonna look. Nonetheless, it’s all in good fun, and actually is one way for NASCAR fans to be united, no matter which driver you hope wins.
So it appears Subway is the latest sponsor to find a way to pull out of a sponsorship deal. When Daniel Suarez did a bit on television where he served fans some Dunkin’ Donuts, it was a violation of the contract with Subway, allowing Subway to pull its sponsorship of the final regular season race. I agree with what many have said on social media that Subway was just looking for a way out of the deal. It also serves as a reminder to car owners, teams and drivers, that when doing these sponsorship contracts, everyone has to be very careful these days. There’s a lot of money at stake and if a sponsor is having second thoughts about being involved with a team or a driver, it will search for any way possible to get out of a deal. If Suarez would happen to win at Richmond, and then get some prime air time in the playoffs, it will be interesting to see what Subway think then.
If you were lucky enough to see the movie Logan Lucky, then you got to see some cameo appearances by several NASCAR drivers, and a former driver. Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson each got a few seconds on the big screen. It would be a tough call on who to give the NASCAR Oscar here. Keselowski came off real well as the all business policeman. Blaney had the delivery guy role down, too. And Edwards as the clueless cop was quite comical. Nonetheless, if you like NASCAR and a good laugh, it’s certainly worth seeing these guys in a little different light than what we are accustomed to.
Last week, Kevin Harvick floated the idea of having a mid-week last chance race after the final regular season race with the winner gaining wild-card entry into the playoffs. While it sounds interesting on the surface, I’m not sure if that’s really a fair way to end the regular season. Drivers have had 26 races and multiple ways to gain points or victories since February, so really how more chances should they get? Maybe it would be possible if the winner gets in the playoffs, but has zero playoff points. Even then, I’d say the idea is on pretty shaky ground. There is also the issue of which kind of track to have it on. It is the kind of race that would draw big interest from TV, so given that, I wouldn’t be surprised if it happens within the next year or two.
The final regular season race is Saturday night at Richmond and there are all kinds of scenarios that could play out here. If a non-winner not in the top 16 in points is leading late, then there is the Chase Elliott, Jamie McMurray and Matt Kenseth battle for what would be the final two points spots to look at it. It’s hard to see Martiin Truex Jr. not winning at least one stage to add to his playoff points total. As for the winner though, it’s hard not to pick a Gibbs car here, so going with Kyle Busch. The deep sleeper underdog who you might not think about pick is Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. because he seems to have a knack to run in the top 10 on the plate tracks and then these short tracks as well.