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(Photo: Zach Catanzareti)

Who’s Hot & Who’s Not in NASCAR: Where the Past Meets the Present

NASCAR’s annual throwback weekend at Darlington Raceway for the Bojangles Southern 500 featured great racing throughout, late-race drama and a ton of great-looking paint schemes from yesteryear.

Brad Keselowski picked up his first win of the year for Team Penske, holding off teammate Joey Logano on a short sprint to the finish.

Kyle Larson crushed the field, leading 284 of the total 367 laps and sweeping both stages, but just like for Ross Chastain in the XFINITY race the day before, the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing car wasn’t able to pull into Victory Lane. Larson finished third, as his car wasn’t working well on short runs.

Kevin Harvick was very quiet throughout the race, never up front, but always near the top of the running order, to match his car number in fourth.

Chase Elliott rounded out the top five for Hendrick Motorsports.

Harvick’s SHR teammate Kurt Busch was sixth, followed by his younger brother Kyle, who at seventh was the highest-finishing Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.

Jamie McMurray in ninth was crammed inside a JGR sandwich of Erik Jones and Denny Hamlin to finish out the top ten.

HOT

This was Larson‘s 14th top 10 this season for Chip Ganassi Racing, and he now has three playoff points after sweeping both stages. It was his seventh time this season in the top three, but he is still winless on the year.

Larson’s sharp-looking car paid tribute to a Texaco/Havoline scheme that Donnie Allison once drove.

NOT

Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and William Byron both had problems with their oil pumps, resulting in their finishes of 39th (Johnson) and 35th (Byron).

Johnson has now finished 28th or worse in three of the past four races, leaving him 19 points ahead of teammate Alex Bowman in the final playoff position. It was his fourth DNF of the season. Technically he drove a throwback, to his 2012 Southern 500 victory, but it was exceptionally plain and disappointing:

After four straight races inside the top 20, Byron has now finished 23rd or worse in the past three races. It was his fifth DNF of the season, but at least his Jeff Gordon-inspired rainbow throwback was a hit with the fans:

Surreal feeling to be driving this car.

A post shared by William Byron (@williambyron) on

HOT

Logano has 18 top-10s in 25 races thus far to go along with his win at the spring Talladega race. His second-place run on Sunday was his sixth top five of the season, and the fifth time in the past seven races that the No. 22 was finished 10th or better.

Logano’s Ford was decked out in the Pennzoil colors of Steve Park, looking quite spiffy.

NOT

Clint Bowyer accidentally ran his Ned Jarrett-inspired Stewart-Haas Racing Ford into the back of Ryan Newman‘s Neil Bonnett-inspired Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, cutting Bowyer’s night short. Newman, incidentally, is a former SHR driver, who was trying to pit at the time.

Bowyer wound up with a 36th-place result. It was his fourth DNF of the season, cutting short a string of four races with finishes of 12th or better.

HOT

Chase Elliott‘s fifth-place run was his sixth straight finish inside the top 10, and his 14th overall in 2018. He has a ton of momentum on his side as the highest-performing Hendrick Camaro going into the playoffs.

Elliott’s paint scheme paid tribute to his cousin Casey Elliott, a former NASCAR racer in the mid-1990s in what’s now called the XFINITY Series.

NOT

Daniel Suarez has a recent stat that doesn’t look too great: Since his career-best runner-up race at Pocono II, each race he’s finished worse than the previous event (2nd, 4th, 11th, 18th, 29th). His average finish this year is 18th, which is pretty bad for a Joe Gibbs Racing car. And he was one of the handful of cars that didn’t even try to run a throwback scheme.

Rumors are swirling that Martin Truex Jr. could bring Bass Pro to the No. 19 for 2019, and this performance didn’t slow them down any. On the other hand, Suarez didn’t crash out of the race like he did in 2017, so that’s an improvement.

Paint Scheme of the Week

Jamie McMurray’s No. 1 was celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of McDonald’s Big Mac, so it was appropriate that it was painted up like former McDonald’s driver Bill Ellott’s No. 94 when it was celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of NASCAR in 1998.

There were honestly so many I could have chosen here, like Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Austin Dillon, B.J. McLeod, Kurt Busch, or Paul Menard, just to name a few.

Predictions

Next stop is Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard – the 2018 regular-season finale.

We definitely won’t see mayhem like the end of last season’s Brickyard 400. Kyle Busch will crush the field, and if any spoilers have a chance of sneaking into the playoffs with a last-gasp win, it would be either Ryan Newman (who excels at flat tracks) or Jamie McMurray (who excels in big races).

The Brickyard 400 will go green on Sunday, Sept. 9 around 2 p.m. ET, with TV coverage on NBCSN.

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About Wesley Coburn

Wesley Coburn
Wesley has been with Fronstretch since October 2017. He loves well-told stories in whatever format he finds them. Aside from NASCAR, he enjoys reading, country music and OKC Thunder basketball. He has a BA in Liberal Arts/English and currently lives in eastern Oklahoma, where he works as a freelance writer/editor.

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