NASCAR Race Weekend Central
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4 Burning Questions: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Hasn’t Won At Darlington?

This week, the Motor Racing Network announced that they would be sponsoring the No. 77 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet at Darlington Raceway, as part of their 50th anniversary celebration.

Anybody see the problem here?

I’ll outline it: MRN is covering an event. MRN is sponsoring an athlete in the event. This is a problem. A big, big problem.

This is the second time this year that there has been a really questionable sponsorship on the radio side. In March, Martin Truex Jr. was sponsored by Sirus XM, on which MRN broadcasts and  with whom it has a very close relationship. MRN covered that event as well.

These are very basic, incredibly clear breaches of journalism ethics. Why should I listen to the MRN broadcast of Sunday’s race when I know MRN has a horse in the race? It doesn’t matter whether or not there is actual bias on display, it’s the image and what this brings to the culture of the media room.

There was a notable lack of reaction to this paint scheme by the general racing fan on social media. But the doors this could open in the future would definitely get fans noticing. What if Chase Elliott entered a multi-race contract with NBC, and what that would mean for the second half of the season’s broadcasts? Or Kyle Busch and FOX? Would NBC cover Busch that extensively or FOX do the same with Elliott?

Heck, imagine if Frontstetch.com itself were to sponsor a certain driver, and then I dedicated one of these questions to how great or how bad said driver has done this season. It wouldn’t matter if what I wrote about/reported on were true, it would still have a nasty stench of bias surrounding it.

Imagine this in any other sport. Let’s pretend ESPN had a sponsorship deal with Dan Snyder. Would the “World Wide Leader In Sports” be able to turn around and objectively report news on the Washington Redskins, a team playing in SportsCenter Field?

This in general is just a really dumb point that I’ve needed to make, dumb in that it’s dumb it has to be made. I will not listen to or pay money towards MRN, an organization who should know better, until they know better. Barney Hall is probably rolling in his grave over this.

How’s Dale Earnhardt Jr. going to do on Saturday?

Welp, there’s really no way of beating around the bush this year. Unlike last year at Richmond.

Fresh off of an airplane crash that thankfully left himself and his family largely uninjured, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has come out of retirement once again this year to run a NASCAR XFINITY Series race. This time, Earnhardt Jr. will be racing a No. 8 Chevrolet at Darlington Raceway, just his second NASCAR start since retiring from full time Cup Series competition at the end of 2017.

Darlington has long been one of the Earnhardt family’s favorite racetracks. Dale Earnhardt Sr. had a habit of being the first driver to send in his Darlington entry form, often for good reason; Earnhardt Sr. won three Southern 500s and enjoyed eight Darlington Cup wins in total.

As much as Earnhardt Jr. likes Darlington and the history of the sport, he’s strangely never brought a car into victory lane there. He’s gotten close, finishing second in the 2014 Southern 500 and second in an NXS race in 1998. But that win at the “Lady In Black” has always alluded him.

The Darlington field in general this year is a little more manageable for a driver like Jr. to compete. Last year featured winner Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott, Ross Chastain in Chip Ganassi Racing equipment, Denny Hamlin, and a Kevin Harvick who forgot that he wasn’t in a video game and plowed Chastain for reasons. This year, only Hamlin and Ryan Blaney are coming down from the Cup Series.

The NXS regulars themselves are going to put up a fight. Christopher Bell and Austin Cindric are both on fire, while Cole Custer finished second to Keselowski last year.

Who will be competitive in the Southern 500?

Kyle Larson absolutely dominated last year’s Southern 500, but lost the lead on pit road and couldn’t get a good enough restart to get past Keselowski in the closing laps.

One driver who has rattled off some solid runs at Darlington has been Chase Elliott. Elliott crashed out of his first Darlington Cup race, but has finishes of 10th, 11th, and fifth in the three races since.

Since joining Stewart Haas Racing, Kevin Harvick has been bulletproof at Darlington: five starts, five top ten finishes, with four of those being top fives and a win in 2014. This is a pretty crazy turn-around, with Harvick only getting three top five finishes at Darlington during the entirety of his Richard Childress Racing tenure.

Darlington is one of Denny Hamlin’s best racetracks; Hamlin has won twice at the South Carolina oval and has just two career finishes outside of the top ten there. It also helps that he has a pretty neat throwback to go with the success on his resume. Speaking of that…

Who has the best throwback paint scheme this weekend?

With this year being the fifth annual NASCAR “throwback” weekend at Darlington, it’s time to look and see which teams brought out winners and which teams brought out stinkers. These are the completely unofficial and unauthorized 2019 Darlington throwback awards (also known as “The Throwies”):

The “Party Pooper” Award

At the very least, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Harvick are running special paint schemes for sponsors. Ty Dillon is just running the same GEICO scheme he’s been running all year, as will Chris Buescher with Kroger. Major thumbs down to both teams.

The “Best Reveal” Award

The “This Leaked 73 Years Ago So You Probably Forgot About It” Award

The “Huh” Award

Kurt Busch’s throwback isn’t necessarily bad. It’s kind of just meh. Like it’s not a special scheme throwing back to some historical NASCAR scheme, it’s just to an old Chevrolet. Which is cool, I guess?

The “What Even Is This?” Award

The “Worst Throwback” Award

Seriously? We’ve seen this scheme five times in the last 11 years. And this doesn’t even come close to having the right shade of gray.

The “Best Obscure Driver Throwback” Award

As not particularly good as Bobby Hillin Jr. was, this scheme is easily one of the best showing up this weekend. It just wasn’t as good as these last two.

The “Best In-Show Runner-Up” Award

This is easily one of the best looking cars to show up in Darlington the last few years. StarCom Racing could have been lazy and ignored the Coors Light mountains, but they didn’t and the car looks so beautiful for it.

The “Best In Show” Award

Dare I say, this looks better than the DW original. The FedEx logo just flows beautifully on the hood and on the sides, it actually fits the car way better than Western Auto. And with Hamlin being as good at Darlington as he is, it wouldn’t be surprising to see this scheme end the night doing some doughnuts on the frontstretch.

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About Michael Finley

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Michael has watched NASCAR for 15 years and began covering the sport five years ago. He is a graduate of Salisbury University and a proud member of the National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA).

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2 comments

  1. Avatar

    Or, imagine that Rick Hendrick had several former drivers and crew chiefs in the broadcast booth for both networks. Even more wild, imagine if one of the former drivers in the NBC booth was current owner of a large Xfinity Series race team and another former driver in the Fox booth were listed as current owner of a cup car in the Hendrick stables.

  2. Avatar

    Broadcasters are not necessarily journalists, especially in NASCAR. Even many so-called journalists who cover NASCAR are little more than shills for the sport. So unclutch your pearls and get off the fainting couch.