By Steve Mickey
When the green flag waved Sunday to begin the Pure Michigan 400, there were only three races left for a driver to claim one of the four remaining spots in the sixteen driver Chase field that will determine this season’s title holder. After the checkered flag waved, Kyle Larson had reduced the number of remaining spots still up for grabs to three as he captured his first win of his Sprint Cup career.
Chase rules state that in order for a winning driver to automatically qualify that he must be in the top-30 in points. Chris Buescher has a win this season but now sits in the very uncomfortable 30th position with a slim lead of seven points over David Ragan. Going into Michigan, he had a 13-point lead over Ragan. Making the lead even more uncomfortable is that there is only a one-point differential between finishing spots. All Ragan would have to do to knock Buescher out of the Chase is to finish a total of eight spots ahead during the final two races.
Chase Elliott was in a position to challenge Larson in the closing laps at Michigan as the two drivers started side by side on the front row but Larson was able to get the lead going into the first turn and never looked back as Elliott held on to finish second. His second place finish gave him a little cushion as the first driver to get into the Chase by his position in points as he has a 27-point lead over Ryan Newman who is 15 points out of the final transfer spot. The final two Chase spots are held down by Austin Dillon and Jamie McMurray. Dillon is 21-points ahead of Newman and McMurray has a 15-point lead. Both of those drivers will still be racing for a win over the next two weekends but they will also be racing against Newman as he capable of making up that kind of point difference as well as taking his Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet to victory lane.
THROWBACK WEEKEND – Last season’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 weekend turned out to be the most popular race on the entire schedule as the track began a five-year strategy to honor its storied past while at the same time celebrate the future. There is no better track on the schedule to look back at the history of the sport than at Darlington as the odd egg-shaped oval began hosting races in 1950. The track had lost its traditional Labor Day date several years ago but now has it back and this time the sanctioning body has made it even better by moving the start of the race back so it can be contested under the lights out of the extreme South Carolina heat.
Last season the teams and drivers really embraced the throwback atmosphere that the track was promoting as teams showed up with cars painted in schemes that honored some of the drivers and sponsors that raced as far back as the 60’s. It didn’t stop with the paint schemes either; drivers and pit crew members wore fire suits and crew uniforms with the same throwback schemes. Even the media got in on the fun as NBC’s broadcast crew was spotted wearing the big wide collars and bell bottoms that were famous back in the day. This Saturday night will not be any different as most teams are ready to once again step up and dust off the throwback schemes for another night of racing. This time the track will be recognizing past champions of the 1970’s and 80’s.
The list of former drivers expected to take part in the weekend’s activities will read like a who’s who in the sport with native Darlington son, Cale Yarborough serving as the honorary pace car driver. NASCAR Hall of Fame inductees Richard Childress, Rick Hendrick and Mark Martin will serve as Grand Marshals for the race. FIRST TIMERS – It was the first time in NASCAR history that all three of NASCAR’s national series produced first time winners. Brett Moffitt won the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Michigan and Michael McDowell took the checkered flag in the NASCAR XFINITY Series at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin to go along with Larson’s win at Michigan.
Event: Bojangles’ Southern 500
Track: Darlington Raceway (1.366-mile egg-shaped oval, turns 1&2 banked 25 degrees, 3&4 -23 degrees)
Date: Sept. 4, 6:00 pm
Defending Race Winner: Carl Edwards