THREE THINGS WE LEARNED FROM THE OFF-WEEK
1. ‘Logan’ fills void
There was no NASCAR Cup Series race last weekend, but there was a stock-car movie to attend. “Logan Lucky” opened around the country and has enjoyed favorable reviews. It gets a 93 percent on the "Tomatometer." Good job on that accent, Daniel Craig (James Bond).
2. Bubba’s ride?
This could be trouble for Aric Almirola. Various news outlets have reported that Darrell Wallace Jr., known as Bubba Wallace to many, may be in line to take the wheel of No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford in 2018. Wallace subbed for an injured Almirola this season.
3. Bachelors party
Two of NASCAR’s brightest young stars, Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney, made the most of their week off. They took a trip to Amsterdam to unwind from the rigors of Cup Series racing. Oh, the stories we will NEVER hear from that road trip.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH FOR
1. Throwback weekend
The Southern 500 throwback weekend at Darlington Raceway has become a favorite for race teams and fans alike. This is the third year Darlington has run the promotion, and race teams are all in. The majority of cars will run paint schemes seen in days gone by. There are some real classics in the mix, such as Germain Racing’s No. 13 Chevrolet, which will carry a Smokey Yunick paint scheme used in 1963.
2. Playoff fever
A total of 13 drivers have punched their tickets to the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. That leaves three openings and two races left to contest, which means at least one driver will get to the postseason on points. The driver who could really shake up the playoffs is Erik Jones, who finished top-three in his past two starts. Since Jones can’t make it on points, he is the primary spoiler for those drivers around the points cutline.
Barney Visser owns Furniture Row Racing’s No. 78 and No. 77 Cup Series Toyotas. Even though Visser has stated many times that the No. 77 will likely disappear when Erik Jones joins Joe Gibbs Racing, that doesn’t mean his phone has been silent. The team has said it has talked to several brand-name drivers about the No. 77 ride, but it all depends on whether proper sponsorship can be located. Stay tuned.
A few questions we had to ask ourselves
What ‘throwback’ would you like to see Darlington include next time?
GODSPEAK: How about an old-timers race with low-powered cars? That would be exciting.
KEN’S CALL: Bring in some old non-stars for a weekend of autographs, etc. — Musgrave, Grissom, Marcis, Benson ...
No way Erik Jones gets his first win at Darlington, right?
GODSPEAK: If “James Bond” can be in a NASCAR-themed movie, then Jones can win Darlington.
KEN’S CALL: It’s his first Cup race at that rough old track, so odds are long against him.
A top-10 for Jimmie Johnson, perhaps?
GODSPEAK: It is a few weeks early. Just wait until the first playoff race at Chicagoland Speedway.
KEN’S CALL: How crazy; that’s actually become a legitimate question in recent weeks.
QUESTIONS & ATTITUDE
Compelling questions... and maybe a few actual answers
Why aren’t we freaked out by the Hendrick slide?
Because there are wee bits of silver lining in those clouds. Yes, considering how Hendrick Motorsports has long been NASCAR’s gold standard, it’s shocking when you scan the current standings and see where the four drivers are sitting: 7. Chase Elliott; 11. Jimmie Johnson; 20. Kasey Kahne; 22. Junior Earnhardt. There was much talk about the Gibbs slump earlier this season, yet Gibbs Racing has three drivers in the top eight. But again, it’s not as bad as it looks.
Well, yes, Elliott has yet to get that first Cup Series win, but at seventh in the standings, he continues to show decent consistency (and consistent decency, for that matter) and can still make the playoffs. Johnson has been strangely mediocre-to-slow lately, but does have those three wins. Kahne, gone after this year, is in the playoffs with his surprise Brickyard win. And Junior? It shouldn’t be a surprise that he never got up to speed, given all the distractions and future considerations.
FEUD OF THE WEEK
KYLE BUSCH VS. JOEY LOGANO: Since there was no Cup Series racing, we find the feud of the season (to date) — Busch confronted Logano after the Las Vegas race and walked away bloodied.
GODWIN KELLY’S TAKE: There hasn’t been anything close to this dramatic moment at Las Vegas. The video of the confrontation went viral, and you can still find it online to this day.
1. Martin Truex Jr. 951
2. Kyle Busch 850
3. Kyle Larson 845
4. Kevin Harvick 824
5. Denny Hamlin 753
6. Brad Keselowski 728
7. Chase Elliott 711
8. Matt Kenseth 703
9. Jamie McMurray 700
10. Clint Bowyer 642
WHAT'S ON TAP?
CUP SERIES: Bojangles' Southern 500
SITE: Darlington Raceway (1.366-mile, egg-shaped oval)
TV SCHEDULE: Friday, practice (NBC Sports Network, 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.). Saturday, qualifying (NBCSN, 2 p.m.). Sunday, race (NBCSN, race coverage begins at 5:30 p.m.; green flag, 6:30 p.m.)
XFINITY: Sport Clips Haircuts VFW 200
SITE: Darlington Raceway
TV SCHEDULE: Friday, practice (NBC Sports Network, noon and 2:30 p.m.). Saturday, qualifying (NBCSN, noon), race (NBCSN, 3 p.m.)
CAMPING WORLD TRUCKS: Chevrolet Silverado 250
GODWIN'S PICKS FOR DARLINGTON
WINNER: Matt Kenseth
REST OF TOP 5: Martin Truex Jr., Erik Jones, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson
FIRST ONE OUT: Trevor Bayne
DARK HORSE: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
DON’T BE SURPRISED IF: Kenseth pulls this win out of his hat and makes the playoffs.
SITE: Canadian Tire Motorsports Park
TV SCHEDULE: Sunday, race (Fox Sports 1, 2:30 p.m.)