THREE THINGS WE LEARNED FROM DARLINGTON

1. Once a driver. . .

Darlington Raceway honored Richard Petty at its throwback weekend by letting him run a pace lap in his 1967 No. 43 Plymouth. Petty, 80, was having so much fun behind the wheel, he just kept turning laps. NASCAR had to black-flag Petty to get him off the course.

2. Blame Blaney

These new, young drivers don’t seem to mind taking the blame for driving mistakes. Ryan Blaney hit the wall early Sunday and pointed the finger at the guilty party. “That was a huge mistake on my part,” Blaney said. “I don't know what I was doing.” D.W. never said that.

3. In one breath

Martin Truex Jr. explained in one breath why Darlington is so tough these days. “These cars are a lot harder to drive,” he said. “The track is a year older, tires are wearing out faster, cars have less downforce, cars have more horsepower. The competition is closer. It was really hot.”

THREE THINGS TO WATCH

1. Playoff picture

Martin Truex Jr. had a disappointing result (eighth) in the Southern 500, but had a great points day. Truex nabbed two more playoff points by winning Stages 1 and 2, plus clinching the regular-season championship, worth 15 playoff points. He has amassed 52 playoff points, more than double his closest rival. “It was definitely a bittersweet night for us,” said Truex, who led a race-high 124 laps but blew a tire with two to go.

2. Bubble Boys

There is just one regular-season race to run before the NASCAR Cup Series goes into playoff mode. Only three positions are available for the postseason, which means the three guys eligible based on points — Chase Elliott, Matt Kenseth and Jamie McMurray — won’t get much sleep this week. Only three points separate the trio of drivers, which means if an unexpected winner pops up at Richmond, one of them is eliminated.

3. Best stuff

Several drivers, who have an upset win on their minds, will be bringing their best stuff to Richmond for a Hail Mary attempt at winning the race to make the playoffs. The three drivers to watch are Joey Logano, Erik Jones and Clint Bowyer, all below the points cutline. “We’re not out of this thing,” Bowyer said. “We’ve still got a good race track coming up for us. We’ll just go there and put all the cards on the table over there.”

SPEED FREAKS

A few questions we had to ask ourselves

Just a “racin’ deal” or was that a dent in the Martin Truex Jr. armor?

GODSPEAK: Truex is OK. Darlington’s grater-like surface chewed up his old tires and proved to be his undoing.

KEN’S CALL: Racin’ deal. Hamlin had the faster car and would’ve passed Truex anyway.

Where do you rank Denny Hamlin among contenders?

GODSPEAK: He is gaining momentum going into playoffs, but I can only rank him fifth at this point.

KEN’S CALL: Somewhere between second and fourth with the two Kyles (Busch and Larson). Truex is still the clear favorite.

Best bet to clinch playoff spot with Richmond win?

GODSPEAK: Clint Bowyer reaches way down and pulls a surprise win out of his tool box.

KEN’S CALL: Matt Kenseth.

QUESTIONS & ATTITUDE

Compelling questions... and maybe a few actual answers

How do PR folks earn their keep?

Mostly by knowing how to go after marketing opportunities, but sometimes by knowing what to avoid. Back in July at New Hampshire, NBC aired a pre-race segment showing Daniel Suarez handing out Dunkin’ Donuts to race fans on race-day morning. Oops. You see, Suarez’s team has partial sponsorship from Subway, and since Subway is also in the breakfast game, Subway can’t have Suarez marketing a competitor’s food (we’re assuming doughnuts are considered food).

Doesn’t this sound nuts?

To those who don’t work on the marketing side of Corporate America, yes, it sounds nuts. Subway had just one race left on its Suarez deal, so it could be worse. If Subway returns with a different team next year, NASCAR might see its first-ever doughnut clause in a sponsorship contract.

FEUD OF THE WEEK

KYLE LARSON VS. MARTIN TRUEX JR.: Two of NASCAR’s top drivers made contact during the race, and Truex took full responsibility for the incident.

GODWIN KELLY’S TAKE: “I got a big run on him off of Turn 2,” Truex said. “I just bumped him a little bit in the tail and then turned inside of him and went on.”

CUP STANDINGS

1. Martin Truex Jr. 1000

2. Kyle Busch 893

3. Kyle Larson 884

4. Kevin Harvick 867

5. Denny Hamlin 810

6. Brad Keselowski 761

7. Chase Elliott 737

8. Matt Kenseth 735

9. Jamie McMurray 734

10. Jimmie Johnson 653

WHAT'S ON TAP?

CUP SERIES: Federated Auto Parts 400

SITE: Richmond International Raceway (.75-mile oval)

TV SCHEDULE: Friday, practice (NBC Sports Network, noon), qualifying (NBCSN, 5:45 p.m.) Saturday, race (NBCSN, race coverage begins at 7 p.m.; green flag, 7:45 p.m.)

XFINITY: Virginia 529 College Savings 250

SITE: Richmond International Raceway

TV SCHEDULE: Friday, race (NBC Sports Network, 7:30 p.m.)

CAMPING WORLD TRUCKS: Chicago 225

SITE: Chicagoland Speedway

TV SCHEDULE: Sept. 16, (Fox Sports 1, 8:30 p.m.)

GODWIN'S PICKS FOR RICHMOND 

WINNER: Clint Bowyer

REST OF TOP 5: Jamie McMurray, Erik Jones, Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick

FIRST ONE OUT: Jeffrey Earnhardt

DARK HORSE: Dale Earnhardt Jr.

DON’T BE SURPRISED IF: Bowyer’s team pulls it all together and snags a victory to make the playoffs.