Darlington Weekend Preview: Clint Bowyer looking for playoff berth

Clint Bowyer. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

With only two races left in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, Clint Bowyer sits on the cusp of the playoff picture. Positioned 58 points behind Matt Kenseth, who’d be the last driver to make the playoffs if the season ended today, Bowyer is the first driver out.

He’ll try to cut in to the 58-point deficit in Sunday’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway (6 p.m. ET on NBCSN), or better yet, win his way into the playoffs.

“We just have to win, a win and the points will take care of themselves,” said Bowyer when asked what his strategy would be to catch Kenseth.

Bowyer has struggled in his 11 Darlington starts. He has just one top-10 showing at the South Carolina track – a ninth-place finish in 2007.

The No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford driver attributes his Darlington struggles to bad luck.

“I like the uniqueness of the track,” Bowyer said. “I’ve struggled to have good finishes there, but we’ve always raced well. We just can’t seem to seal the deal at the end. Something always goes haywire in the end but, sooner or later, we are going to overcome that and have a good weekend. Doing that this weekend would be perfect.”

Darlington will celebrate its third annual “Throwback Weekend” from Friday through Sunday. The festivities – paying homage to the 1985-89 era – include drivers sporting retro paint schemes, NASCAR Hall of Famers Bill Elliott and Richard Petty piloting the honorary pace car, Bret Michaels performing a pre-race concert and a litany of other activities linking the present to the past.

Bowyer’s No. 14 Ford will feature a paint scheme honoring NASCAR Hall of Famer Mark Martin, his teammate at Michael Waltrip Racing from 2012-13.

“The throwback program at Darlington is the coolest thing I’ve ever been a part of,” Bowyer said. “And seeing this car is really a time check, a time stamp for me.”

Sadler eyes Darlington repeat

Life is good for Elliott Sadler.

Elliott Sadler (Getty Images)

The No. 1 JR Motorsports Chevrolet driver sits atop the NASCAR Xfinity Series standings – 107 points above second-place William Byron. He also gets to return Darlington Raceway as the defending race winner for Saturday’s Sport Clips Haircuts VFW 200 (3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Darlington has treated Sadler well throughout his career. In 13 starts at the South Carolina track, Sadler claims one win, five top fives, six top 10s and a 14.6 average finish. In his last four races at Darlington, he has one win and two runner-ups.

Sadler enters Saturday’s race coming off a 14th-place showing at Road America. He hasn’t won a race this season, but owns nine top-five and 17 top-10 finishes in 23 starts. The 42-year-old Virginian has a 9.0 average finish.

“This weekend’s race at Darlington is a big one for me,” Sadler said. “Not only am I returning as the race winner, but I am also running a throwback paint scheme driven by one of my all-time favorite drivers, Cale Yarborough. To win back-to-back throwback races, and to do it in the same scheme Cale won back-to-back Daytona 500s in, would be incredible for me.”

Nemechek readies for repeat in Canada

NEWTON, IA – JUNE 23: John H. Nemechek, driver of the #8 FireAlarmServiceInc/RomcoEquipmentCo Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Camping World Trucks Series M&Ms 200 at Iowa Speedway on June 23, 2017 in Newton, Iowa. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

In one of the most dramatic finishes in the NASCAR Camping World Series last year, John Hunter Nemechek bumped Cole Custer in the final turn at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and the two barreled each other off the asphalt as they crossed the finish line. Replay showed that Nemechek barely beat Custer to the stripe for the victory.

Nemechek will try to defend his win in Sunday’s Chevrolet Silverado 250 at the 10-turn road course (2:30 p.m. ET on FS1) – the only track on the schedule where drivers go left and right.

In addition to his win, the No. 8 Chevrolet driver has showings of ninth (2015) and 25th (2014) at CTMP.

On the season, Nemechek boasts two wins, seven top fives and 11 playoff points in 14 starts. He has two more races to add playoff points before the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series postseason begins at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sept. 23.

“Going to a track we’ve won at before definitely gives us a boost of confidence,” Nemechek said. “I feel like going to Canadian Tire is definitely going to be a momentum builder as we inch closer to the playoffs.”



Race Weekend Preview

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

Race: Bojangles’ Southern 500

Place: Darlington Raceway

Date and Time: Sunday, Sept. 3 at 6 p.m. ET

Tune-in: NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 501.3 miles (367 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 100), Stage 2 (Ends on lap 200), Final Stage (Ends on lap 367)

What To Watch For: NASCAR pays homage to its 1985-89 era as it celebrates the third annual throwback weekend at Darlington Raceway. … Two races remain until the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. Three postseason berths remain up for grabs. … Martin Truex Jr. attempts to defend his 2016 Darlington victory. … Sunoco Rookie of the Year frontrunner Erik Jones tries to win his way into the playoffs after posting a career-best runner-up finish at Bristol.

NASCAR Xfinity Series

Race: Sport Clips Haircuts VFW 200

Place: Darlington Raceway

Date and Time: Saturday, Sept. 2 at 3:30 p.m. ET

Tune-in: NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 200.8 miles (147 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 45), Stage 2 (Ends on lap 90), Final Stage (Ends on lap 147)

What To Watch For: Three races remain until the NASCAR Xfinity Series playoffs. … William Byron attempts to add to his series-leading three wins and 17 playoff points. … Jeremy Clements tries to build on the momentum gained from his first career win at Road America last week. … Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers Austin Dillon, Ty Dillon, Denny Hamlin, Reed Sorensen, Erik Jones, Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick will compete in the Xfinity race at Darlington.

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series

Race: Chevrolet Silverado 250

Place: Canadian Tire Motorsport Park

Date and Time: Sunday, Sept. 3 at 2:30 p.m. ET

Tune-in: FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 157.37 miles (64 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 20), Stage 2 (Ends on lap 40), Final Stage (Ends on lap 64)

What To Watch For: Three playoff berths are still up for grabs with two races remaining in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series regular season. Winless drivers Chase Briscoe, Ben Rhodes and Ryan Truex currently hold the final three spots, but Grant Enfinger is only nine points behind Truex for the final playoff berth. … Four different drivers have won in the four races at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. … NASCAR Next driver Todd Gilliland is set to make his third career NCWTS start.

Greg Engle
About Greg Engle 7421 Articles
Greg is a published award winning sportswriter who spent 23 years combined active and active reserve military service, much of that in and around the Special Operations community. Greg is the author of "The Nuts and Bolts of NASCAR: The Definitive Viewers' Guide to Big-Time Stock Car Auto Racing" and has been published in major publications across the country including the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He was also a contributor to Chicken Soup for the NASCAR Soul, published in 2010, and the Christmas edition in 2016. He wrote as the NASCAR, Formula 1, Auto Reviews and National Veterans Affairs Examiner for Examiner.com and has appeared on Fox News. He holds a BS degree in communications, a Masters degree in psychology and is currently a PhD candidate majoring in psychology. He is currently the weekend Motorsports Editor for Autoweek.