In the Know – Darlington

“In the Know”
Darlington Raceway

The Cook Out Southern 500 is a NASCAR Crown Jewel. Darlington Raceway is a family tradition and a premier Labor Day weekend destination spot. The 2021 season marks the track’s 71st anniversary, and has hosted 120 NASCAR Cup Series races. The first was on September 4, 1950. It was the first 500-mile race in NASCAR history and the first on asphalt.

“The sport is ready for a return visit to Darlington this weekend, and there is a lot to be excited about,” said Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of racing. “Darlington has so much history and is so important to our sport. It has been a staple on the Cup schedule since the 1950s, and has provided a serious challenge to drivers over the generations. The abrasive track surface puts the onus on drivers to manage their tires and team members to keep up with the track and perform fast and consistent pit stops throughout a long race.”

Our drivers will try to tame the Lady in Black, while we kick off the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs. For the 15th time in his career, Harvick is a part of it. Harvick qualified for the playoffs by virtue of his ninth-place finish in the regular-season standings. This is his 12th consecutive playoff appearance. Harvick won the championship in 2014.

This is the fourth consecutive playoff appearance in Aric Almirola’s four years at Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) and fifth playoff appearance of his 12-year career. Almirola locked himself into the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs with his victory July 18 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon.

The Details

Event: Cookout Southern 500 (Round 27 of 36)
Time/Date: 6 p.m. EDT on Sunday, Sept. 5
Location: Darlington (S.C.) Raceway
Layout: 1.366-mile egg-shaped oval
Laps/Miles: 367 laps/501.3 miles
Stage Lengths: Stage 1: 115 laps / Stage 2: 115 laps / Final Stage: 137 laps
TV/Radio: NBCSN / MRN / SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

What Our Drivers are Saying:

Kevin Harvick, Driver of the No. 4 Busch Light Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing:

You say you’re not going to change your approach, despite not scoring a win yet this season. Is it hard to stick with what got you to the playoffs, or is this where your experience comes into play?
“You can pull something apart a whole lot faster than you can build it. As you look through the years, it’s very easy to sit back and just chime in and jump all over people. That’s really easy. Obviously, there are still times that you need to do that, but the thing I’ve learned is the fact that you’ve got a group of people around that you know can win and do the things that you need to do, but sometimes you’re just off. The problem solving in our world is difficult, and sometimes it’s a whole bunch of small things, and trying to push something – and I’ve done it a couple of times this year on the racetrack – you try to push something a little bit further than it can go and you wind up with the fenders torn off and you make bad worse. There’s no reason to make the problem worse than it needs to be. You have to be part of the process and the solution in order to solve the equation. Obviously, we all want to win and run better and do the things that we need to do, but Saturday night (at Daytona) kind of sums up the way it’s gone this year. You think you’re in a good position and don’t make it through the last corner. That’s just kind of the way that it’s gone. You ride the wave down just like you ride the wave up. You just hope that your wave down is shorter than most people’s and you can ride that wave back up when it’s right.”

Aric Almirola, Driver of the No. 10 Mobil 1 Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing:

Looking through the playoffs what will it take to be successful and where do you think you team stacks up?
“As we eye the playoffs, it’s really just about doing everything perfect and maximizing the day that you have. All of those things add up to results and that’s what we really focus on as we dive into the playoffs – not making mistakes and not taking yourself out of contention, making sure we maximize every single race weekend and every single lap. I feel like we stack up nicely with the competition despite what the results of the year may show. The rules package in some of the first few races is the rules package that we’ve had the most success with and won with at New Hampshire. There are certainly going to be some challenges at a few of the tracks in the playoffs, and there will be some where our competition is better. I’m looking forward to the challenge and I think there are some really good tracks in the playoffs for us.”

Chase Briscoe, Driver of the No. 14 HighPoint.com/Founders Federal Credit Union Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing:

We know you’re capable of winning at Darlington, and the May race result showed that your comfort with the track has transferred to the Cup Series. Can you improve on that finish this weekend?
“I really think this will be a good racetrack for us. It’s too bad we’re not in the playoffs, but we ran really well there in the spring and nearly had a top-10. We’ve got a good baseline to work off of and hopefully we can keep chipping away at it this weekend and show the progress we’ve made.”

Cole Custer, Driver of the No. 41 HaasTooling.com Demo Day Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing

Is there a race you’re looking forward to more than any of the others over these last 10 events of the season?
“I would say Darlington is one I’m looking forward to. It’s one of those races that every driver looks forward to because of the challenge behind it and how much you can do as a driver. There are so many different lanes you can work and you’re running right up against the wall. It’s just a driver’s racetrack and I feel there’s not one guy who doesn’t feel excited when they hear Darlington is coming up.”

SHR Stats

Kevin Harvick is the defending winner of the Southern 500. In last year’s race, the driver of the No. 4 Busch Light Ford Mustang led three times for 32 laps, including the final 13, to beat second-place Austin Dillon by .343 of a second. It was Harvick’s eighth win of 2020. He would go on to win one more race – the Sept. 19 Bass Pro Shops/NRA Night Race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. His nine wins in a single season were a series-best and career-best, all in Harvick’s 20th year of NASCAR Cup Series racing.

Darlington is known as “The Track Too Tough To Tame” but Harvick has tamed the venerable 1.366-mile oval three times. The 45-year-old racer from Bakersfield, California, owns two Southern 500 victories (2014 and 2020) and one win in the track’s 400-mile race. In fact, Harvick enters Darlington with an impressive record – he hasn’t finished outside the top-10 since 2012.

In 12 starts at the 1.33-mile egg-shaped oval, Aric Almirola has earned two top-10 finishes, which came in back-to-back starts last year in May and September. In his most recent start, the Smithfield Ford team was forced to start at the rear of the field and, after proving to have speed by gaining 10 positions in only six laps, Almirola’s day was cut short when the No. 47 contacted his rear bumper and spun him into the inside wall.

Saturday’s 500-mile race will be Cole Custer’s 66th Cup Series start and his and his fifth on the 1.366-mile, egg-shaped oval. The reigning Cup Series Rookie of the Year’s 12th-place finish in the Southern 500 last September was the best of his three Darlington outings in 2020. In this year’s Southern 500 at Darlington in May, an accident during Stage 2 of the race ended his day prematurely.

When the Cup Series visited Darlington on May 9, Chase Briscoe started 22nd and worked his way into the top-10 over the course of the 293-lap race. With two laps to go, while battling for a 10th-place finish, he made contact with the outside wall and ultimately crossed the line 11th. In the Xfinity Series, Briscoe claimed the victory in the series’ first trip to The Lady in Black, outdueling the winningest driver in Xfinity Series history, Kyle Busch. In his three career Xfinity Series starts at Darlington, Briscoe has finished no worse than 11th. As the final 10-race stretch of the season begins for Chase Briscoe and the No. 14 Ford Mustang team for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, so does the final push in the pursuit of the NASCAR Cup Series Rookie of the Year title. Though Briscoe is not part of the playoff field, he does have a chance to become just the third driver to earn Rookie of the Year honors in NASCAR’s top three national series. He would also be the first former ARCA Racing Series Rookie of the Year titleholder to accomplish the feat.

Of Special Interest

Be sure to check out our merch hauler at Darlington Raceway this weekend! If you can’t attend in person, you can shop anytime at store.stewarthaasracing.com