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What to Watch For: Darlington

The Bubble Situation With 2 to Go

With just visits to Darlington and Richmond remaining on the schedule before the playoffs, the picture is starting to get clear.

Playoff Situation - 2 to Go Before the Playoffs
- 13 drivers have clinched spots with wins
- Chase Elliott, Matt Kenseth, Jamie McMurray are winless drivers in on points
- Any winless driver in top 30 in points can clinch with win
- Notables outside looking in: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Joey Logano, Danica Patrick, Clint Bowyer, Daniel Suárez, Erik Jones

Among the playoff-eligible drivers winless in 2017, only Matt Kenseth is a prior winner at Darlington, winning in 2013. At Richmond, several other drivers have tasted victory, including Dale Earnhardt Jr., a 3-time winner at the track.

In addition to needing a win to get into the playoffs, Dale Earnhardt Jr. needs one more top-5 finish to become the 24th driver in series history with 150.

Kyle Busch Getting Hot at the Right Time

Fresh off recording his 40th career win 2 weeks ago at Bristol, becoming the 4th-youngest driver at the time of his 40th win in series history, Kyle Busch will look for his 5th straight top-10 finish.

Busch didn't win his first race this season until the 21st race of the season. It's a stark difference from last year, when he won 4 of the first 20 races, but then not again the rest of the season.

Truex Looks to Defend Title

Martin Truex Jr. not only has earned the most playoff points, 35, 15 more than any other driver, but he's in line to clinch another 15 points if he leads by at least 61 points after Darlington. Truex currently leads 2nd-place Kyle Busch by 101 points.

Martin Truex Jr. - Playoff Scenario
- Earned series-best 35 playoff points (will be applied at the start of each playoff round after reset)
- Will earn additional 15 playoff points if he clinches regular season points title
- Will clinch title with 17th-place finish at Darlington

Truex is the defending Southern 500 winner, a prestigious NASCAR race at Darlington that dates back to 1950. No driver has gone back-to-back in the Southern 500 since Greg Biffle in 2005-06.

11 Races, 11 Winners at Darlington

Darlington is known as the "Track Too Tough to Tame", but it's also been a track of great opportunity lately. There's been 11 winners in the last 11 races at the track, the longest active streak of individual winners at any Cup track.

According to the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, there's a good chance we can make that 12 straight. Of the 9 favorites entering the weekend, 4 of them have never previously won at Darlington.

Who's Hot and Who's Not - Darlington Edition

HOT
• Dale Earnhardt Jr.: 3 straight top 10s at Darlington (did not race last year due to injury)
• Kevin Harvick: 4 straight top-5 finishes at Darlington (2 in first 16 races at track)
• Denny Hamlin: finished 6th or better in 6 of last 7 Darlington races; 5.3 Avg finish in those races is best in series in that span
• Matt Kenseth: 4 top-5, 5 top-10 finishes in last 6 races (3 top-5, 6 top-10 finishes in first 18 races this season)
• Kyle Larson: never finished outside top 10 in 3 career Darlington starts

NOT
• Jimmie Johnson: no finish better than 10th in 11 races since winning at Dover on June 4 (longest top-5 drought of Cup Series career)
• Clint Bowyer: has never finished better than 9th at Darlington (only track where he's never recorded a finish of 6th or better)
• Kurt Busch: wrecked out of 2 of last 3 Darlington races; 2 top-5 finishes in 20 career Darlington starts
• Joey Logano: 22.0 Avg finish in his last 8 Cup Series races overall

--- ESPN Stats & Info ---