1. The NASCAR Throwback weekend is one of the most popular and newestÂ traditions in NASCAR, not to mention the Southern 500. How important is Darlington Raceway to NASCAR in 2019 in your opinion?
Jim Utter: If NASCAR is going to keep any links to its history, tracks like Darlington and Martinsville are the best way to preserve them. Darlington was the first fully-paved speedway in the Cup Series and Martinsville a throwback to the short track roots of most drivers. The annual Throwback weekend at Darlington is important not only for fans, but for many of the sport’s participants. NASCAR will never be like those days again, but it’s fun to recall how much it has changed.
Nick DeGroot: It’s one of the few threads that still links NASCAR to its past and hopefully it is never severed. NASCAR without Darlington is like Boston without Fenway, it’s one of the oldest and most historic races. The only track I rank above it in historical importance is Daytona. The implementation of ‘Throwback Weekend’ has revived this race after it was nearly killed due to some unfortunate decisions made in the mid-2000s. It’s importance cannot be understated.
Tim Southers:Â I think the race is still important to a lot of long-time racers and fans. This was always considered one of the ‘Big 4’ races on the Cup Series schedule and in my opinion, I feel it remains a marquee win on any driver’s resume. The track is probably more challenging for a driver than any other on the schedule and to win there proves you know how to handle a Cup car. The Throwback weekend marketing plan is probably one of the top three events in the past 25 years of the series and probably one fo the top five of all-time in the history of the sport in my opinion.
2. With two races remaining in the regular Cup Series season, do you think anyone not in the playoff grid now will win their way in? If so, who?
Tim:Â I think there will be a winner and I think that person will be Clint Bowyer. My heart wants to see Jimmie Johnson get a win and continue his push for a record eighth title but I just don’t see it happening.
3. Denny Hamlin won the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway in 2017 andÂ is one of the hottest drivers in the sport right now. Would you takeÂ him versus the field if you were betting in Las Vegas?Â Â
Tim:Â Yes I would and I would double down if I could on that bet. One thing you need to finish well at Darlington Raceway is to have complete confidence in your car, team and your driving abilities. I feel Hamlin feels really good about all three entering this weekend.Â Â
4. What are your expectations for Dale Earnhardt Jr. in Saturday’s Xfinity race, in what is likely his only NASCAR start of the season?
Nick: Like Jim said, it’s a relief to hear he is well enough to even be running this race after the plane crash. Those JR Motorsports cars haven’t been as strong this year as they have been in the past but I expect him to be in contention and to bring home a top-five.
Tim:Â If not for the plane crash a couple of weeks ago I would say a top-five or maybe even a top three. I honestly have no idea now, but I think a top-10 finish is not out of the question.