Photo: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Up to Speed: Toyota 500 at Darlington Raceway Preview

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

A staple of the NASCAR Cup Series schedule since 1950, Darlington Raceway has served as a lifeline to help the sport get back on its feet in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Just three days after the 2020 season restarted with the running of the Real Heroes 400 at the 1.366-mile egg-shaped oval, the stars of NASCAR’s top division head back to South Carolina for another dance with the Lady in Black in Wednesday night’s Toyota 500.

With no practice or qualifying heading into the race, the procedures to set the field for tonight’s event are a bit different than the ones that were in place on Sunday. Instead of using a random draw to set the starting lineup, the top-20 finishers from Sunday’s race will be inverted, followed by those that finished between 21st and 40th.

The lineup procedures mean Ryan Preece and Ty Dillon will start on the front row for the 228-lap race, while Sunday’s winner Kevin Harvick will roll off in 20th.

Originally scheduled for a 7:00 pm ET start time, the race has been moved up an hour due to forecasted inclement weather, which pushed Tuesday night’s Xfinity Series race to Thursday. Should the forecast hold and rain once again becomes a factor, the Cup race will also be run on Thursday.

By the Numbers

What: Toyota 500, NASCAR Cup Series race No. 6 of 36

Where: Darlington Raceway – Darlington, South Carolina (Opened: 1950)

TV/Radio: FOX Sports 1, 6:00 pm ET /MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90

Track Size:  1.366-mile egg-shaped oval

Banking: Turns 1-2: 25 degrees; Turns 3-4: 23 degrees; Straights: 6 degrees

Race Length: 228 laps, 311.4 miles (500 kilometers)

Stage Lengths: First stage – 60 laps, Second stage – 65 laps, Final stage – 103 laps

Previous Race Winner:  Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford (Started sixth, 159 laps led)

Track Qualifying Record: Aric Almirola (184.145 mph, 26.705 secs – 4/11/2014)

Top-10 Highest Driver Ratings at Darlington Raceway:

  1. Erik Jones – No. 20 Toyota – 107.4
  2. Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota – 106.6
  3. Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 103.7
  4. Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 103.6
  5. Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford – 100.4
  6. Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 19 Toyota – 98.5
  7. Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 96.4
  8. Tyler Reddick – No. 8 Chevrolet – 94.7
  9. Matt Kenseth – No. 42 Chevrolet – 90.5
  10. Kurt Busch – No. 1 Chevrolet – 89.7

From the Driver’s Seat

“As far as heading back to Darlington, three days after a race. This is that that moment that we always have in team meetings, where we ask one another: “if we were going to go back there tomorrow, what would we change?”

“Now it’s time to put our money where our mouth is and make the changes and capitalize, with these two events being so close to one another,” Kurt Busch said. “It is similar to the All-Star Race and then going back to run the 600 at Charlotte. Only this is even closer in comparison, because of the stage lengths and the approach to the race. Also, with our starting positions, we pulled the random draw to start 22nd for the first Darlington race and then with the invert, following the third-place finish, will be starting 18th in this second race.

“Both of our races are very similar, the stages and the set-ups are pretty close. We could go along with no yellows in between stage one and stage two, but we’ll see how it pans out. This is definitely one of those moments where it’s like “boom” make quick changes and head straight back to the track and go for the win!”

Last Time at Darlington

Kevin Harvick classified the post-race scene as “awkward” without a multitude of cheering fans in the stands and all of the procedures in place as a result of the pandemic, but it was business as usual in the hours prior when NASCAR finally got back on track.

Early on, it was the Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets of Jimmie Johnson and Alex Bowman that showed the way before Johnson crashed out at the end of the first stage.

For the remainder of the day, Harvick was the man to beat, leading 159 of the final 201 laps to score his 50th career win in the Cup Series, tying with NASCAR Hall of Famers Junior Johnson and Ned Jarrett on the all-time wins list.

Harvick was followed to the line by Bowman, who finished 2.154-seconds back. The remainder of the top-10 went to Kurt Busch, Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Tyler Reddick, Erik Jones, John Hunter Nemechek, and Matt Kenseth.

“The first thing I want to do is thank everybody from NASCAR, all the teams, the whole industry, for getting us back on the racetrack,” Harvick said. “I think everybody in this garage is so excited to be here.  I was up this morning at 6:00 pacing around my porch trying to decide when I was going to leave.  I was excited to get back in the car.

“Today was just a well-executed day.  We were fortunate we had the first pit stall, kept our track position all day, were able to have a good Busch Light Ford, have good restarts, do everything we needed to do to keep our track position.

“In the end, that was the key for us.  We had a fast car, but staying out front was the key to the equation.”

Toyota 500 Starting Lineup

  1. Ryan Preece – No. 37 Tide Power Pods Chevrolet
  2. Ty Dillon – No. 13 GEICO Chevrolet
  3. Joey Logano – No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford
  4. Clint Bowyer – No.14 Rush/Mobil Delvac 1 Ford
  5. Ryan Blaney – No. 12 Menards/Moen Ford
  6. Ryan Newman – No. 6 Oscar Mayer Hot Dogs Ford
  7. Matt DiBenedetto – No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford
  8. Brad Keselowski – No.2 PIRTEK Ford
  9. Aric Almirola – No.10 Smithfield Ford
  10. Austin Dillon – No. 3 DOW/Keep America Beautiful Chevrolet
  11. Matt Kenseth – No. 42 Credit One Bank Chevrolet
  12. John Hunter Nemechek – No. 38 SCAG Ford
  13. Erik Jones – No. 20 STANLEY Toyota
  14. Tyler Reddick – No. 8 Caterpillar Chevrolet
  15. Martin Truex Jr. – No. 19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota
  16. Denny Hamlin – No. 11 FedEx Delivering Strength Toyota
  17. Chase Elliott – No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet
  18. Kurt Busch – No. 1 Monster Energy Chevrolet
  19. Alex Bowman – No. 88 NOCO Chevrolet
  20. Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Mobil 1 Ford
  21. Bubba Wallace – No. 43 Victory Junction Chevrolet
  22. Cole Custer – No. 41 Ford
  23. Michael McDowell – No. 34 Ford
  24. Christopher Bell – No. 95 Procore Toyota
  25. Daniel Suarez – No. 96 Today.Tomorrow.Toyota Toyota
  26. Kyle Busch – No. 18 M&M’s Fudge Brownie Toyota
  27. Brennan Poole – No. 15 Chevrolet
  28. Gray Gaulding – No. 27 Chevrolet
  29. Ross Chastain – No. 77 Bon Secours #TheRealHeroes Chevrolet
  30. Joey Gase – No. 51 Agri Supply Chevrolet
  31. Corey LaJoie – No. 32 Ford
  32. Chris Buescher – No. 17 Fifth Third Bank Ford
  33. Timmy Hill – No. 66 Toyota
  34. William Byron – No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet
  35. Quin Houff – No. 00 UNITS Chevrolet
  36. Garrett Smithley – No. 53 Trophy Tractor Ford
  37. Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Ally Chevrolet
  38. BJ McLeod – No. 78 Chevrolet
  39. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – No. 47 Kroger Chevrolet

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.