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Drivers Expecting A Hot Time In The Southern

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, September 2 2018

Darlington, S.C. puts the heat on teams and drivers on Labor Day weekend. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Rusty Jarrett )

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

DARLINGTON, S.C. – Labor Day weekend in Darlington means grueling heat and humidity with temperatures in the race cars easily soaring to more than 120 degrees.

It’s an environment that Kurt Busch believes makes the Bojangles Southern 500 tougher than the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte on Memorial Day weekend.

“It’s that long mental sequence of sets of tires, sets of tires, sets of tires, long green-flag runs where you’re racing the race track, and how hard the track changes throughout the race and how hard it is because the tires drop off so much,” said Busch, who qualified ninth for Sunday’s race on the 1.366-mile, egg-shaped track. “It’s hot, it’s muggy and this is the good, old South.”

Brad Keselowski, who won Saturday’s Sport Clips Haircuts VFW 200 Xfinity race, agreed with Busch.

 “Labor Day weekend is generally very hot,” Keselowski said. “South Carolina is like another country hot, and you put those two together with a long race and you’ve got really one heck of a trifecta of pain in the race car.”

Keselowski notes no one can see the excruciating pain the drivers endure during a Darlington race due to their full-face helmets and the fact they are in a car.  

As everyone would say, that’s why we make the big bucks is to be able to take the heat and we’ll have to man up and be ready for the challenge,” said Keselowski, who qualified 13th for the event.

Denny Hamlin, the race’s defending champion, earned the pole for the 367-lap race with a 173.571-mph lap in his Toyota. Joining him on the front row is Kyle Larson in a Chevrolet with a 173.411-mph lap.

Rounding out the top five were: Martin Truex, Jr., Toyota, 173.204 mph; Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 173.155; and Kyle Busch, Toyota, 173.064.

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Nine of the 12 positions in the NASCAR Xfinity Series playoffs have been filled with two races remaining in the regular season.

Brandon Jones, Matt Tifft and Ryan Truex each secured a spot in the playoffs with their performances in Saturday’s Sport Clips Haircuts VFW 200 at Darlington Raceway. Tifft finished eighth in the race, Brandon Jones took 12th and Ryan Truex placed 15th.

Other Xfinity Series drivers who have secured a position in the playoffs are Justin Allgaier, Elliott Sadler, Cole Custer, Christopher Bell, Daniel Hemric and Tyler Reddick.

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Kyle Larson has withdrawn from the inaugural Sept. 5-6 USAC dirt Midget race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway due to his schedule on the West Coast.

Larson said he has an early morning flight Monday to California to compete in a Go-Kart race after not getting home until two or three in the morning after following Sunday night’s Bojangles Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

“I probably will get an hour of sleep that night and then the Go-Kart race always runs late and then I would have to be on a 6 a.m. flight Wednesday to get to Indy by 4 p.m., so it would just be a rush,” Larson said. “I told Keith (Kunz) I will just skip this year and we will see how it goes for next year The event is going to be just as cool without me there. The prestige around the event has already been really cool.  Somebody is going to put their name in the history books of winning the first USAC Midget race in the speedway. I wish I could be there, just the schedule is just not going to work out for me this year.”

Since Larson is remaining on the West Coast he has added a couple of races.

“I’m going to race the Sprint Car race in Oregon on Wednesday night and then race Chico (Calif.) on Thursday,” Larson said.

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Kurt Busch and Matt Kenseth remained non-committal Friday when questioned about their 2019 plans.

The only thing Kenseth would emphatically confirm Friday was that he didn’t want to be a team owner.

Busch said he had two contract offers under consideration.

“It’s kind of the same thing as last year where the team at Stewart-Haas put me into free agency and it gives me the opportunity to talk to others,” Busch said. “I do have the loyalty and the respect from Monster Energy. …So no updates and just more information for me to digest. We’ll announce things when they get closer.”

Kenseth said he was focused on finishing 2018; not concerned about whether he would be back in NASCAR fulltime in 2019.

  “Those are probably things to talk about at a later date,” Kenseth said. “The season has been up-and-down. I wish our results were better than what they were, but yet, on the other hand, I feel like we’ve made a lot of progress. It doesn’t really show necessarily on the stat sheets or the box score all the time, but I feel like we’ve made a lot of progress and really just trying to keep that going and keep moving forward and keep trying to get more competitive by the end of the season.”

Kenseth returned to Roush Fenway Racing mid-season, splitting his time in the No. 6 Ford with Trevor Bayne. He admitted it’s been tough “trying to get some momentum and trying to get the lay of the land and trying to get things rolling.”

“The hardest part just has been a different role and there’s just a lot to learn and a lot to take in and a lot of differences, so just trying to figure out the people and the system again and kind of where we were at, where we need to go, that type of thing,” Kenseth said.

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, September 2 2018
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