Things to watch during Sunday's Cup race at Darlington

DARLINGTON, S.C. — Cup teams take on Darlington Raceway for the first time this season Sunday afternoon (3 p.m. ET on FS1). This race marks the midpoint of the regular season and another opportunity for drivers to contend for spots in the playoffs.

Joe Gibbs Racing (four wins) and Hendrick Motorsports (six wins) have won the most races this season. Trackhouse Racing and 23XI Racing each has one win.

NASCAR Cup Series Goodyear 400 - Qualifting
NASCAR Cup Series Goodyear 400 - Qualifting

Darlington Raceway Cup qualifying results

Tyler Reddick won the pole for the first time this season.

Here are the three things to watch in today’s race:

1. Late race restarts

What will happen late in the race at Darlington? The last three spring races have featured incidents that changed the outcome.

A nine-car incident in 2022 set up a restart with 26 laps remaining. It collected drivers who had raced inside the top 10 during the final stage including Kurt Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Bubba Wallace and Denny Hamlin.

Later in that race, William Byron had the lead and an opportunity to score his first career Cup win at Darlington. He ended up in the wall after Joey Logano moved him with two laps remaining. Logano won while Byron finished 13th.

Byron was on the receiving end of some late-race fortune in last spring's race at Darlington. Ross Chastain and Kyle Larson crashed while racing for the lead, sending the race to overtime.

That incident opened an opportunity for Byron to restart on the front row. He capitalized, taking the lead from Kevin Harvick and going on to win for the first time at the 1.366-mile track.

Will there be another late-race caution that shuffles the field back up for overtime or a late dash to the checkered flag? All four Next Gen races at Darlington have featured a caution late in the final stage.

So will drivers prepare for this potential outcome?

“I pay attention to launches on restarts,” Byron said. “I pay attention to lane selection, but I’m not losing sleep on what’s going to happen on a green-white-checkered here or late in the race. It’s just how I manage my tires and my equipment to make the best 40-lap, 50-lap run I can do.”

NASCAR Clash at the Coliseum
NASCAR Clash at the Coliseum

Former teammates move on from Kansas incident

Austin Dillon and Tyler Reddick made contact on the last lap at Kansas, causing Dillon to spin through the infield grass.

2. Seven races, seven winners

The last seven Cup races at Darlington Raceway have featured seven different winners representing the three manufacturers.

William Byron and Kyle Larson split last season’s races at the 1.366-mile track. Erik Jones and Joey Logano won in 2022. Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick have all won since the 2020 season.

Hamlin and Harvick, who split the 2020 races at Darlington, are the last drivers to repeat at the Track Too Tough to Tame.

There are multiple drivers capable of extending the streak to eight different winners, starting with drivers lining up inside the top 10. Pole winner Tyler Reddick has finished second, third, 22nd and second in the four Next Gen races at Darlington. He has led 100 laps in this stretch.

Similarly, Chris Buescher has improved at Darlington throughout his career. Last season, he finished 10th and third in the two trips to the South Carolina track. Buescher starts on the second row one week after finishing second in NASCAR’s closest-ever finish.

"We’ve obviously had a crazy week with plenty to talk about and what we took out of that was, ‘Let’s bring speed to Darlington and go win it there and put that one behind us,'" Buescher said.

Brad Keselowski and Bubba Wallace are two other drivers with an opportunity to become the eighth different winner in eight races at Darlington.

Keselowski has three consecutive top-10 finishes at Darlington. He starts on the front row. Wallace also has three consecutive top-10 finishes at Darlington. He starts eighth for Sunday’s race.

NASCAR: Goodyear 400 - Practice and Qualifying
NASCAR: Goodyear 400 - Practice and Qualifying

Erik Jones ready to get back to racing after sitting out last two NASCAR Cup races

Erik Jones explains why he didn’t race last weekend at Kansas despite being cleared by a doctor to do so.

3. A new right-side tire

Sunday’s race will feature a change. The Cup cars will have the same right-side tire code used in last weekend’s race at Kansas. This is a tire that delivered falloff throughout the race, to the point that Kyle Larson had worn his tires down and lost pace prior to the final caution.

Will this new right-side tire have an impact at Darlington, a track already known for its cheese grater-like quality?

There are some questions among the drivers. Some, like Christopher Bell, didn’t know there was a change to the tires ahead of Sunday’s race. Others, like Ricky Stenhouse Jr., spent time during the week preparing for the new right-side tires. This time studying led to expectations there will be extra emphasis on conservation early as drivers try to figure out how much the tires will wear.

“This place wears out tires a lot,” Stenhouse said. “So I think we're all kind of wondering if that will happen. I mean, I don't think (tire wear is) a bad thing.”

“I think with the racing, you’ll see pretty similar stuff,” Byron said. “I think this tire has been really good though. I would say this tire has a bit more feel to it.

“Like you can slide the car. You can manipulate the car a little bit more. I like that, but it’s not a huge difference.”