On the positive side, Hendrick Motorsports has won five of the 11 NASCAR Cup Series races so far this season.
Further, Hendrick drivers collectively have 14 all-time Cup victories at Darlington Raceway, more than any other organization in the sport.
Here’s the negative, though: Hendrick hasn’t earned a trophy at the Lady in Black since Jimmie Johnson won the spring race in 2012, and no current driver in the Hendrick stable has a victory at the track.
Based on recent performance, however, that decade-long drought has a good chance to end in Sunday’s Goodyear 400 (3:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
After winning for the first time this season in last Sunday’s race at Dover Motor Speedway, 2020 Cup champion Chase Elliott comes to Darlington looking to go back-to-back. Though winless in the Cup Series at the 1.366-mile egg-shaped track, Elliott won at Darlington in the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2014, the first time he raced on the track.
This weekend, Elliott will get extra seat time by running the No. 88 JR Motorsports Chevrolet in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race.
“I always look forward to going to Darlington,” Elliott said. “It’s really cool, and I feel like it’s really a driver’s racetrack. For some reason, I’ve kind of struggled there the last couple of years, so I’m looking forward to getting some practice on Saturday in the Xfinity race.
“Hopefully, that can help me come Sunday. I also feel like there are some things that we learned from Dover that we can take to Darlington. It’ll be interesting with the new car and how things go.”
Elliott is the fourth betting favorite at +800 at BetMGM, where he has been backed by only 3.1 percent of the bets and 4.2 percent of the handle.
Teammate William Byron, a two-time winner this year, also has shown speed at Darlington. The driver of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet won the pole for the 2019 Southern 500 before falling to 21st at the finish.
For Throwback Weekend at the “Track Too Tough to Tame,” Byron’s Camaro is sporting a paint scheme reminiscent of one his predecessors in the No. 24 car — NASCAR Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon, a seven-time winner at the track.
Byron has received 3.2 percent of the handle at +3300 at BetMGM.
Recently, though, Darlington has been the nearly exclusive province of Toyota driver Denny Hamlin and Ford driver Kevin Harvick. In the five races since the coronavirus pandemic caused a 10-week hiatus in NASCAR competition, Hamlin and Harvick have won two events each, with Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. taking last year’s spring race.
While Kyle Larson is the pre-race favorite at +500 at BetMGM as of Thursday, close behind are Hamlin and Truex Jr. at +700. Harvick is being offered at +1400.
Larson leads the sportsbook by a wide margin in drawing 18.7 percent of the handle, while Truex Jr. is second at 12.7 percent.
In fact, a Chevrolet driver hasn’t won at Darlington since Harvick took the checkered flag in the 2014 spring race, the year before Stewart-Haas Racing switched to Ford.
Hamlin has a victory at Richmond to all but ensure a berth in this year’s playoff, but the rest of his season has been fraught with error — notably an unattached wheel that sabotaged a potential race-winning car last Monday at Dover.
But Hamlin leads all active drivers with four Darlington wins, not to mention his five victories at the track in the Xfinity Series. Hamlin got a feel for the track in the Next Gen car during a March 15 Goodyear tire test that included Harvick and reigning Cup champion Kyle Larson, a Hendrick driver seeking his second win of the season.
“We’re looking forward to this weekend,” Hamlin said. “Darlington has been a great track for us, and we feel like we learned a lot at the tire test, so that gives us confidence going back.
“Like all season, our biggest thing is just eliminating mistakes — whether that’s me or on pit road or something happening with the car. It seems like every week has been something, but our speed has been good most weeks, if we can just put everything together.”
Erik Jones is a +4000 longshot, but he’s also BetMGM’s biggest liability this week. After opening at +50000, Jones led the sportsbook with 10.1 percent of the total bets backing him while 7.7 percent of the handle has been placed on his as well.
The second-biggest liability is Ross Chastain, who has drawn 9.6 percent of the bets and 9.4 percent of the handle at +1200.
–Field Level Media (NASCAR NewsWire contributed to this story)
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