Denny Hamlin could be a sleeper tonight at Darlington

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Tonight’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway could see the eighth different winner in as many Sprint Cup races this season. There’s still multiple big names that haven’t broken through for a spot on the Chase Grid, but one of them seems to be going under the radar.

That guy is Denny Hamlin, who has had a relatively quiet year so far outside of his season-opening runner-up to Dale Earnhardt Jr. at the Daytona 500 and his absence from Fontana due to a sliver of metal getting stuck in his eye.

But the Joe Gibbs Racing driver could be ready to star tonight on the track “Too Tough To Tame,” where he has consistently been a contender in his Cup career.

In eight Cup starts at Darlington, Hamlin’s earned one win (2010), four Top-5s, and seven Top-10s – including second-place results in each of the past two Southern 500s. The only time he didn’t finish in the Top 10 was in 2009, when he finished a still-respectable 13th.

His average finish at the 1.366-mile oval is a remarkable 5.4, which is tops among active Cup drivers. Also, his average running position in Darlington races, 8.6, is second-best in that regard.

Yesterday in qualifying, Hamlin made it into the final round, where he would wind up 10th on the grid for tonight.

“We’re looking forward to [tonight],” he said afterwards. “This is a pretty good track for us and has been in the past.  I thought our car was pretty good today in practice. We didn’t quite qualify where I hoped we would, but we still made it past all three rounds and at least got ourselves a chance at it.

“All the Toyotas really look like they’re struggling for a little bit of speed right now. We’re towards the front of those guys and that’s really all we can ask for.”

Last weekend at Texas, Hamlin looked like a threat mid-way through the race until a pit road speeding penalty knocked him to an eventual 13th place finish.

Don’t be surprised if he rebounds nicely this evening in South Carolina.

IndyCar at IMS Friday: How to watch, start times, live streaming info

IndyCar Indianapolis start times
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With three races remaining in the NTT IndyCar Series season, Scott Dixon has a commanding lead and history on his side entering Friday’s opener of the Harvest GP at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The five-time series champion leads defending champ Josef Newgarden by 72 points.

Since 2014, the points leader with three races left has won the championship in five of the past six years, including Dixon in ’18.

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver has led the championship standings following every round after opening 2020 with three consecutive victories. Dixon also led the points by 78 points with three races remaining when he won the title in 2008.

Dixon, Newgarden, Pato O’Ward, Colton Herta, Will Power, Graham Rahal and Takuma Sato are championship eligible.

Anyone outside 108 points of the lead after Indy will be eliminated heading into the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida.

Here is the IndyCar Harvest GP at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course schedule for Friday (all times are ET), including details and start times:


Indianapolis Motor Speedway TV schedule for Friday

IndyCar Harvest GP Race 1: 3:30 p.m., USA Network, NBC Sports Gold and streaming on the NBC Sports App and NBCSports.com); Leigh Diffey is the lead announcer for IndyCar on NBCSN this weekend with analysts Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy.


IndyCar Harvest GP, Race 1 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway start times, information

COMMAND TO START ENGINES: 3:53 p.m.

GREEN FLAG: 4 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 85 laps (207.35 miles) around Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s a 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course in Indianapolis.

TIRE ALLOTMENT: Nine sets primary, five sets alternate (A 10th set of primary tires is available to any car fielding a rookie.) Teams must use one set of primary and one set of alternate tires in the race.

PUSH TO PASS: 200 seconds of total time with a maximum time of 20 seconds per activation.

FORECAST: According to Wunderground.com, it’s expected to be 57 degrees with a 0% chance of rain at the green flag.

QUALIFYING: 6:20 p.m. Thursday (NBC Sports Gold)

ENTRY LIST: Click here for the 25 drivers racing this weekend at Indianapolis