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Practices Show Darlington Still Up for Grabs

Despite threatening weather all around Darlington Raceway Friday afternoon, both rounds of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice for the Bojangles’ Southern 500 went off as scheduled. 

And during the practices, no clear-cut favorite emerged for Sunday’s race at the treacherous 1.366-mile oval. Certainly, plenty of drivers showed well during the two timed sessions

In Friday’s first of two practices, Kyle Larson posted the single fastest lap at 1730.064 miles per hour, and his No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet was second in 10 consecutive lap speed. The fastest over 10 laps was Denny Hamlin and the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. Hamlin was also second-fast among one-lap speeds, running 172.644 mph.

The final session was an egalitarian affair, with four Toyotas, three Chevrolets and three Fords in the top 10. Kyle Busch had the best lap in his JGR Toyota at 173.320 mph, followed by Kevin Harvick’s Stewart-Haas Racing Ford (173.070) and Larson’s CGR teammate Jamie McMurray (172.990) in a Chevy.

To underscore how wide open this race is, the last 11 Darlington Cup races have produced 11 different winners, including Martin Truex Jr. last year. The Toyotas of Furniture Row Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing have been fast in recent weeks, and JGR won here in 2013 with Matt Kenseth and two years ago with the now-retired Carl Edwards.

With practice concluded for the Cup teams, they will take the track at 1:45 p.m. ET on Saturday for qualifying, followed by the 367-lap race Sunday night at 6 p.m.

Sunday night’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 will be the penultimate event in NASCAR’s 26-race regular season. After next weekend’s race at Richmond International Raceway, 16 drivers will be locked into the 10-race, season-end playoffs that will determine the 2017 Cup champion.

By Tom Jensen

Tom Jensen is a veteran motorsports journalist. He spent 13 years with FOXSports.com, where he was Digital Content Manager. Previously, he was executive editor of NASCAR Scene and managing editor of National Speed Sport News. Jensen served as the president of the National Motorsports Press Association and is the group’s former Writer of the Year.