PREVIEW: Shriner’s Children’s 200 at Darlington Raceway

By: Ashley McCubbin

There’s been 10 races ran in the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2023, but JR Motorsports hasn’t won a single event. That’s a shock if you recall the organization made up three of the spots in the Championship 4 last year.

It has not been for lack of speed on any of their part, with entries regularly running inside the top-five and contending for wins. However, incidents on-track have ultimately caused those efforts to come up short.

Fortunately, Darlington Raceway may be coming at the right time for the organization, given the history they have built there. After all, they have won the last four straight races – with Justin Allgaier taking them in the spring, followed by Noah Gragson in the fall. Gragson has since moved up to the NASCAR Cup Series, but Allgaier is still there to make it three in a row in the spring. He boasts an average finish of 8.1 in his last 10 appearances, with four straight finishes inside the top-six. As mentioned, he’s been part of the rocky slope for JRM as he has five top-five’s, only to matched by three DNFs due to crashes.

It was Brandon Jones that was the last driver to not win a JRM entry, doing so in 2020 with Joe Gibbs Racing. But three years later, and the tides have changed with him now behind the wheel of the No. 9 Chevrolet. He was expected to come into this season and be a championship contender, given the speed shown with JGR. Instead, it seems each week has been hit by a different version of misfortune resulting him being 12th in the standings. Of course, he hits a stride and gets some wins rolling when it matters in the playoffs, this won’t matter. However, you have to wonder just how long the bleeding can go on before you begin to worry. There’s also the fact that besides the win, he only has one other top-five in his last 10 appearances at Darlington.

For the record, it is Josh Berry that triumphs both of these teammates in the standings – ranked fourth with five top-five’s and eight top-10’s. The year started off slow for the driver of the No. 8, but he was in the conversation for the win each time for the win the past four weeks, including the runner-up at Dover International Speedway. It hasn’t been smooth sailing at Darlington, either, with two top-10’s in four appearances. He will also have to continue balance doing double duty on top of everything, as he fills in for Alex Bowman in the NASCAR Cup Series.

Joe Gibbs Racing, meanwhile, does have a chance to break the streak that has began to form – courtesy of John Hunter Nemechek. He has been having a killer season already with two trips to victory lane, second in the standings, and eight top-10 finishes. It seems if he can finish the race without incident, he’s battling for a top-five finish – and more than likely the actual trophy. He also placed fourth and ninth at Darlington in 2022.

Prior to these two teams taming the Lady in the Black, Stewart-Haas Racing went back-to-back courtesy of Chase Briscoe and Cole Custer. Custer was brought back to the Xfinity Series after a lackluster start to his Cup Series career, and is proving he is worthy of another chance down the road while gaining lessons. He placed no worse than seventh in the last four races, highlighted by a pole at Martinsville Speedway. He also has the best average finish of all drivers at Darlington in the last 10 races – fourth across three appearances.

If you’re looking for someone other than these two teams, look no further than series points leader Austin Hill and Richard Childress Racing. After placing sixth in the standings last year, he has been putting the lessons learned throughout to good usage with top-10 performance in the No. 21 Chevrolet there every single weekend. Although you may wonder if the frying pan is still hot for him. He scored three wins in the first five races of the year, but only has two top-10’s in the second half. He may be able to turn things around at Darlington, though, with a pair of ninths and 10th in three appearances.

There’s also a pair of drivers that you cannot take out of your equation – Kyle Larson and Tyler Reddick. They both absolutely love running the high-line right against the wall, which is what you need to do to win at Darlington. They both have allowed that ability to find success and victory lane on multiple occasions – including in the NASCAR Cup Series. If they can get it done easily on Sundays, that could mean trouble for the competition on Saturday.

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