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CUP: Friday Darlington Notebook

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[FRIDAY 8:24 am ET]

TOO TOUGH TO TAME — Welcome to Fast Friday from historic Darlington Raceway, the always exciting and treacherous 1.366-mile, egg-shaped oval that opened way back in 1950. It’s a two-day show this weekend, with the NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series competing.

Last year, Jimmie Johnson won the Bojangles’ Southern 500, giving Hendrick Motorsports team owner Rick Hendrick an emotional 200th Sprint Cup victory. The pole record belongs to Kasey Kahne, who qualified at an eye-popping 181.254 miles per hour two years ago.

Some storylines heading into this weekend:

This will be the first of two points races where Penske Racing will be without seven key team members. Here’s the full story on their lineup changes.

Likewise, Wally Brown will replace Jason Ratcliff as the crew chief for Matt Kenseth’s No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.

The best average finish at Darlington of any active driver belongs to Denny Hamlin at 5.857. Hamlin comes into this race 31st in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings after missing four races with a fractured vertebra. Hamlin is 76 points out of 20th place, and if he wants to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup for an eighth consecutive season, he needs to start winning or at least start piling up top-five finishes now.

Aric Almirola is going for his fifth straight top-10 finish, something that hasn’t happened with the No. 43 car since 1983, when Richard Petty had seven consecutive top 10s for Petty Enterprises.

Here is SPEED’s NASCAR television schedule from Darlington today (all times ET):

• 11 a.m. — NASCAR Live

• 11:30 a.m. — NASCAR Sprint Cup practice.

• 1:30 p.m. — NASCAR Live

• 2 p.m. — Sprint Cup Happy Hour

• 3 p.m. — NASCAR Live

• 5 p.m. — Sprint Cup qualifying

• 6:30 p.m. — Trackside

Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100.