AUTO RACING: NASCAR Playoffs, title chase leads to intrigue


Site: Darlington, South Carolina.

Schedule: Saturday, practice, 12:05 and qualifying, 12:50; Sunday, race, 6pm (USA).

Track: Darlington Raceway.

Race distance: 367 laps, 501.3 miles.

Last year: Denny Hamlin won after starting second.

Last race: Austin Dillon passed Austin Cindric with three laps to go after a 3 hour, 20 minute red-flag rain delay at Daytona and earned his way to the playoffs with his first win in 79 races.

Fast facts: The race, which was moved from Saturday to Sunday due to rain, was stopped with 21 laps remaining after rain hit and produced a 15-car crash. … Ryan Blaney earned the only playoff berth for a non-race winner by three points over Martin Truex Jr. … Dillon was the 16th lone race winner of the season. But Kurt Busch, who won in May at Kansas, will not compete in the playoffs after 23XI Racing withdrew the medical clearance that kept him in place while he recovers from a concussion. … Brad Keselowski’s streak of making the playoffs nine straight years ended; it was the longest of the series. … Only five of the 37 cars at Daytona avoided crashing.

Next race: September 11, Kansas City, Kansas.


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Site: Darlington, South Carolina.

Schedule: Saturday, practice, 10:05 am, qualifying, 10:35 am and race, 3 pm (USA).

Track: Darlington Raceway.

Race distance: 147 laps, 200.8 miles.

Last year: Noah Gragson won after starting eighth.

Last race: Jeremy Clements passed Austin Hill on the third and final overtime restart to win at a rain- and crash-plagued Daytona, his first win in five years and one that clinched a playoff spot.

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Fast facts: Clements’ only other career win came on Aug. 27, 2017, or 164 starts ago. … he became the eighth series regular to win a race this season with three events remaining in the regular season. … Eighteen of the 38 cars that started the race were already in the garage when the race, which was nearly three hours late at the start, ended around 1:30 a.m. … With eight of the 12 playoff spots Accounted for, the four non-winners in position to reach the postseason are Riley Herbst, Sam Mayer, Daniel Hemric and Landon Cassill.

Next race: September 10, Kansas City, Kansas.


Last race: Chandler Smith led the last 175 of 250 laps at Richmond to win for the third time this season and secure a spot in the second round of the playoffs.

Next race: September 9, Kansas City, Kansas.


Location: North Holland, The Netherlands.

Hours: Friday, practice, 6:30 am and 10 am; Saturday, practice, 6 am, and qualifying, 9 am; Sunday, race, 9 am (ESPN).

Track: Zaandvort Circuit.

Race distance: 72 laps, 190.5 miles.

Last year: Max Verstappen won from pole position.

Last race: Verstappen, the defending series champion, started 14th due to a penalty. He got up to lead on lap 12 of 44 and won in Belgium for his ninth win of the season.

Fast facts: Verstappen’s victory was his third in a row and his ninth in 14 events this season. He allowed him to expand his points lead to 93 over new No. 2 Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez, with Charles LeClerc dropping to third. … Including the final race of last season, Verstappen has won 10 of the last 15 F1 races. … Seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton, still winless this year, had his bid for a sixth consecutive top-three finish on the first lap when he hit Fernando Alonso’s car and briefly went airborne. It was the fifth time in his career that Hamilton had retired on the first lap and the third at Spa-Francorchamps.

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Next race: September 11, Monza, Italy.


Hours: Friday, practice, 5:30; Saturday, Practice, Noon, Qualifying, 3:05pm-4:20pm, and Practice, 7:15pm; Sunday, race, 3 p.m. (NBC)

Track: Portland International Raceway.

Race distance: 110 laps, 216 miles.

Last year: Alex Palou won from pole position.

Last Race: Josef Newgarden won at World Wide Technology Raceway, his series-best fifth win of the season, and moved within three points of series leader and Team Penske teammate Will Power with two races remaining.

Fast facts: Penske teammates Power and Newgarden are atop the standings with six-time champion Scott Dixon just 14 points behind and Marcus Ericsson 17 behind. … Newgarden’s five wins have come in just 15 races; no other driver has won more than twice. … he has won two championships (2017, 2019) and Power has won one (2014). Dixon won his first championship from him in 2003.

Next race: September 11, Monterey, California.


Last Event: Steve Torrence won Top Fuel and Bob Tasca III won Funny Car at Minnesota.

Next event: August 31-September. 5, Indianapolis.


Upcoming events: September 1-3, Burlington, Washington; September 5, Elma, Wash.


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