The 69th running of the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway starts tonight at 6 p.m.
The 501.3-mile race is celebrating its 69th year as a Labor Day weekend tradition. Old school NASCAR fans may think they've traveled back in time tonight, as nearly every car in the lineup will be sporting a throwback paint scheme. You'll wonder if it's 1996 or 1972 as a tribute to Jeff Gordon's legendary "Rainbow Warriors" colors battles it out with Richard Petty's iconic 1972 paint job.
Last year's Southern 500 winner Denny Hamlin's No. 11 calls back to his short track beginnings with a new take on his 1997 mini-stocks paint scheme. His Toyota sits on the pole for tonight's race.
Starting first gives Hamlin quite an advantage. "The No. 1 pit stall is obviously very important here," Hamlin said in an interview with NBC Sports Network. The defending winner finished in the top 5 the last three weeks and posted the top speed in the first practice session at Darlington this weekend.
Second fastest in practice was Kyle Larson, who's always qualified well for Darlington. He starts second. USA Today has the full lineup for today's race.
In keeping with the celebration of 70 years of NASCAR, Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be in the booth instead of the track, providing commentary as a television analyst for NBC.
"I think it's a big deal for NASCAR, it's a big deal for the race tracks to have Dale Jr. still front and center in our sport," the president of Darlington Raceway, Kerry Tharp, said in a recent interview. "I think NASCAR is extremely blessed to still have him as such a visible part of the sport."
Dale Jr. is loving his new career as a sportscaster. "I'm watching the races anyway. I want to be at the track, I miss being at the track. So if I could hang out and watch all the races, I would," he told reporters a few weeks ago at Daytona. "So NBC is going to send me to all the tracks, and then they're going to pay me to talk about it. It's a dream come true, to be honest with you."
Legendary team owner Jack Roush and several members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, as well as Randy Poindexter, Senior VP of Marketing for Bojangles, will call for drivers to start their engines at 6:07 p.m. The green flag will fly over NASCAR's oldest superspeedway at 6:15 p.m.
Fans can watch the race on NBC Sports Network, with coverage beginning at 5 p.m. Radio coverage also begins at 5 p.m. on local stations and mrn.com. Motor Racing Network's broadcast will be available on satellite radio via SirusXM NASCAR Radio.