In the 65-year history of NASCAR, quite possibly there is no track more demanding, more difficult, and more tiring than the track in Darlington, South Carolina. Its uniqueness sets it apart from every track on the circuit. It’s not a 1.5-mile “cookie cutter” race track, nor is it a big speedway. It sits safely at about a mile and a third, but the unique shape has given it the well-earned nickname of being “Too Tough To Tame.”
The tight corners in turns 3 and 4, which are narrower than 1 and 2, make it so hard to drive; but the fact that this track has only one preferred groove, and that groove being right next to the wall, also makes it so hard to drive.
Every lap, drivers run just about a foot off the wall, playing chicken with each corner, and each turn of the wheel. Every lap, a driver gets close to or does earn their official “Darlington Stripe.”
Since the race got renamed back to the Southern 500 back in 2009, track officials decided to go back to the way the track was in the golden age of the sport. They did away with the lettering that is predominantly on the press box, and went back to the classic block lettering and repainted the walls the original red and white. It just brought back the classic feel of the track, and also meant when a driver got their stripes, it would be easier to tell since the red paint would be all across the side of the car.
How do I know this…simple, I was there.
If you remember back in 2009 when this column started, I described my experience at Darlington, my first time to the track and the one place I wanted to visit without question that year. It still stands out as the one race I have enjoyed the most as being a fan vs. being a media member. Maybe next year I’ll get the chance to go down and see about being right in the action.
There’s just something about being at a place with such a rich history that makes me more jubilant. I mean this place originally had cars run on the apron, with the high banking being the runoff if someone got out of control. Soon, drivers realized they had more speed up high, and began playing chicken with the drop off, as the track didn’t have walls like they do today, more like guardrails.
Even now, 65 years later, winning at Darlington puts a driver in the elite category. Sure, it’s a bit different since the track got repaved years ago, but slowly yet surely it’s getting back its old character. Heck the track surface was just as famous as the track itself. It was so gritty that after the green flag if the caution waved in just three laps drivers were begging for tires. Taking two tires at Darlington for the longest time wasn’t even an option, especially since back then there was no Green-White-Checkered rule.
Now, it’s possible, as was seen by Regan Smith in 2011, but now that the track is beginning to wear in, the old Darlington is bit by bit coming back, and for long-time fans, that is a something they all love to see.
I make no bones about it, Darlington is my favorite track. I love this place, and probably always will. Another chapter has been added to the books at the “Lady in Black,” now she rests until Mother’s Day weekend in 2014.
RESULTS: 1-Kenseth 2-Hamlin 3-Gordon 4-Johnson 5-Harvick 6-Kyle Busch 7-Edwards 8-Montoya 9-Earnhardt Jr. 10-Newman
NOTABLE FINISHES: 15-Stewart 17-Kahne 28-Patrick 32-Keselowski
CAUTIONS: 5 for 25 laps. Lap 125-131 (Debris-T2), 303-308 (#51 spin-T2), 313-317 (#2, 13, 78 Accident-FS), 329-332 (#35, 83 Accident-T1), 335-337 (#5 Accident-T2).
LEAD CHANGES: 9 among 4 drivers. Kurt Busch 1-51, Kyle Busch 52-53, Kenseth 54-55, Kurt Busch 56-73, Kyle Busch 74-105, Kenseth 106-107, Kyle Busch 108-185, Gordon 186-201, Kyle Busch 202-354, Kenseth 355-367.
TIME OF RACE: 3 Hrs, 32 Mins, 45 Secs.
AVERAGE SPEED: 141.383 MPH
MARGIN OF VICTORY: 3.155 Sec0nds
POINTS: 1. Johnson, 423 points; 2. Edwards, -44; 3. Kenseth, -59; 4. Earnhardt Jr, -64; 5. Bowyer, -74; 6. Kahne, -97; 7. Keselowski, -97; 8. Kyle Busch, -98; 9. Almirola, -106; 10. Harvick, -108; 11. Menard, -108; 12. Gordon, -112