As I’ve said in previous years, I make no bones about what track in NASCAR I consider better than the rest. This unique 1.3-mile oval, shaped like an egg, in South Carolina is the most challenging one on the circuit because of the toughness of the track and the toughness the drivers need to handle it.
The fastest and preferred line means flirting with the wall on every corner, and flirt too much and it will reach out and grab you, taking the right side of a car and turning it into the colors of the bright paint it has at the green flag. At the end of the night, the walls have a deep black hue, and cars are scraped up as if they took a sander to the sides.
I love this place because it means each lap is right on that edge of disaster, and that is historic since this track has always been like that.
The first race at this track was in 1949, with nearly 70 cars taking the green flag. At the halfway point, about 60 were still going, but then the “Lady in Black” had its first big dance. Tires began blowing out, one by one, to the point where crews were actually going into the parking lot with fans to buy the spare tires off their street cars. The winner of the race played the smartest card he could at that time, as his tires had a higher ply rating than anyone, and they lasted, giving him the first win at the famed Darlington Raceway.
Since then, the track has become the biggest story. For years when pit windows were estimates on green-flag runs, it was based on how long the tires would last. The reason they would give out before the fuel was simply the track. Within two laps the tires would have so much grit and sand on them lap times would immediately slow.
The track before the repave was so gritty and so sharp, Dale Earnhardt Jr. claimed if you ran your hand across it you’d draw blood. Each caution teams would come to pit road begging for new tires, and anyone that considered no tires or just two may as well just stand still, because it never would have worked.
That is how the race played out Saturday night on the final caution during the advertised race distance. It was two tires vs. four tires as it was Dale Earnhardt Jr. against Kevin Harvick, both whom have already won this season but have never won at the track “Too Tough To Tame.” Harvick stared fifth, Junior on point, and it seemed like for a while it was going to work, but as the laps wound down, it was clear the new tires on all corners would be the right choice.
Harvick on the final Green-White-Checkered attempt made the pass for the lead and checked out as if he was leaving a hotel. It doesn’t matter how old the track is, or even that the surface went under a little makeover a few years ago, the right call won the race.
Unfortunately now we all have to wait another year to see this ole girl host a race. But, the history continues to be wrote at a track that got it’s unique shape because of a pond just outside one of the corners. So long “Lady in Black,” until we meet again.
RESULTS: 1-Harvick 2-Earnhardt Jr. 3-Johnson 4-Kenseth 5-Biffle 6-Kyle Busch 7-Gordon 8-Larson 9-Stewart 10-Newman
NOTABLE FINISHES: 11-Dillon 13-Edwards 17-Keselowski 19-Hamlin 22-Patrick 31-Kurt Busch 35-Logano
CAUTIONS: 11 for 50 laps. Lap 42-46 (#83 accident-T3), 60-63 (#32 accident-T3), 94-99 (#7 accident-T2), 126-130 (#26 accident-T1), 202-207 (#27 accident-T1), 223-226 (#43 spin-T2), 248-251 (Debris), 273-278 (Debris), 359-362 (Fluid on track), 366-368 (Debris), 370-372 (#41, 15 accident-BS).
LEAD CHANGES: 22 among 12 drivers. Harvick POLE, Logano 1-37, Gordon 38-42, Ragan 43, Gordon 44-45, Harvick 46-60, Hamlin 61-63, Kenseth 64-75, Harvick 76-179, Keselowski 180-183, Kahne 184-201, Harvick 202, Kahne 203-207, Harvick 208-223, Vickers 224-247, Gordon 248, Vickers 249-254, Harvick 255-273, Biffle 274-278, Harvick 279-359, Johnson 360-367, Earnhardt Jr. 368-372, Harvick 373-374.
TIME OF RACE: 3 Hrs, 57 Mins, 33 Secs.
AVERAGE SPEED: 131.211 MPH
MARGIN OF VICTORY: 0.558 Seconds
POINT STANDINGS: 1. Gordon, 297 points; 2. Kenseth, -1; 3. Edwards, -19*; 4. Earnhardt Jr, -26*; 5. Johnson, -27; 6. Kyle Busch, -28*; 7. Keselowski, -51*; 8. Logano, -52*; 9. Newman, -61; 10. Dillon, -62.