Darlington… it has a history and it is well known amongst NASCAR fans everywhere. It is narrow and a little under a one and half mile oval (actually around one and a third mile) and the nicknames given it over time are, “the Lady in Black” as well as the track “Too Tough To Tame.” You don’t have to believe me when I tell you, but you can ask any of the drivers, it lives up to both of those. It was built in 1949 and, as many know already, it is known as the first “super-speedway” in NASCAR. It has long been known as a driver’s track and the fastest way around it on a consistent basis is around the top right up against the wall.
Some say, aside from the faster speed, the real reason they run up so close to the wall is in case something goes wrong, their contact with the wall won’t cause as much damage to their car and they will hopefully be able to continue without too much trouble. As a fan, I have long heard the commentators talk about the drivers earning their “Darlington stripe” and that particular comment is still used today.
Sure, I know there are those that don’t know much about the track, but that’s only because they haven’t been around NASCAR very long. Though it is a challenge, the drivers really like to race on the historical track that has a well known history of being exactly that… a challenge. It tests them and their abilities “to the max.”
From this fan’s view, one thing that just might make tonight’s race more interesting than normal is the fact that much of practice was rained out on Friday. Sure, the Cup teams did get to spend some time on the track, but whether or not it was enough time to get a grip on on the tires Goodyear brought this year is still an unknown. Some worked on their race setup and some worked on their qualifying setup in the little time they spent on the track and, from my view, we really won’t know who has the best setup until they put in some race laps. Personally, I think that is why the possible contenders for the win won’t really be known until about half way and after a few pit stops for adjustments.
That being said, there are several drivers that just perform well at Darlington and I expect them to be in contention from the start, even though it may take a bit for them to get their cars the way they need them to be. From my view that is the real unknown – the thing that is going to make this race at the track “Too Tough To Tame” more interesting than normal.
So… who are the drivers I’m thinking generally do well at Darlington and probably will again tonight? Well, there are several and just because they generally do well doesn’t mean they will. Some to watch will be names like Carl Edwards, Kasey Kahne, Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin. Others I think will have a good night will be Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Bush, Marcos Ambrose and AJ Allmendinger. (Of course, there are those that hope Dale Jr will also be around at the end to make some noise, too.)
I can’t help but think they will all make some kind of a statement tonight but there are two I’ve purposely saved until the last. Of course, that would be Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon and both of them have a history of running well at the Lady In Black, in particular, Jeff Gordon. Mark Martin probably doesn’t jump to the front of peoples minds to win tonight, but he is always a threat to come out on top just about anywhere he goes. Of course I’m not saying he is going to be a threat tonight, but I am saying we need to keep an eye on him.
Now, from this fan’s view and with the kind of luck he’s been having, Jeff Gordon may or may not be the one we see leading the pack to the checkers tonight. He is the one that has the most wins entering into tonight’s race and has a very good record at the track. From my view, I think it would be great to see him win tonight, especially with the luck he had last week in Richmond. I’m thinking he and his team a little something to go their way for change and a win tonight would certainly make up for being the wrong place at the right time at RIR.
Even though qualifying times don’t tell us much about tonight’s race, they do tell us which teams had a grip on the different tire and the track when they took the cars off the haulers. The thing they don’t tell us is which team, or teams, are setup for the long green flag runs that I think are inevitable in tonight’s race. Another thing that will most likely figure in at the end of the race will be fuel mileage.
There is no doubt (at least from my view) strategy is going to play a part in who wins tonight and that strategy is going to be for the teams to keep track position… well, that and who has the least of that thing called the “Darlington Stripe… ”
See ya next time…
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© May 7, 2011 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman and Nascarfansview.com
All audio productions by www.podcastnorm.com and PodCastNorm Productions