Kurt Busch to Attempt The Indianapolis-Charlotte Double
posted by Phil Allaway
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Andretti Autosport announced this morning that Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet in the Sprint Cup Series, will attempt the Indianapolis 500 in a fifth entry for the IndyCar Series team. Once the Indianapolis 500 is completed, Busch will fly from Indianapolis to Charlotte, jump in his No. 41 Chevrolet and compete in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Busch considers the opportunity to do the double as an old-school throwback moment.
“This is really to challenge myself within motorsports,” Busch said in Andretti Autosport’s press release. “Perhaps I am a bit of an old-school racer; a throwback, I guess. I enjoyed the era of drivers racing different cars and testing themselves in other series. It is tough to do now for a variety of factors, but when the opportunity is there, I want to do it. While NASCAR is my home, I have been fortunate to compete in Pro Stock on the NHRA circuit a number of years ago and test a V8 Supercar. This opportunity was a talk with Michael [Andretti] over dinner one night, a “What if,” and now it’s becoming a reality for me to drive in the Indy 500 with Andretti Autosport. It’s literally a dream come true. To go to the famous Brickyard with the iconic Andretti name, it doesn’t get much cooler or better than that.”
Busch will be doing the Indianapolis-Charlotte double as a Memorial Day mission to men and women serving in the U.S. Military via the Armed Forces Foundation. Fans can contribute to the cause by texting AFF to 50555 to donate $10.
Busch, who has never raced an IndyCar, passed Rookie Orientation at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last year during a test session. At the time, Busch was more or less testing the Dallara DW12 for fun.
Busch will be the fourth driver to attempt the Indianapolis-Charlotte double. John Andretti was the first driver to attempt it in 1994. After finishing four laps down in tenth in Indianapolis, Andretti crashed and had engine problems in the 600. Robby Gordon has attempted the double five times, most recently in 2004. However, Gordon failed to make it to Charlotte on time and did not start the 600 in 2000 (P.J. Jones started Gordon’s No. 13 Ford in that instance). Finally, Tony Stewart has attempted the double twice (most recently in 2001) and is the only driver to ever complete all 1100 miles. Neither of the three drivers has won either leg of the double. The best finishes are Stewart and Gordon’s sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis 500 (although Gordon’s came in 2000, the year he didn’t make it to Charlotte in time to start the Coca-Cola 600), and Stewart’s fourth-place finish in the 2001 Coca-Cola 600.
Danica Patrick, Justin Allgaier Talk About Phoenix Incident
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Tuesday March 4, 2014
A disappointing start to the year for Danica Patrick won’t include continued conflict. Patrick met with rookie Justin Allgaier Sunday, shortly after the Phoenix Cup race after a wreck ruined both drivers’ days. Patrick, who was critical of the No. 51 car on the radio, claiming Allgaier was “driving all over the track” appeared receptive to a conversation that quickly settled differences over what will be a long season.
“She was just upset because she got involved in the crash that we had,’’ said Allgaier to the Motor Racing Network. “She says she’s been through this and that she felt like I needed to settle down at that point. I explained my position on why everything happened. I think she understood where I was coming from. It doesn’t fix either one of our racecars. It doesn’t fix either one of our days. Unfortunately, we were both having pretty decent days.’’
Allgaier wound up 30th due to the incident while Patrick was 36th. The incident, which was caused by Allgaier’s spin also involved the No. 32 team and Travis Kvapil, which wound up 38th after sustaining heavy damage.
Camping World Close to Extending Title Sponsorship of NCWTS
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Marcus Lemonis, CEO of Camping World, Grand Marshal of Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway, and star of CNBC’s “The Profit,” made the announcement over the weekend that the retailer is very close to announcing a deal that would continue its title sponsorship of NASCAR’s Truck Series. The original agreement with NASCAR is scheduled to conclude after the 2015 season.
According to the sanctioning body, no formal contract has been signed, but “the agreement between the two parties has proven to be a beneficial one.”
“In about a month, we’ll be announcing a significant extension to that contract. It’s been great for us,” said Camping World’s Lemonis in a statement. “The NASCAR relationship has worked well for Camping World. When we started, we had 35 stores. Now, we’re up to 120 stores. As we travel the country and we meet new customers in stores, they always are very appreciative of our relationship with NASCAR. It’s been good.”
Gaining a long-term commitment from Camping World to sponsor the Truck Series would be a relief for NASCAR, which is set to lose Nationwide Insurance as title sponsor for the NASCAR Nationwide Series at the end of the 2014 season. The sponsorship of the Cup Series by Sprint runs through 2016.
The NCWTS is back in action on March 29th at 2:30 PM (ET) when the trucks visit Martinsville Speedway in the Kroger 250, which can be seen on Fox Sports 1. Ratings for the season opener were up 11 percent.
Harvick Takes Win At Phoenix In Second Race With New Team
posted by Justin Tucker
Monday March 3, 2014
Phoenix International Raceway has become Kevin Harvick’s home away from home. Sunday Afternoon was no exception as Harvick charged to the front early and would dominate for much of the day, leading 224 of the scheduled 312 laps to record his record fifth win on the one mile oval and his third win in the last four races at Phoenix.
Harvick, coming off of a disappointing Speedweeks which was capped by a last lap crash in the Daytona 500 in his debut with Stewart-Haas Racing, set the tone on Saturday by winning both practices while having the best 5 and 10-lap averages in the first practice of the day on Saturday. On Sunday, Harvick and his No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet was nothing short of flawless as he was able to hold Dale Earnhardt, Jr. by .489 seconds after a late race restart to claim his 24th career Sprint Cup Series victory.
“Man, this is awesome,” Harvick said after his dominant victory on Sunday. “Man, this just solidifies so many things and so many decisions. It’s been so much work with all the time and effort that these guys (the crew) have put in—but what a race car.”
Stewart Haas Racing co-owner Gene Haas shared in Harvick’s excitement after the race.
“It took long enough,” Haas joked. “This is phenomenal. I think there was a lot of skepticism last year about what myself and Tony (Stewart) what we were up to, was there a lot of madness to this. Quite frankly, it’s a great team, there’s a lot of synergy at the shop, people working together. I don’t know what we did, but I think we put together a great organization.”
Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr. continued his hot start to the 2014 season. Earnhardt Jr. would finish second on Sunday, marking his seventh consecutive top 10 finish since the end of the 2013 season. Earnhardt Jr. was pleased with the effort after a coast-to-coast whirlwind week after winning his second Daytona 500 and also gave great praise to the efforts of Harvick and the No. 4 team.
“I’ve got to congratulate Kevin. Those guys were two-tenths faster than everyone all weekend in practice. They were just phenomenal,” Earnhardt said. “To be able to run with them all day was a big confidence builder for us.”
Joining Harvick and Earnhardt in the top 5 of The Profit on CNBC 500K were Brad Keselowski with his second consecutive top 3 run of 2014 in third. Keselowski’s Team Penske teammate Joey Logano would finish fourth, and Jeff Gordon would come home fifth in his No. 24 Pepsi Max Chevrolet.
Jimmie Johnson finished in sixth, followed by Ryan Newman with a nice rebound after Daytona in seventh. Carl Edwards would carry the banner for Roush Fenway Racing by finishing eighth, Kyle Busch was ninth, and Jamie McMurray would finish tenth.
A look at the Profit on CNBC 500K by the numbers. There were 14 lead changes among eight different drivers, there were eight cautions for 39 laps which slowed the race pace to 109.229 MPH.
Next Sunday, the Sprint Cup Series heads to Sin City and the Las Vegas Motor
Starting Lineup: The Profit On CNBC 500K
posted by Thomas Bowles
Saturday March 1, 2014
Drivers in RED (i) are those ineligible to collect Sprint Cup points
Daytona 500 TV Ratings Down
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Wednesday February 26, 2014
What was the longest weather delay in Daytona 500 history turned out to bring NASCAR lower ratings and TV viewership Sunday night than expected. According to a report Monday from FOX Sports, the 56th running of the Daytona 500 airing at 8 PM (ET) posted a 5.6/10 national household rating/share which averaged 9.3 million viewers. That’s down 44 percent from last year’s 9.9, easily making it the least-watched Daytona 500 of all-time.
Due to the six-hour, twenty-two minute rain delay in Daytona, the race was up against the primetime coverage of the Winter Olympics Closing Ceremony from Sochi, Russia on NBC (15.25 million viewers). FOX also reported that 69% of the pre-rain delay viewers of the race, which began at 1 PM (ET) kept tuning in.
In comparison, the 2013 Daytona 500 on FOX was the most-watched race in five years, posting a 9.9/22 rating/share, commanding 16.7 million viewers. The Daytona 500 in 2012, the first to ever be run on a Monday and in the primetime slot did a 7.7/13 overnight rating/share which resulted in 13.67 million households viewing the race according to Nielsen TV ratings data.
Earnhardt, Jr. Claims Second Daytona 500 Victory
posted by Justin Tucker
Wednesday February 26, 2014
Ten years is a long time. For Dale Earnhardt, Jr., it felt like an eternity. NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver endured many near misses and close calls at the Daytona 500 since his only win in the Great American Race in 2004. Earnhardt had finished second in two of his last three Daytona 500s coming into Sunday’s race. He was also riding the tail of a 55-race winless streak, dating back to Michigan in 2012.
However nothing would stop Dale Jr. on Sunday, not even a 6 hour and 22 minute rain delay from capturing his second Daytona 500 win. Earnhardt Jr. led a race-high 54 laps on the evening and used some timely drafting help from teammates Jimmie Johnson and, on the final restart, Jeff Gordon to separate from the pack and secure the victory.
“Winning this race is the greatest feeling that you could feel in this sport besides accepting the trophy for the championship,” said a jubilant Earnhardt after pulling into Victory Lane. “We could fight off battle after battle. We got a little help at the end there from Jeff to get away on the restart. This is amazing. I can’t believe this is happening. I never take this for granted, man because it doesn’t happen twice, let alone once.”
Aside from the race itself the big story of the race was the 6 hour and 22 minute red flag, which threatened to move the race to Monday evening (had the race been postponed, FOX Sports’ Chris Myers had tweeted that the race would resume at 5:00pm EST). However, Mother Nature would cooperate and would allow the race to be run under different conditions from which they practiced this week. Once the race resumed, the intensity picked up from the changing track conditions. This allowed the pack to race side-by-side and at times 3-wide up to seven rows deep.
Joining Earnhardt Jr. in the top 5 for the 2014 Daytona 500 were: Denny Hamlin who closed out a spectacular Speedweeks in second, Brad Keselowski in third, Jeff Gordon in fourth, and Jimmie Johnson who overcome two wrecks leading up to the 500 in fifth.
Rounding out the top 10 in the Daytona 500 were Matt Kenseth in sixth, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. in seventh and Greg Biffle would bring his No. 16 Ford home in eighth. Austin Dillon would come home ninth in his first Cup Series race in the iconic No. 3 for Richard Childress Racing, while Casey Mears would round out the top 10.
A couple of major contenders for the Daytona 500 win would see their hopes dashed early on as Martin Truex, Jr. would blow up just 30 laps into the race, relegating him to a 43rd-place finish in his debut for Furniture Row Racing. Crew chief Todd Berrier was already in Nashville for a test session before the race was even over. Kyle Busch, meanwhile would have a pit road violation just before halfway and would spend much of the race battling back from that mistake. Busch would eventually finish 19th after leading 19 laps.
Danica Patrick would also be bit by bad luck as she was caught up in a multi-car wreck on lap 145. Patrick would lead her second consecutive Daytona 500, but wouldn’t have the finish to show for it finishing 40th. Tony Stewart would encounter a frustrating evening as well, with a fuel pickup problem derailing his quest for his first Daytona 500 win. Stewart would finish 35th.
A look at the Daytona 500 by the numbers. There were 42 lead changes among 18 drivers, while seven cautions for 39 laps would slow the race pace to 145.290 MPH.
Next week, the Sprint Cup Series heads to the “diamond in the desert,” Phoenix International Raceway for The Profit on CNBC 500K. The Green flag is scheduled for 3:15pm EST.
Nationwide Series Post-Race Quotes: Drive4COPD 300
posted by Thomas Bowles
Tuesday February 25, 2014
Frontstretch Interviews – Courtesy Mike Neff
ELLIOTT SADLER – FINISHED 4th
Thoughts on the race?
It’s definitely a lot different racing than what we’re used to.
Comfortable with it?
Yeah, it’s just different. You’re worried about what you’re doing, but you’re also worried about what everyone else is doing and they’re not doing more than you’re doing. Physically pushing a guy is way better than just riding so you just gotta time it right and push it to the edge.
Happy to start the year with a top 5?
Yeah. Hell, that was the worst we ran all day, I think. I have no idea how they put the 3 car in front of us on that last restart. I hadn’t seen the 3 car hardly all day. When they put us from fifth to sixth, on the outside line, it just really boxed us in. I would have really restarted behind my teammate and given him a good push to the front. Anyways, it is what it is; we’ll take it and move on.
Looked like you were up front all day.
The guys did a good job. We had a fast race car. Great pit stops, just really proud of these guys. The car’s in one piece and we can take it to Talladega now. Great job by my guys. A lot of effort came into coming down here to Daytona and giving ourselves a shot to win. We had that chance to be up front and make some things happen. Fifth is not what we want, but we’ll take it and move on.
Bumping vs Pushing?
It’s way harder. You don’t want to lay on the guy in front of you, so it’s tough racing. A lot different than what we’re used to, ‘cause you gotta go. You gotta drag the brake too ‘cause you don’t want to hit the guys and you don’t want to stay on him. It’s a lot harder mentally than what we’ve done in the past.
Car was strong all day. Pushing vs. Bumping, is that harder to do than just getting on somebody and pushing them?
Yeah, it is a little bit. When you bump ‘em, you jar ‘em, it kinda jacks ‘em a little bit. It’s a little more abrupt, obviously. I thought it was OK there at the end. It was certainly fun and hopefully entertaining. But a little bit of a struggle in the early part of the race and the midpart of the race to see a good race. And that’s unfortunate for the fans. You can’t do that the whole race, you can’t tear up your stuff, knock your grill in, overheat your motor, all that stuff so there’s no sense in doing all that until you get down to the last lap. The 7 and the 6, they did a good job. Man, the 7 really held the 22 and I tight on the bottom. I was rubbing his door and hitting the apron at the same time, no room whatsoever. So it was good; wish we were the ones who could have won but a lot better now than what we were last year.
Going home in one piece makes it a lot better, right?
Yeah. My back feels good. My foot feels good. Past years here, I’ve been going home with pain so I’m alright.
Connect with Mike!
2014 Truck Series Post-Race Quotes: Daytona (Exclusives)
posted by Thomas Bowles
Saturday February 22, 2014
When you’re on the outside like that, how frustrating is it?
It’s so hard. Timothy Peters has won here. Kyle Busch has won everywhere. Ron Hornaday has been running Trucks forever, probably before I was even born. I was surrounded by veterans there, and like I told them I don’t have a rookie stripe but I’m a rookie. This is only my fourth Truck race ever, my fourth superspeedway race, and man, I figured out when the 17 got up in front of me, I pushed him. And as soon as I pushed him, he took off. And I went with him. And I just kept doing it, and before I knew it, he was leading. And I saw Ron in my mirror, backed up to him, and if it wasn’t for him, I don’t know what would have happened. I gotta thank him big time for that. That was a true teammate move right there. I really appreciate that. He just bounced off me and we got to the front. I tried my hardest to sidedraft Kyle. I was probably touching his door.
Top 5 in the No. 30 truck. This deal come together at the last minute, but you had a heck of a truck. Tell us about your night.
Yeah, I’ve got to thank Turner Scott Motorsports. The guys worked so hard on this Rheem Comfort Products Chevrolet. Exciting! Just got hung up on the outside and had to wait for my teammate there to catch up. And then he got to the bottom, so… I got the old 32 and started pushing ol’ Ryan to the front. So, it’s not bad. We’ll take it. You just don’t want to step over that boundary. You don’t know how far to push and shove. We bumped about six times down the straightaway without latching onto them. Hopefully, that was OK and we came home with a top 5.
Connect with Mike!
2014 Budweiser Duels Post Race Quotes
posted by Matt Stallknecht
Friday February 21, 2014
BUDWEISER DUELS POST-RACE QUOTES
They’re saying the wheel bearing burned up in it. I don’t know what caused it, they’re taking it all apart to figure out what the heck happened. Something abnormal that’s for sure I don’t think I’ve ever had that happen at all. Hopefully, we made the race and hopefully we can fix the problem before Sunday.
WHAT WAS THAT LOUD BOOM ONCE YOU TURNED INTO THE GARAGE?
Loud pop was a tire… thankfully, it popped, hopefully it didn’t hurt anybody. All the heat created in the left front that popped was pretty weird.
REALLY GOOD RUN. WHAT DID YOU THINK OF IT?
Yeah, it was good. We have a car we can work with for the 500. Got a good starting spot, so we’re going to rest easy, fluff and buff our car for a couple of days and get ready for Sunday.
ANY DIFFERENCE ON WHETHER THE TOP OR BOTTOM LANE WORKED?
Yeah, I was just moving around, trying to stay with the flow. For me, this car works on all parts of the racetrack. So I’m pretty happy with it.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.
GOT SHUFFLED BACK, AFTER PIT STOPS AND THEN COULDN’T GET BACK UP TO THE FRONT. WHY?
Nah, we were just sitting there waiting until the last few laps to make a move. You didn’t want to pull down and get sent to the back. Seen a couple of guys get sent to the back really quick so we were just kind of waiting for the end. I felt like we had a good situation there with Ambrose behind us — we had a good run off Turn 2 and I went. It was the last lap, time to go do something, nobody went with us but hopefully Sunday is a different story.
We got a great car. We don’t have to work hard. We learned, we got a good race car. Got a car in one piece, ready to go so we’ll try and get through the next couple of practices, deliver it to the starting group this Sunday and we’ll be real happy.
YOU’RE IN THE DAYTONA 500!
Yeah, it’s pretty awesome. This Whitetail Chevrolet was so fast that I knew all I had to do was stick it behind smart, intelligent drafters and we could have a good finish. That’s what we did in the Duels and I’m excited. I’m excited to go do some stuff with the Nationwide car and have some more practice with this. But to know that we’re locked in the Daytona 500’s pretty cool.
YOU WERE OBVIOUSLY IN FRONT OF THAT MELEE AT THE END. WHEN YOU WERE UP FRONT THERE IN THE BEGINNING, WERE YOU HOPING TO JUST STAY IN LINE AND LET YOU FINISH TOP 5?
I was pretty content to ride and luckily I knew a lot of people around us were. It was nice to have a little calm and not really have to be racing hard the whole time. I knew that the pit stop was going to shake everything up and that’s exactly what happened. Fell back a little bit there but made the right moves at the end to get a good finish.
HOW STRONG ARE THESE RCR CARS?
They’re very strong! They definitely have the capabilities to be winning one of these races.
YOU’RE IN THE TOP 5 FOR YOUR HEAT IN THE DAYTONA 500. YOUR PRIMARY CAR IS SITTING RIGHT IN THE GARAGE, KIND OF WADDED UP. DID YOU THINK THIS ONE HAD IT IN IT?
Yeah, it’s a brand new car also. It’s just not quite as good as the primary but still a damned good car. I’m just proud of everybody at RCR for building such fast race cars. All of our cars have been fast, ECR motor’s been strong, even our affiliate teams have been qualifying really good and racing good. So… excited about 2014! It’s going to be a good year.
WELL MAN, YOU STARTED IN THE BACK BUT WORKED YOUR WAY TO THE FRONT WHEN IT COUNTED MOST. WERE YOU JUST BIDING YOUR TIME THROUGHOUT THE RACE?
Eh, you never know if you’re going to get back up there or not. We had to start at the back, we had to make a run early and see what we could do. We drove right to 10th, or something like that and then it got stagnant. We tried to make something happen, and went to the back again. Drove back up to the front. Again, just really proud of my guys. Matt Kruder did a hell of a job on that pit stop getting just enough gas in to gain some spots there.
RCR CARS SEEM PRETTY DARNED STRONG. DO YOU THINK THE RCR CARS HAVE SOMETHING FOR THEM ON SUNDAY — ESPECIALLY THE THREE JOE GIBBS RACING CARS THAT SEEM TO BE THE CLASS OF THE FIELD RIGHT NOW?
Oh yeah. The 20 car was extremely fast. The 11 didn’t qualify that good, but he’s a good drafter. I think he won. We definitely have something for him.
Check in with Matt and Jay on their site at CareyandCoffey.com.
Matt McLaughlin · Thursday May 7, 2009
This week, the Cup circuit heads to Darlington, South Carolina for what will regrettably be its only stop at the “Track Too Tough To Tame” this season. Even given the awkward eve of Mother’s Day race date that no other track ever wanted, the fact they’ll be racing there this weekend still makes my heart rejoice. For even if you’ve read my output for just a few months, it should be painfully obvious to you by now that Darlington is my favorite track on the circuit.
Some folks can’t understand my passion for this place. They tell me it’s a single groove race track that’s worn out, its time has passed, and it is located a million miles from nowhere. They seem to think those are “issues;” but to me, that’s part of the charm. By and large, fans who don’t “get” Darlington tend to be newer to the sport and have never made the trip to the Lady In Black. If all Arabs should visit Mecca once in their lifetime, any true stock car racing fan should go to Darlington at least once before they die. If you’ve never been there and have no plans to go … shame on you.
Others continue to insist that my dedication to Darlington is due to regionalism. One more time, folks, I was indeed born deep in the heart of the South…of Jersey, and I’ve lived in the Northeast most of my life. I’m from Chester County. Think Amish buggies, horse farms, and winding sun-dappled country back roads carved out by beneficent glaciers for the enjoyment of current day Harley riders. For those of you west of the Mississippi in culturally-impoverished burgs like L.A. who might not have taken your geography studies to heart, it’s a real long ride from Lancaster to Darlington. I don’t live there; but Lord willing, I will when I retire.
So, what lies behind my fascination and passion for this track? First off, it’s location, location, location. As you roll from Charlotte to Darlington (watching your speed, as race weekend is seen by local and South Carolina State police as prime revenue hunting season), you’ll go back in time, through dying mill towns, cotton fields, and any number of small towns that are still lost in the ’60s. There are places small enough where, after the races, people set up lawn chairs in filling station parking lots just to watch the big NASCAR teams’ transporters roll home to Charlotte in impromptu block parties. (Hell, there are towns small enough after Sunday services for get togethers just to watch the local cops ticket out-of-towners.) You’ll pass stately old antebellum towns that could double as Mayberry RFD. You’ll pass through groves of scrub pines in the sandy soil of the Sand Hills. As you get closer to the track on 151, you’ll see a collection of stately old Victorian homes with gliders and rockers on their wraparound porches, stately shade trees in the backyard, and gleaming American iron in the driveway. On Saturday morning, many men folk will be out there washing their trucks with a garden hose in the driveway. For one weekend, at least, the outside world that largely ignores its existence focuses its attention on the Darlington area — and appearances must be kept up, after all.
The people in this region are among the nicest I have dealt with in my travels — almost too polite, to the point of being courtly. If you need directions or you need a hand, they will always lend one. I can’t even remember how many times I had to ask for directions on my first trip to Darlington; but in every instance, I was offered assistance with a smile. It was just a matter of breaching the language difference between those who spoke Southern and myself — who spoke Yankee, and had yet to get a conceptual grasp on just how far a distance “a ways down” actually was. When I got a flat on my motorcycle on race morning one time, I was offered capable assistance and tools by a gentleman old enough to be my grandfather, a man who went the extra mile to call a friend who owned the local parts house to open up on Sunday morning and get me the inner tube I needed. It wound up getting delivered free of charge; and even though I offered a 20 as a tip, the men inevitably turned it down.
Even the harried convenience store clerks on the main drags to the track will take the time to smile, wish you a nice day and, in most instances, address you as “sir” even if you are a long-haired Yankee kid in a tie-dye Dead tour T-shirt. Their manners don’t come across as cynical or an affectation, but rather the sort of conduct required by the faith that is the bedrock of most of their lives.
Then, there’s the track itself. You walk onto this speedway and are immediately struck by the fact you are walking on sacred ground. All the great ones, from Junior Johnson to Jimmie Johnson, from the Flock brothers to the Busch brothers, from local native Cale Yarborough to Juan Pablo Montoya, from David Pearson to David Green, from Cecil Gordon to Jeff Gordon and three generations of Pettys and Earnhardts have raced here. They’ve raced on a track with a notoriously abrasive surface and unforgiving corners, not to mention the normal brutal heat of Labor Day weekend — a race that proved a true test of both man and machine. There’s no question every driver who has managed a win at Darlington counts it as one of the crowning achievements of their lives.
Like the old saying goes, here you race the race track, not the other racers — and the Lady in Black is notoriously unforgiving to those who get sloppy. Even the best in the business will earn their Darlington stripes getting up off of what is now turn 2. Richard Petty won seven Daytona 500s, but just one Southern 500. You want to see that standard Petty smile turn to a thousand watts? Ask the King about his lone ’67 Southern 500 victory.
For newer fans who might need a primer in the sport’s history, I highly recommend a trip to the Joe Weatherly Museum on the grounds of the track. There, you’ll see cars from the earliest days to more modern mounts. Take a look at those cars of yesteryear and be amazed at what you see — drivers with balls of solid brass wheeled them around Darlington at incredible speeds for the era on the circuit’s original superspeedway. These were indeed “stock” cars, not unlike what you might find sitting on the street outside the track. The Plymouth that Johnny Mantz wheeled to victory in the first Southern 500 had, in fact, been used earlier in the week to drive around on the public roads by none other than Bill France, Sr. while he was hanging posters to promote the race.
Make no mistake about it, the Lady in Black is not an entirely affectionate nickname, or it wasn’t when it was coined. Cale Yarbrorough took a wild, out of the park ride into the parking lot here in 1965, back when only a flimsy guardrail separated the race track from the outside world. Richard Petty took a terrifying tumble here in 1970 down across pit wall, just as ABC’s Wide World of Sports joined the action live. The King’s head and arm could be seen exiting the car as it rolled, leading to the adoption of the window nets that are still standard issue in stock cars today. Even looking at Bill Elliott’s history-making 1985 Thunderbird, it’s hard not to note how relatively crude and homemade the car looks as he took the checkered flag for the Winston Million. That’s appropriate for a Darlington winner — Bill and his brothers built it in a family-owned shop that would shame even most Truck Series teams today.
Yes, there have been some terrible races at Darlington. Ned Jarrett won here by 14 laps in 1965, thanks in large part to that year’s Chrysler boycott of NASCAR. Mantz also won here by 15 laps in that first Southern 500, perhaps the only race with tire attrition worse than last year’s Brickyard 400.
But there have been some classic races at Darlington, too, too many for me to recount here in the space allotted me. (And one day, I’ll get the FS editors to allow me to rerun my seven piece history on the Southern 500… I promise… I hope.) There was the aforementioned ’85 Southern 500, when Bill Elliott became “Million Dollar Bill” and helped put stock car racing on the map outside of the Deep South. The single day payday was unheard of in auto racing in the era, and might have been the most brilliant marketing campaign of the late T. Wayne Roberts’ storied career. I remember watching in awe as Tim Richmond ran down Bill Elliott in the fading twilight on a rain slick track at the end of the 1987 Southern 500, sideways in every corner. To this day, that single race win has me convinced that nobody, nobody ever had the same car control that Tim did. And that’s from a guy in the grandstands wearing a Bill Elliott T-Shirt that stood up and cheered with the rest when Tim took the lead on lap 362. More recently, Ricky Craven held off Kurt Busch in a fender banging, tire smoking, drag race out of turn four by a mere .002 seconds in 2003, in what I remain convinced was the greatest race of the FOX TV era.
In the end, Darlington doesn’t need me to defend her. The Lady in Black has earned a spot in this sport’s history that is beyond attack or even civil debate. To paraphrase Stephen King, anyone who dare question the existence of Darlington needs to have their powers of reason called into serious question. It’s like trying to explain to non-believers the enduring legend of Harley Davidson. There are cheaper, better-performing, bikes that get better gas mileage, but until you’ve thrown your leg over an American V-twin Harley Davidson and ridden the back roads, you’re just not going to get it. There is no reason in this era of fuel mileage and global warming concerns for the Mustang GT to have endured nigh on 35 years now, but until you’ve driven one, rear tires churning away from a stoplight, you don’t know what cars are all about. Some called it the devil’s music and called for it to be banned, but rock and roll has endured. Some of its leading purveyors including the Grateful Dead and Bruce Springsteen might have their charms lost on folks who let their tastes be dictated by American Idol; but for decades, they have been playing to packed houses of delirious fans who are in on the secret. If you’ve never seen the Dead or the Boss perform on a good night, you’re missing out on something so pure, so real, so all-encompassing, my pity at your loss must be mixed with loathing of your abject stupidity at missing something so overwhelming that it has defined generations of fans. Some things, like the opening notes of Thunder Road, the uneven idle of a Cobra Jet Mustang with its shaker hood rattling back and forth, the Potatoe-Potatoe-Potatoe rumble of a Harley, or the racing at Darlington have survived generations and defined us as a people and indelibly marked our culture. If I have to explain it to you, you’ll never understand it.
They’re racing at Darlington this weekend. Let’s rock and roll.
©2000 - 2008 Matt McLaughlin and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!
From someone who normally thinks you’re just blowing hot air, THANK YOU for this great article that even a culturally-challenged dummy like me can understand. This is the kind of story that brings traffic to FS.com.
Very well written article but somehow I get the feeling that the picture you paint of Darlington is somewhat romanticized. Maybe not but it sure sounded like a travel magazine article. On the other hand it definitely made me want to go to a race at Darlington.
Yes, I agree, the beginning notes of Thunder Road are magical.
There is no finer track for Racing than Darlington…. Well maybe Rockingham, but King Brian made sure that will never happen again.
Darlington Raceway “Too Tough to be Lame” and we wouldn’t miss a race there for anything.
I been looking since Monday for your article on our favorite track. You did not disappoint. Even Kevin in Socal gave you a thumbs up…isn’t that a first?
Great article. Exactly what NASCAR should be all about. The Lady in Black is the storied race track that true fans, no matter their age or background, should NEVER allow to die. If NASCAR ever takes this track off the schedule, the true fans should boycott all races.
If anyone doesn’t understand the contrasts between the “ new “ Nascar and the “ traditional “ Nascar “ this column should explain all there is to know . Darlington isn’t about the glitz , or corporations , or trends , or demographics . And thankfully it isn’t about Brian France , or Helton , or Darby . And even FOX can’t ruin it .
Great article Matt. I love the lady. Way back in the mid 70’s on our way to Myrtle Beach we stopped and went into the track. No closed doors or gates! We actually walked all the way around the track (ON THE TRACK). They had those covered grandstands back then. Such an awesome place. I really felt as if I were in a Church. It was so quite, but I could hear the “motors” in my head.
OH MY… to be 20 again, with a 70 Cuda, and the best looking girlfriend in red “hot pants”, and $200 bucks in my pocket. That was the trip of my life……..
Even Kevin in SoCal would have loved that week..
You have to love this PR nightmare. Yesterday for the second time in the last 2 weeks, ESPN’s Nascar Now ran another in a series of small segments promoting the Darlington Race. In a previous segment Cale Yarbrorough drove Joey Lagono around the track, while in yesterday’s segment Cale showed Joey around the museum and talked about the track’s history. The thing that is so funny and makes you scratch your head is that here you have Cale Yarbrorough wearing a HONDA cap mentoring TOYOTA driver Joey Lagono. Bet that raised a few eye brows over in Japan.
GREAT article!! I am now adding Darlington to the top of my list!! Thank you!!
Folks there is no better one-two puch than Richmond and Darlington (with a week’s worth of golf in between for extra measure)! Happy Mother’s Day to ALL!
Had the pleasure of going to the final Southern 500. That is, until they renamed this year’s race the Sou. 500. And even mine wasn’t legit I guess because it was the fall vs. Labor Day weekend. But it was indeed Darlington, TX Terry won it – fitting considering his great runs there in his early years. My one regret – despite wanting to go to the museum, we didn’t make it.
Maybe there is a bit of romanticism here; but, the morning I visited the track (summer of 1992), I thought I was in Mayberry too… I got to walk out onto the track surface in (then) turn 1. Davey Allison had been there during the week to get some practice laps in for his chance at the Winston Million that year. The museum was great – I think my wife and I, plus my in-laws, were 4 of the 10 people there that day.
The history of that place, coupled with the feeling I was transported back to the 60’s, was totally awesome. That track visit is probably my favorite stock car related memory that I have, and I didn’t even see a race there…
Cale wearing a Honda hat?? What the hell??
Golf?? When I think of golf I think of the same things you all think of when the next race is at Fontana.
There is no “e” in potato, Mr Quayle!
From someone born in Florence, SC, which is right beside Darlington, that was a great article…and corrent even down to the speed traps between CLT and Darlington! hehe My first ever trip the a racetrack was for qualifying in 1981 when I was 5. We moved away shortly there after (Dad is retired from Piedmont Airlines), but I did get back for a race a few years ago. It is quite a place, a real step back in time, compared to all the cookie-cutter tracks we have now.
Oh, and those questioning Cale’s Honda hat? It is because he owns a Honda dealership in Florence about a mile from the house I lived in…and has since the early 80’s. I assume it is still there, and he may have others by now, but I remember back in the day, my parents would take me by there in hopes to meet him. We were big Cale fans at the time…up until Terry started driving for Piedmont. And while not mentioned, I always loved that Terry won the last “real” Southern 500!
How could you not talk Darlington for the neophyte without mentioning Harold Brasington’s minnow pond?
And don’t forget about what can occur after a race. I remember back around 86 or 87 Tommy Houston, BGN, nailed the pace car in the side. I remember I was putting my camera up, you could hear him accelerate, ticked, and then wham. I looked up and saw the pace car spinning. This was after the checkered flag and occurred at the end of the frontstretch pitroad on a once two pitroad track. Houston was pitted on the backstretch.
Why hasnt this race sold out yet? There are only about 66,000 seats. Even Fontana sells that many and you all complain about it.
You got two things going against Darlington right now. First, it’s Mother’s Day weekend. Alot of families spend Saturday with one mother and then Sunday with the other. How many wives do you know that will actually let their husband pass on the Saturday visit every year for a race. Second, the region that Darlington is located in has been hit especially hard from the economy. Some of the areas over here have been slammed from the loss of textiles, furniture and tobacco. People in this region don’t have the money these days to pay for a NASCAR show. Many folks in the region have been laid off multiple times over the last ten years.