It’s Darlington time this weekend and the race is once again situated on its traditional Labor Day weekend slot. It seems that someone over there at NASCAR HQ finally made some kind of decent decision. Of course, the track had taken a difficult situation and made it its own before this most recent shift in the schedule.
While longtime fans may relate Darlington and the Southern 500 to Labor Day many of the younger fans may associate it with Mother’s Day weekend. Bringing the driver’s moms always seemed to be a pleasant touch for a voice that often goes unheard and unseen in the sport.
But enough of that gooeyness.
What is a long weekend for many equates to more fun in the sun, goofing off and one last summer hurrah (or something like that) before autumn begins rolling in and signals that Christmas is just a few weeks away. How’s your shopping going? (Ugh.)
It’s also the last race before football really and truly takes over everything that is considered news in this country. Sure, the hype machine is running in top gear, but overall, it hasn’t hit the chip in the motor yet. It’s coming, though. You draft your fantasy team yet?
Now, it’s time to look forward to the egg-shaped track built on a peanut farm. The unique challenge makes for one of the more intriguing and interesting races on the schedule and the anticipation for this one is palpable.
Happiness Is… Throwbacks. If you haven’t been hiding in a cave and disconnected from the Interwebnet, then you’re likely aware that accompanying Darlington’s resumption of its traditional race date is the teams’ embrace of retro paint schemes. Beyond the usual push to sell more merchandise, this move seems to have with it a sense of genuine celebration – not unlike the myriad of cars running some kind of salute for the Charlotte Memorial Day race.
That’s all fine and good but there’s another throwback that really matters here. Think back through the fog of time, through hazy race weekends, through Kyle Busch victories, through a summer that feels filled with Pocono and Michigan and Loudon alternating as the only races. Keep going. There, that goofy track in Kentucky, that’s the one. And what did it bring? The one rules package that seemed to mitigate some of the aero issues that have plagued the sport – which means that Darlington should be only the second time that it has been run.
The return to the less-downforce configuration should make the racing at Darlington all the more better (or so NASCAR hopes, fingers crossed and all that). The engineers have had time to work over the numbers and see how to tinker with their machines, which means that one organization may nail the set up while others flail, or that everyone still hasn’t figured it out yet. That’s all part of the fun, made more so on a track where the TV peeps like to count the number of brushes with the wall for each driver. Enjoy.
Happiness Is… Gordon. Where’s Robby Gordon when you need him? Wouldn’t that make the race one hell of a throwback? Kidding aside, let’s look at a couple of things involving Jeff Gordon and Darlington. First, Gordon & Co. seem to be the only car NOT running a retro scheme. While he ran the Rainbow Warriors car at Bristol (what took so long?), it’s disappointing that he’s running neither that car nor the also familiar flames scheme. So he’s either doomed to be a total outcast, find himself falling through the field and then suffer a mechanical issue that launches him into the nearby lake, or his sponsors are geniuses because of how much his car will stand out. The way his season is going, the former seems more likely than the latter.
By the way, Gordon leads active drivers with seven wins at the track. While the spring Martinsville race sat at his mercy, this race might be a spectacular one on the platter. Sure, he still has numerous detractors, but how cool would it be to see him take the checkers? At a Sunday night race? On a holiday weekend? Fans might tear down the grandstands. Souvenirs, baby.
Happiness Is… Dixon. Mostly forgotten in the IndyCar championship discussion, Scott Dixon put on a display worthy of his Iceman nickname, driving to the win at Sonoma, and in the process claiming the title. Sure, he got some help. Juan Pablo Montoya got restless early, and in punting his teammate, Will Power, created a sufficient hurdle to cruising to the championship. The other main contender, Graham Rahal, seemed to have very little going right for him, a concept later supported when Sebastien Bourdais spun him in the late stages of the race.
While Dixon has enjoyed his accolades, it’s time to start recognizing him as one of the best open wheel drivers of the modern age. He’s now fifth on the all time wins list, sitting up there with all three Unsers, a couple Andrettis and some guy named AJ Foyt. At 35, he’s still got a few more good years left to cement his status. While IndyCar may not draw the same way as NASCAR, its numbers are on the rise, and Dixon is one aspect to appreciate, while able.
Happiness Is… Monza. The pinky-out crowd gets going again this weekend at the legendary Monza track. With Ferrari showing some life this season, the scene should be electric. It may feel like the Formula 1 championship is over now that the crossed flags have flown on the season, moving it past halfway, but that doesn’t mean that each race doesn’t have its worthy aspects. This race also marks the last on European soil for the calendar year as they begin their worldwide globetrotting once again. Monza is always a fantastic environment, so while you’re having fun getting ready for Darlington, punch this one up from your DVR.