Darlington Raceway walls always win. Ask any NASCAR driver, past or present.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series roars to action during the Bojangles’ Southern 500 May 11 at Darlington Raceway in Darlington, South Carolina.
When the popular circuit haulers roll into Darlington, teams will return to familiar territory.
"The Track Too Tough to Tame,” designed after Indianapolis Motor Speedway and built on 400 acres but crimped by the existence of a fishing pond, was created in 1950. Darlington’s 1.366-mile oval with 25-degree banking has been a wall-banger ever since.
Harold Brasington, track owner, wanted to develop a true oval, but the landowner, Sherman Ramsey, didn’t want his minnow pond disturbed. The west end of the track (Turns 3 and 4) had to be narrowed, thus creating an egg-shaped design.
Many drivers have wished they had ignored the pond and not created a fast, egg-shaped oval, but then no driver could earn “Darlington stripes” when kissing the wall.
Fans without tickets to one of Darlington’s 60,000 seats can watch stock cars scraping the walls at 6:45 p.m. Saturday night on Fox.
The Bojangles’ Southern 500 also celebrates Mother’s Day this weekend. Many moms are expected to be among the spectators, and Mothers of current NSCS drivers are honored this weekend as well.
Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Chevrolet)
Jimmie Johnson and team roll into Darlington with the point lead and confidence:
I love tracks with character and Darlington certainly has it. Tire wear used to be a big deal there but not so much now with the track trying to come back in. It’s aging slowly. It’s still not quite like the old track. Track position and strategy will be very important. It actually has the highest sensation of speed. It was built in the 40’s and 50’s for cars to go 120 miles per hour and we are going 200. It’s also very narrow. I’m looking forward to it. It’s one of my favorite tracks.
Carl Edwards (No. 99 Ford)
Carl Edwards nearly won last week during the epic rain-delayed Talladega race and remained in second place:
Darlington is the toughest oval we race on. It’s fast, it’s scary, you’ve got to pay attention for all 500 miles. Mentally and physically it’s one of the toughest race tracks we go to and it’s got a ton of history. A win at Darlington would be one of the most gratifying wins for a driver. We’ve been very close there, we’ve run really well. I like the race track a lot and lately we’ve been really fast. I’m excited about going there, hopefully we get on the pole and win the race and continue the run in the points that we’ve had. It’s been a lot of fun lately; Jimmy and the guys have been great and we want to keep it going.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 Chevrolet)
Dale Earnhardt Jr. and team seem to finish well enough to keep their No. 88 in NSCS Top Five:
I like running at Darlington, especially since they repaved the track. It’s always been a fun track to race on. It’s a frustrating track at the same time. The challenge is really what’s interesting and fun about it. You don’t really race your competitors as much as you are really in a battle with the track itself all night long. You just have to work every lap. You can’t take any time off. You’re right against the fence all around the racetrack so you always have to concentrate 100 percent on what you’re doing, where the car is, what you’re doing with your car and the speed of your car to keep it out of the fence. You have to run as hard as you can to be competitive. It’s just a very challenging place. It’s one of the more physical racetracks that we go to.
Clint Bowyer (No. 15 Toyota)
Clint Bowyer and team captured second place in the 2012 championship and continue to perform well in 2013:
I like the uniqueness of the racetrack. I’ve struggled to have good finishes there, but we’ve always raced well. We just can’t seem to seal the deal at the end. Something always goes haywire at the end, but I’m looking forward to overcoming that and having a good weekend. I remember going there for the first time – I actually sat won the pole there the first time I was ever there. Truth be told it scared the daylights out of me.”
Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Ford)
Brad Keselowski comes off an outburst and an apology about his Talladega finish. He and the No. 2 team hold on to the last spot in the Top Five and keep his chances for another championship alive:
To me, the Southern 500 is one of the crown jewel races on our schedule. I think it’s right there below the Daytona 500, the Brickyard 400 and the Coca-Cola 600, as far as prestige. Very few racetracks can match the history and significance of Darlington Raceway. I love the tracks that demand a lot out of you as a driver, and Darlington certainly fits that bill. Even though I haven’t won there yet, I have to believe that it’s an amazing feeling because if you win at Darlington you know that you have not only beaten 42 of the best drivers in the world, you’ve beaten one of the toughest circuits in the world too.
Darlington will likely not be tamed again during race 11 of 36 in the long and fast NSCS season, but one driver will survive its walls to grasp the checkered flag.
FYI WIRZ is the select presentation of topics by Dwight Drum at Racetake.com. Unless otherwise noted, information and all quotes were obtained from personal interviews or official release materials provided by sanction and team representatives.