New Chapter For Darlington

A new chapter in Darlington Raceway's history will be written when NASCAR's original superspeedway holds its first-ever spring night race in the Dodge Charger 500.

The race will be the inaugural flag-to-flag night race in track history and has generated excitement among both fans and drivers since it was announced. Track officials announced tonight's race was a sell-out, which could go a long way in securing Darlington's future as a NEXTEL Cup Series stop.

"To win at Darlington is about as good as it gets in NASCAR racing," said Jimmie Johnson, who swept both races held at the track in 2004. "Last year it was cool to end under the lights but this year, I'm really excited about running a whole 500 miles at night. There's something about night racing that just gets everyone a little more excited."

There's also something about Johnson's Hendrick Motorsports team when it comes to Darlington Raceway. Team owner Rick Hendrick has watched his cars win 11 times at "The Track Too Tough to Tame," including six victories by four-time NEXTEL Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon.

"Darlington is so full of history and tradition it's like going to Fenway Park or Wrigley Field," Gordon said. "I love racing there and we've had some good success over the years. I'm looking forward to trying to win the first-ever night race in Darlington's history."

Kasey Kahne will lead the field to the green flag tonight after earning his fifth career NEXTEL Cup Series pole in Friday's qualifying session. The young Evernham Motorsports driver has not yet won a Cup race despite several runnerup finishes. Getting that first win at Darlington would be even more special.

"The last two hours of the Cup race here last fall was under the lights," Kahne said. "I enjoyed it with the atmosphere, the fans and being right up against the wall. It would be huge to win here. It'd be a great track to win a Cup race at, especially my first one."

In addition to the prime-time race under the lights, drivers will have another new challenge at Darlington this year. NASCAR's new spoiler and tire rules have made the cars especially tough to drive and loose all around the track. Many feel tonight's race will be even more difficult than the usual 500-mile grind at Darlington.

"You're taking spoiler away. You're taking race track away," said Gordon, referring to the SAFER Barrier installation, which made the track's racing surface more narrow. "The track continues to age, and it just gets more and more difficult and the bumps get worse. The grip gets less and it just makes you have to really fight that much harder to stay off the walls."

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