Darlington Rear View Mirror

Darlington

Dalington first hosted NASCAR racing in 1950 and has been a part of Major League stock car racing ever since. (Photo: Getty Images)

Some fans new to NASCAR may not completely understand the legacy of Darlington Raceway.

While Daytona will always be “The Birthplace of Speed,” you could make a very strong case that Darlington actually gave birth to NASCAR.

The South Carolina track first hosted NASCAR racing in 1950 and has been a part of Major League stock car racing ever since.

Pick any cliché you’d like and it works perfectly in describing Darlington. It is NASCAR’s Fenway Park, Wrigley Field or Lambeau Field and the sport is blessed that once a year it goes back to its roots.

We should also be reminded every time the green flag flies at Darlington about just how close we came to losing the storied facility completely.

When attendance was on the wane and NASCAR decided to, mistakingly in my opinion, “modernize tradition” and move the Labor Day weekend Southern 500 away from Darlington for a new end of summer date in California it almost spelled complete doom for the track.

But when track management stepped up and parent company International Speedy Corporation earmarked funds to upgrade the facility, Darlington suddenly had new life.

It wasn’t easy especially when NASCAR approached Darlington about holding a race on what had before been one of the most taboo weekends in stock car racing – Mother’s Day.

Through the years racing on Mother’s Day was an absolute disaster, most notably when an ill-fated attempt to run the all-star race at Atlanta Motor Speedway drew about 10,000 fans.

But Darlington management led by track president Chris Browning took on the challenge and have made the Saturday night race on Mother’s Day weekend a new NASCAR tradition that has been embraced by fans with strong support and attendance.

And now the Southern 500 name has been re-attached to Darlington.

Although it’s not the same as those hot humid Labor Day weekends the sport spent in South Carolina for decades, it still resonates as one of NASCAR’s most prestigious events.

I for one am glad it’s back and that Darlington remains one of the highlights of the NASCAR season.

  • And as if on cue “The Lady in Black” provided one of the most entertaining Southern 500s in recent memory. Saturday night’s race may have been on the long side clocking in at a bit more than four hours, but it was worth the wait. A surprise winner in Regan Smith, tempers flaring, drama down the stretch and a near capacity crowd went home with memories from what may be remembered as a classic night at Darlington.
  • Regan Smith has always felt his win at Talladega a couple of years ago was taken away from him when he was ruled below the yellow out of bounds line. But that bitterness can now be put to rest with the biggest win of his career on Saturday night. It’s one thing to win your first Sprint Cup Series race but quite another to do it at the legendary Darlington Raceway in the Southern 500.
  • NASCAR will have the “Boys Have at It” policy put to the test this week in the wake of so many incidents on Saturday but certainly with the altercation between Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch. It’s hard not to look at the contact from Busch to Harvick’s rear bumper as intentional but the bigger issue is how the sanctioning body will look at the post race punch and pit road scuffle. This is the kind of emotion NASCAR wants to see from their competitors but where is the line drawn? We will see in the next few days.
  • The Harvick-Busch dust-up overshadowed the main event coming into the weekend between Juan Pablo Montoya and Ryan Newman. The two combatants were called to the NASCAR hauler on Friday where reportedly things got physical but the duo did stay clear of each other on the track Saturday night. Montoya did have an issue with Jimmie Johnson early in the race, contact JPM called inadvertent, but I predict we haven’t seen the last of the 42 and 39 crossing paths again.

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