Darlington Rear View Mirror
By: Pete Pistone - @PPistone on May 13, 2012 | 12:20 A.M. EST
The first 172 laps Saturday night were caution free, a Darlington record but a continuation of the season’s trend. (Photo: Getty Images)
There was a lot of anticipation last month when NASCAR returned to Rockingham Speedway. The Camping World Truck race held at the historic track brought back memories of what many fans thought was a forgotten time when big league stock car racing raced in the Hills area of North Carolina.
Some fans new to NASCAR may not completely understand how those same feelings are attached to Darlington Raceway.
The unique South Carolina track is truly a NASCAR history lesson and has been part of the landscape since it first opened its gates in 1950.
While Daytona will always be “The Birthplace of Speed,” you could make a very strong case that Darlington actually gave birth to NASCAR.
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 “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.
Looking back that decision was one of NASCAR’s most monumental mistakes in its history.
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 has 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.
- Jimmie Johnson finally brought team owner Rick Hendrick his long-coveted 200th career Sprint Cup Series win and, in the process, ended a long personal drought dating back to October of last fall. Since his Daytona problems including the C-post inspection issues and getting knocked out of the 500 on lap two, Johnson has been on quite a charge that has carried him up the Sprint Cup Series standings. Suddenly championship number six seems a very realistic possibility.
- Unfortunately the news isn’t as positive for Johnson’s teammate Jeff Gordon, who is having a season like nine before and not in a good way. Gordon was plagued by two flat tires Saturday night and a 35th-place finish dropping him further down the standings. Even as a wild card possibility for Chase, Gordon will need more consistency to move inside the first 20 in points to even be eligible.
- The first 172 laps Saturday night were caution free, a Darlington record but a continuation of the season’s trend. Things changed in the second half of the race with debris cautions and several spins adding up to a total of eight yellow flags for the night. Not surprisingly the intensity level was also on the rise as the race wound down.
- Those that want to tar and feather Joey Logano for his accident with Elliott Sadler in Friday night’s Nationwide Series race need to take a breath. Logano’s contact with Sadler was nothing more than a racing incident and not an intentional move in any way. And the thought process that somehow Logano was even more wrong simply because Sadler is racing for a championship and he’s not is majorly flawed. Both drivers were trying to win the race and that’s exactly how it should be, championship big picture or not. I feel for Sadler and thought he handled the situation with his usual grace. But fans pay to watch drivers race, not simply accumulate points. The circumstances Friday night were created because there was a trophy waiting for the winner.