By David Morgan, Associate Editor
Like Doc Brown and Marty McFly in Back to the Future, the NASCAR Cup Series is time traveling this week, making the jump from the future with the Darlington Raceway debut of the Next Gen car to celebrating the past with Throwback Weekend.
A staple of the Cup Series since 1950, there are many elements to Darlington that make it a special track. From the egg-shape of the track that features one end narrower than the other as a result of building the track around the old minnow pond located next to the facility. As well as the preferred line around the track being next to the wall, resulting in the infamous “Darlington Stripe” being plastered along nearly every car in the field by the time the race is complete.
Since the track “Too Tough to Tame” regained its Labor Day Weekend slot for the Southern 500 in 2015, the Cup Series has paid tribute to years gone by during that race, but with Darlington earning two race dates, the Throwback Weekend moves to the spring race and Sunday’s running of the Goodyear 400.
The move to the spring race weekend was done in part to give each of the two races at Darlington its own identity, with the spring being dedicated to throwbacks, while allowing the Southern 500 to focus on kicking off the Playoffs.
By the Numbers
What: Goodyear 400, NASCAR Cup Series race No. 12 of 36
Where: Darlington Raceway – Darlington, South Carolina (Opened: 1950)
TV/Radio: FOX Sports 1, 3:30 pm ET /MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90
Track Size: 1.366-mile egg-shaped oval
Banking: Turns 1-2: 25 degrees; Turns 3-4: 23 degrees; Straights: 6 degrees
Race Length: 293 laps, 400.2 miles
Stage Lengths: First stage – 90 laps, Second stage – 95 laps, Final stage – 108 laps
May 2021 Race Winner: Martin Truex Jr. – No. 19 Toyota (Started fourth, 248 laps led)
September 2021 Race Winner: Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota (Started second, 146 laps led)
Track Qualifying Record: Aric Almirola (184.145 mph, 26.705 secs – 4/11/2014)
Top-10 Highest Driver Ratings at Darlington Raceway:
- Kyle Larson – No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 114.5
- Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 108.9
- Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Stewart Haas Racing Ford – 104.7
- Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 103.8
- Kyle Busch – No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 100.6
- Brad Keselowski – No. 6 Roush Fenway Keselowski Ford – 95.4
- Erik Jones – No. 43 Petty GMS Motorsports Chevrolet – 93.1
- Joey Logano – No. 22 Team Penske Ford – 91.9
- Chase Elliott – No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 89.1
- Kurt Busch – No. 45 23XI Racing Toyota – 87.8
From the Driver’s Seat
“I feel like Darlington is going to be another track where we don’t know what to expect until we get on track,” said William Byron. “In the past, Darlington was a place that was super hard on tires, and you spent most of the race trying to manage how hard you could go to be able to have some tire left by the end of the run. The surface would just really use the tires up.
“Now though I feel like tire wear hasn’t been as big of a factor with the Next Gen car so far. We saw a little tire wear on long runs at Dover, but nothing like in the past. You could still maintain some track position even with newer tires behind you on track. I am curious to see how the tires hold up this weekend and if it plays the same factor that it has in the past or how we will have to adjust throughout the race.”
Last Time at Darlington
Just send it.
Heading into the final set of turns in last year’s Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington, Kyle Larson had one chance to try and surpass Denny Hamlin for the win and in true Larson fashion, he gave maximum effort.
Larson launched his car around the outside lane of Turns 3 and 4, bouncing off the wall a few times, but still managed to gain ground on Hamlin, eventually finding himself on Hamlin’s back bumper as they came down the home stretch to the checkered flag.
Despite the video-game style move on Larson’s part, Hamlin would not be deterred as he crossed the line just ahead of Larson, who brought his battered Chevrolet across the line in second-place for another runner-up finish at the Lady in Black.
“We got to the white and I was like ‘Well, I haven’t been able to gain on him. I’m going to try something,’” Larson said. “I honestly got to his bumper too quick. I was hoping he was going to run that diamond to kind of be safe and I could skirt to his outside. Gave it everything I had. I didn’t want to wreck him, but I wanted to get to his outside.
“He did a great job, not really making any mistakes there the last run. I was having to push really hard in second to try and stay with him. I was hoping we’d catch some sort of traffic, but we never did.”
Hamlin replayed the last lap from his point of view during his victory celebration, saying he expected Larson to try something, but not quite what we saw happen between the two.
“He (Kyle Larson) drove it in past the limit of the car and the tires,” Hamlin explained. “I knew he was coming. I was a little bit conservative on that last lap because I had that four-car-length lead. I didn’t think it was going go that deep, but yeah, still a great race. It’s been back and forth with me and him most of the year.”
Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)
- Saturday, May 7
- NASCAR Cup Series Practice (10:30 am – FOX Sports 1)
- NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying (11:05 am – FOX Sports 1)
- Sunday, May 8
- Goodyear 400 at Darlington (3:30 pm – 293 laps, 400.2 miles – FOX Sports 1)