Drivers try to tame track at Darlington in Goodyear 400

motorsport10 May 2024 17:50
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Kyle Larson © Gallo Images

While celebrating his second win after making NASCAR history on Sunday on the front stretch at Kansas Speedway, Kyle Larson uttered the words that needed to be said in front of a national audience.

"I wish we had more mile-and-a-half (tracks)," Larson said after nipping Chris Buescher in the sport's closest finish ever.

"You know, we all (complain) about the package and all that, but these mile-and-a-halfs ... these cars just race so amazing (on them)."

There's a friendly tip for you via Larson: The 1 1/2-mile tracks of Atlanta, Kansas, Charlotte, Texas and Las Vegas are where it's at if you want to bring friends to their first race and hook them on NASCAR.

Now, welcome to Darlington Raceway, the site of Sunday's Goodyear 400 on Throwback Weekend at the legendary South Carolina track.

Granted, Darlington is not quite 1 1/2 miles long and doesn't possess the D-shaped layout of a place like Kansas or Atlanta this season, which hosted two nail-biting finishes with cars clanging off each other off the final turn.

Instead, Darlington measures 1.366 miles and is egg-shaped, the result of not having as much property to work with on the track's west end as was needed to create a true oval back in 1949 when ground was broken.

Since its first race in 1950, Darlington has dished out 73 years of challenging driving at the one speedway that might be the most demanding of them all.

It's a true driver's track known as "The Lady in Black" and "The Track Too Tough to Tame."

Darlington also has been known to provide a spectacular finish or two like its slightly lengthier neighbors.

There have been many remarkable races at difficult Darlington, but none stands out more than the Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 in 2003.

In that one, 31st-place starter Ricky Craven ran down leader Kurt Busch in the final 10 laps then traded the lead with the Roush Racing driver as the ill-handling cars slipped around on high-banked asphalt.

Exiting Turn 4, Craven's No 32 banged with Busch's No 97 Ford in a door-to-door drag race. The Tide-sponsored Pontiac then delivered Craven his second career win in an instant classic by a scant 0.002 seconds.

"Have you ever?" blurted FOX Sports announcer Mike Joy as the clashing cars billowed smoke past the finish line.

"No, I've never," shot back boothmate Darrell Waltrip after Craven notched the fifth last-lap pass for victory at Darlington.

This year, William Byron is the defending race of an event held one year ago this weekend, which has not always been the case.

When the track had two scheduled events, the first race was held in the Spring while the Southern 500 was on Labor Day weekend. That occurred until 2004, then the venerable speedway lost a race and ran just one for 15 straight seasons.

In 2020, Darlington hosted three races, including the first race after NASCAR's two-month hiatus for Covid.

Currently, the slate is the same as it has been since 1960, minus that one-race schedule for 15 years and the oddity of 2020, and the start-finish line was moved to the speedway's opposite side in 1997.

But as for the track itself at Darlington?

It's still as tough to tame as it was in 1950.