NASCAR Gets It Right At Darlington

It’s time for a NASCAR blog post!

Last weekend’s NASCAR “throwback” event at Darlington Raceway got me thinking about the sport in a couple of different ways. First, it was an excellent promotion in how it used nostalgia to add to the event. It was the return of the Southern 500, Darlington’s traditional race, to Labor Day weekend, a position it hadn’t been in since 2003. It also used throwback paint schemes and an old-school announcing team of Ken Squier (the first man that comes to mind for me when I’m thinking about NASCAR play-by-play) and Ned and Dale Jarrett to cater to NASCAR fans’ memories of the “good old days” of the sport.

It was also a literal return to way racing used to be at the track that is nicknamed both “the Lady in Black” and “the Track Too Tough to Tame” thanks to changes to the tires and the cars’ aerodynamics packages. The result was that the tires didn’t last as long as they normally do at other tracks and became “slick” much quicker. Drivers had to plan when to take on fresh tires so they could last the entire race. It was the first time I heard crew chiefs on a broadcast noting the difficulties of having a limited number of sets of tires since the 1990’s.

It was fantastic.

The drivers seemed to think so too. Carl Edwards won the race and sounded pleased with the changes in victory lane. “This is what it’s about… sliding cars, the tires are falling off… I mean, this is the style of racing that I love,” Edwards said.

Denny Hamlin was also in agreement after a third place run. “It’s the package we need to run from now on,” Hamlin said. “It’s unbelievable how much tire fall off there is. You’re sliding around, there are more wrecks, which is unusual but it’s a good thing because guys are messing up. That happens every now and then in racing. It’s a lot of fun from our perspective and it’s something that we can look forward to.”

The retro paint schemes were also very well done. Personally, I was a big fan of Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s “David Pearson” paint job, Kyle Larson’s “Kyle Petty” scheme, Mike Bliss’ “Harry Gant” tribute and Trevor Bayne’s “Mark Martin” look. But my favorite throwback look came in the Nationwide Series courtesy of Josh Wise and the Go Green Racing Team, with a nod to Ricky Craven’s colors during his victory over Kurt Busch in the 2003 Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 at Darlington.

That race was the closest finish in NASCAR history at just .002 seconds (since equaled by Jimmie Johnson in his win over Clint Bowyer at Talladega) and was exactly the kind of racing that made this sport so popular in the first place. Two drivers, neither with a car handling particularly well, using every ounce of their driving ability to push their machines to the absolute limit, and battling each other right to the finish line. It’s something any fan would love to see more of.

With any luck, the tweaks seen in this race signals some intent from NASCAR to go back to the roots that helped make their sport so great in the first place. Hopefully, it’s for more than just one race on the calendar.

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