NASCAR’s top five moments from Darlington Raceway

1 Comment

NASCAR returns to racing today with the Cup Series at Darlington Raceway (3:30 p.m. ET on Fox).

Before the engines fie, it’s time to look back at the top five most memorable NASCAR moments from the track “Too Tough To Tame.”

Our look at memorable Darlington moments follows our look back at moments for MiamiTexasBristol, former NASCAR tracks, Richmond, Talladega, Dover and Martinsville.

As we look at the Darlington moments, it was hard to pick the top one, so we’ll go with 1 and 1A.

Let’s get started.

1. .002 seconds (2003)

Kurt Busch and Ricky Craven combined to lead only 24 laps in the March 16, 2003 race at Darlington but those were the final 24 laps.

And it was the last lap that would give the Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 a prominent place in NASCAR history and a display in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Busch, driving his No. 97 Ford, had about a half-second lead over Craven’s No. 32 Pontiac with five laps to go. But Busch’s power steering had failed earlier in the race, adding to the challenge of fending Craven off.

Craven caught Busch with three laps to go as they neared Turn 1 and attempted a pass, but Busch kept him at bay.

Craven tried again out of Turn 4 and they were nearly even at the start-finish line. They made contact in Turn 1, causing Busch to slap the wall and allowing Craven to take the lead. Busch bumped the back of Craven’s car and executed a crossover maneuver to retake the lead exiting Turn 2.

Craven charged back out of Turn 4 and was on Busch’s bumper as they took the white flag. A lap later, Craven pulled to Busch’s inside out of Turn 4. They locked doors as they drag raced to the finish line. Craven won by 002 seconds.

It was Craven’s second and final Cup win and the moment that has come to define Darlington Raceway in the 21st Century.

1a) Million Dollar Bill (1985)

While the 1979 Daytona 500 helped put NASCAR on the map, the 1985 Southern 500 and the season leading up to the race helped it surge further.

That year was the start of the Winston Million promotion. If a Cup Series driver could win three of four races – the Daytona 500, the Winston 500 at Talladega, the Coca-Cola World 600 at Charlotte and the Southern 500 – they would claim a $1 million prize from Winston.

Bill Elliott rose to the occasion. He won at Daytona and Talladega and arrived in Darlington with his chance at $1 million still intact. Elliott, who had won at Darlington in the spring, started from the pole and led 100 of 367 laps in a race that saw 21 of 40 cars fail to finish.

He assumed the lead for the final time with 44 laps to go and endured four restarts before winning over Cale Yarborough by .6 seconds to claim the $1 million prize. The achievement landed Elliott on the cover of Sports Illustrated, something not often seen for NASCAR.

It would take 12 years for anyone else to claim the Winston Million.

3) Darrell Waltrip tops Richard Petty (1979)

The 1979 Rebel 400 at Darlington was, quite simply, a barnburner. The contestants for the win in the final laps were Darrell Waltrip and six-time champion Richard Petty, who would earn title No. 7 at the end of the season.

Waltrip (242 laps) and Petty (89) led 331 of the race’s 367 laps. But it came down to a five-lap shootout that saw each driver lead twice on the final lap.

Petty led at the white flag before Waltrip passed him on the inside in Turn 1.

Petty pulled up to Waltrip’s left-side door for the length of the backstretch before briefly pulling ahead entering Turn 3. That’s when Waltrip pulled a crossover maneuver, darting to the inside to take the lead and sail to the win.

4) Million Dollar Jeff (1997)

While Bill Elliott was one of the dominating drivers at Darlington in the 80s, Jeff Gordon took over that role in the 1990s as he and his No. 24 “Rainbow Warriors” thrashed the competition on the track “Too Tough To Tame.”

From 1995-98, Gordon won five of eight races at Darlington, including four straight Southern 500s. The biggest of those wins came on Aug. 31, 1997. That season was the final one for the Winston Million promotion.

Gordon had won the Daytona 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 to set up his chance at the prize.

One of the drivers standing in his way was, of all drivers, Bill Elliott. Elliott, who hadn’t won a Cup race since the 1994 Southern 500, led 181 laps before losing it for good on Lap 258 to Dale Jarrett, the driver who came close to claiming the Winston Million the year before.

But Gordon took the lead from Jarrett with 72 laps to go. The race came down to a battle between Gordon and Jeff Burton. As they came to the white flag Burton attempted to pass Gordon on the inside, resulting in contact. Gordon held on and pulled away for the win.

5) Jeff Burton: Rain Main (1999)

NASCAR is no stranger to races being won by damaged cars. Terry Labonte in 1995 at Bristol and Erik Jones in this year’s Busch Clash are two examples.

But they’ve got nothing on Jeff Burton.

In the spring 1999 race at Darlington, Burton led on Lap 162 when rain fell on the “Lady in Back.”

A wreck unfolded on the frontstretch in front of Burton. He was collected, resulting in significant damage to his right front fender.

But Burton still held the lead. After a few laps around the track under yellow, the race was stopped. The race was officially called, making Burton the winner. Later that year, Burton won the Southern 500 after it was also shortened by rain.

Cup drivers are for changing Texas but leery about making it another Atlanta

0 Comments

FORT WORTH, Texas — Some Cup drivers are concerned that a reconfigured Texas Motor Speedway could create racing similar to Atlanta, adding another type of superspeedway race to the NASCAR calendar.

While Texas officials have not stated publicly any plans to make changes, some competitors feel Sunday’s playoff race (3:30 p.m. ET on USA Network) could be the final event on this track’s current layout. 

With the All-Star Race moving from Texas to North Wilkesboro next year, Texas Motor Speedway’s lone Cup race will take place Sept. 24, 2023. That could provide time for any alterations. Work on changing Atlanta began in July 2021 and was completed by December 2021. 

Reigning Cup champion Kyle Larson said work needs to be done to Texas Motor Speedway.

“I would like them to demolish this place first and then start over from scratch,” Larson said Saturday. “For one, they did a very poor job with the reconfiguration, initial reconfiguration. 

“I would like to see them change it from a mile-and-a-half to something shorter. I don’t know if that means bringing the backstretch in or whatever. 

“If I could build a track, it’d be probably a three-quarter mile Bristol basically, pavement and progressive banking. But I don’t know if that’s even possible here. I’m not sure what they have in mind, but anything would be better than what they did.”

Former Cup champion Joey Logano worries about another superspeedway race with such events at Daytona, Talladega and now Atlanta. 

“Do we need more superspeedways?” Logano asked Saturday. “Is that the type of racing fans want to see? Because when you look at the way that people have finished up front in these superspeedways lately, (they) are the ones that are riding around in the back. 

“Do you believe that you should be rewarded for not working? Because that’s what they’re doing. They’re riding around in the back not working, not going up there to put a good race on. They’re riding around in the back and capitalizing on other people’s misfortune for racing up front trying to win. I don’t think it’s right. That’s not racing. I can’t get behind that.”

Logano said he wants to have more control in how he finishes, particularly in a playoff race. 

“I want to be at tracks where I can make a difference, where my team can make a difference, and we’re not at the mercy of a wreck that happened in front of us that we couldn’t do anything about,” he said.

Discussions of changing the track follow complaints about how tough it is to pass at this 1.5-mile speedway.

“Once you get to the top, it’s almost like the bottom (lane) is very, very weak,” Daniel Suarez said.

Suarez has mixed feelings about the idea of turning Texas into another Atlanta-style race.

“Atlanta was a very good racetrack, and then they turned it into a superspeedway and it’s a lot of fun,” Suarez said. “I see it as a hybrid. I don’t think we need another racetrack like that, but it’s not my decision to make. Whatever they throw out at us, I’m going to try to be the best I can be.”

Suarez hopes that Texas can be like what it once was.

“Maybe with some work, we can get this race track to what it used to be, a very wide race track, running the bottom, running the middle, running the top,” he said.  

“As a race car driver, that’s what you want. You want that ability to run around and to show your skills. In superspeedways … everyone is bumping, everyone is pushing, and you can not show your skills as much.”

Chase Briscoe would be OK with a change to Texas, but he wants it to be more like a track other than Atlanta.

“If we’re really going to change and completely start from scratch, I would love another Homestead-type racetrack,” Briscoe said. “The problem is any time you build a new race track, it’s not going to be slick and worn out for a while. It’s trying to figure out what’s best to maximize those first couple of years to get it good by the end. 

“I think Homestead is a great model, if we’re going to build another mile and a half. I think we’re going to have to look at what they have, the progressive banking, the shape of the race track is different. I just think it’s a really good race track, and I think it always puts on really good racing. Anything we could do to try to match that, that would be my vote.”

Denny Hamlin just hopes some sort of change is made to Texas.

“I’d rather have another Atlanta than this, honestly,” Hamlin said. “Anything will be better than kind of what we have here.”

NASCAR shares prayers for Stewart-Haas Racing engineer

0 Comments

FORT WORTH, Texas — The NASCAR garage is sharing its prayers for Stewart-Haas Racing engineer DJ VanderLey, who was injured Thursday night in a crash during a micro sprint Outlaw race at the Texas Motor Speedway dirt track.

He suffered several fractured vertebrae and has a spinal cord injury, according to a post from his wife Jordan on her Facebook page. 

Two GoFundMe accounts have been set up to help the family with medical costs. 

VanderLey was Chase Briscoe’s engineer for four years, and they are good friends.

“I hate that it happened to anybody,” Briscoe said Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway, “but for it to hit close to home has definitely been tough for me.”

Briscoe said he planned to visit VanderLey in the hospital on Saturday and that “I just hope that everybody continues to pray. That’s really all we can do at this point, trying to hope he gets better.”

Christopher Bell calls VanderLey among his best friends. VanderLey was Bell’s engineer at Kyle Busch Motorsports in 2016. 

Bell spent the night at the hospital and also picked up Jordan VanderLey at the airport when she arrived. 

Stewart-Haas Racing had a decal for VanderLey on Riley Herbst‘s No. 98 Xfinity car for Saturday’s race.

Starting lineup for Texas Cup race: Brad Keselowski wins pole

0 Comments

Brad Keselowski will be at the front of the field to start Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway (3:30 pm ET, USA Network).

Keselowski, who is not a part of the 12-driver playoff group, won the pole Saturday afternoon with a speed of 188.990, edging Joey Logano‘s 188.805.

MORE: Texas Cup starting lineup

The race is the first of three in the second round of the Cup playoffs. Round of 12 races will follow at Talladega Superspeedway Oct. 2 and the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval Oct. 9.

MORE: Waffle House a headquarters for race winners

Also starting in the top five Sunday will be William Byron, Tyler Reddick and Michael McDowell. It is McDowell’s best oval start of the season and his ninth top-10 start of the year.

Brad Keselowski wins Cup pole at Texas Motor Speedway

0 Comments

Brad Keselowski, hoping to extend Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing’s turnaround, won the pole Saturday for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway.

It was the second piece of good news for RFK Racing in two weeks. Chris Buescher,  Keselowski’s teammate, won last week’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway, the first victory for the team under the RFK banner.

Keselowski, who ran 188.990 mph, is not a part of the 12-driver playoff group. Nine of the first 14 starting positions were filled by playoff drivers.

MORE: Texas Cup qualifying results

Following in the top five Saturday were Joey Logano, William Byron, Tyler Reddick and Michael McDowell. Playoff point leader Chase Elliott will start sixth.

“Texas is a really tough track,” Keselowski told NBC Sports. “As hot as it’s going to be, that will be even tougher.”

Race-time temperatures are expected to be in the mid-90s Sunday.

The race (3:30 p.m. ET), the first event in the second round of the playoffs, will be televised by the USA Network.