NASCAR’s top five moments from Darlington Raceway

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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.

Ryan Newman to be sponsored by Progressive Insurance at Atlanta

Ryan Newman
Roush Fenway Racing
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Ryan Newman and his No. 6 Ford will be sponsored by Progressive Insurance this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway (3 p.m. ET on Fox), Roush Fenway Racing announced Wednesday.

“We’re excited to welcome Progressive Insurance to the team this weekend in Atlanta,” Newman said in a press release. “A major brand such as theirs fits well into the NASCAR space. Atlanta makes for a challenging and entertaining race with the differing options of the preferred line, so we’re looking forward to it with Progressive on board.”

This is the first time Progressive has been a primary sponsor on a car in a national NASCAR series.

“We’re inspired by the resolve of Ryan and thrilled to be working with him and the team at Roush Fenway Racing this weekend in Atlanta,” Jay VanAntwerp, Progressive’s Media Business Leader, said in the press release. “Racing fans, and sports fans in general, are craving live events, so everyone should be thrilled at the chance to see Ryan and his fellow drivers out on the track. Progressive’s competitive spirit is a great fit for the dynamic, fast-paced action of NASCAR, so we’re looking forward to being part of that excitement with the No. 6 car wrapped in blue and white and sporting the Progressive name. Hopefully we will see Ryan take the checkered flag on Sunday afternoon.”

Newman enters Sunday’s race coming off a 15th-place finish at Bristol. In the five races since NASCAR returned on May 17 at Darlington, Newman’s best finish is 14th in the second Darlington race.

Cup drivers preparing for hotter, slicker Atlanta race after March postponement

Atlanta Motor Speedway
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It’s time for NASCAR to go racing at Atlanta Motor Speedway, finally.

Almost three months after it was scheduled, NASCAR will head back to Georgia for its annual race weekend at the 1.5-mile track Atlanta.

Cars were hours away from being on track on March 13 when NASCAR announced that weekend’s races were postponed due to the emerging COVID-19 pandemic.

All three national series will be in action, with the Cup Series highlighting the weekend with its race on Sunday (3 p.m. ET on Fox).

This is the first time the Cup Series has competed at Atlanta in June since 1965. The last five Atlanta weekends have been held in late February or early March after it was moved from Labor Day weekend in 2015.

With a forecasted temperature of 81 degrees at the start of the race, it will be the return of “Hotlanta.”

The series is preparing for the combination of warm weather and the track’s rough surface that hasn’t been repaved since 1997, thanks to petitioning by drivers.

“Atlanta is always a fun place to race because of the surface and how worn out it is,” Martin Truex Jr. said in a media release. “It has been a few years since we’ve raced there when it’s really hot to bring out just how slick the track can get, so that will be a bit of a challenge going in with no practice.”

Truex, who finished second in this race last year, is seeking his first victory of the year and his first win at Atlanta. Atlanta is one of two 1.5-mile tracks he hasn’t won at, joining Texas Motor Speedway.

Truex has failed to finish in the top 10 once in his last eight starts at Atlanta. He heads into Atlanta coming off a 20th-place finish at Bristol. Before that he had four consecutive top 10s.

“I feel pretty good about how we have ran on the bigger tracks where handling comes into play,” Truex said. “We need a little bit of speed overall, but we’ve been able to run pretty well at tracks where the surface is slicker, so I feel confident about the car we’ll unload and how we’ll run on Sunday.”

With the track’s rough surface, restarts will be vital according to Kyle Busch, a two-time winner at Atlanta.

“I don’t know if it has to do with the asphalt mix or whatever when they paved that place that now you can definitely tell the difference between the inside lane and that outside lane,” Busch said in a media release. “Also, the inside guy has a straighter launch than the guy on the outside – he’s always kind of turning so that’s something to be said for it. Overall, it’s just some places are that way. Atlanta is the worst for the launch. The application of throttle to not spin the rear tires is so crucial there and it’s so easy to do when you’re in that outside lane.”

Busch was the winner of the 2013 Atlanta race, which was held Labor Day weekend. That was also Toyota’s last Cup win there.

“Atlanta is one of those places where anything can happen and we’ll definitely have to be on our toes there this weekend,” Busch said. “You have to have good grip there, you have to have good (tire) fall-off – you have to be fast to start a run, yet you don’t want to fall off more than anybody else. So you have to take care of your stuff and bide your time a little bit. That lends itself to options by the driver to either push hard early (in the run) or save a little and be there late. We went there several months ago and didn’t get to race there, so expecting the weekend to be much different this time around than when we traveled there in March.”

Like Truex, Busch is looking for his first win of the year. Should they or any other Toyota or Chevrolet driver win, they would end a three-year reign by Ford on the 1.5-mile track.

Brad Keselowski won two of those races and Kevin Harvick claimed the other.

Bubba Wallace joins Mike Tirico on Lunch Talk Live on NBCSN

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Bubba Wallace will be on today’s “Lunch Talk Live” with host Mike Tirico. The show airs at Noon ET on NBCSN.

“Lunch Talk Live” focuses on the current state of the sports world, providing guests with a platform to discuss the state of sports, voice their personal stories and detail how they are adapting their daily lives during this challenging time.

You can also watch the show online here.

Wallace is also a guest on this week’s episode of the Dale Jr. Download, which airs at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Today’s scheduled guests are:

  • 12:00 p.m. – Sean McDermott, Buffalo Bills head coach
  • 12:15 p.m. – Bubba Wallace
  • 12:30 p.m. – James Hinchcliffe, IndyCar driver
  • 12:40 p.m. –  Ken Niumatalolo, Navy football head coach
  • 12:50 p.m. – Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets captain

 

Bubba Wallace encourages drivers to speak on social issues

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Bubba Wallace, at times emotional in discussing the recent killings of unarmed black men, said on the Dale Jr. Download that he needs to be more vocal on such matters and encouraged fellow NASCAR drivers to do the same.

“Through all the chaos that has gone on in the world, all of the African Americans, all of the unarmed black men and women being killed, I’ve been silent,” Wallace said on the Dale Jr. Download. “I’ve read all of them and I’ve been silent. I just felt that wasn’t my place. That was a huge mistake.”

Wallace, the only black driver competing in the Cup Series, said he’s reached out to fellow competitors and NASCAR officials and encouraged them to speak out in the days after George Floyd was killed while in custody of Minneapolis police on May 25. Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who placed his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Wednesday, the murder charged was changed to second-degree murder. Also, three other former Minneapolis police officers were charged with aiding and abetting murder on Wednesday.

“We have got to do better, we’ve got to step up,” Wallace said on the show about a message he sent to fellow Cup drivers. “I encourage everybody to say what they feel. … This is way more important than any race win, any championship that you’ve ever accomplished. This is something that can change on a global impact.”

Wallace also discussed a conversation he had with Chase Elliott.

“I texted him (Monday) night,” Wallace said. “I said, hey man, you’re the biggest name in our sport right now bud, like it or not. You’re the biggest name and your voice carries over much more than mine in our sport. I said don’t be silent on this please, don’t let it go under wraps.

“He was like, I know it’s tough to comment on and I’ve been trying to come up with something. What’s really going to change? I said Chase I don’t know but think about this. Imagine a follower, two followers that you have in how many you got. One is a person that is going to go hate somebody, go kill somebody today and the other one is somebody that is getting discriminated against.

“Imagine you saying something and both of those people look at that and they’re like, ‘Wow, that changed who I am today. I’m not going to hate on anybody anymore. I’m not going to be discriminated against. I’m going to stand up for what’s right.’

“Imagine your words changing somebody else’s life. Being silent on that they could have just (said) ‘I was waiting for somebody to tell me something.’ We have that platform and that voice to tell people we have got to stop and change our ways. That’s how to think about it.

“Could my words have helped people? Pissed off people for sure. It could have helped that one person that needed it and didn’t know it. Wow Bubba Wallace just said that, he’s my favorite driver. You know what, I’m going to change my life today because of that. That makes me feel good.”

Wallace became emotional on the Dale Jr. Download as he described seeing the video of Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed black man, gunned down in February in Georgia after a white father and son followed him. They and a third man have been charged with murder in connection with Arbery’s death.

“My heart was broken and my stomach was ripped out of my body when I saw that video and even thinking about it I’m getting emotional about it now, thinking about that video and seeing how an unarmed black man … to be jogging down the street and being hunted by two armed civilians and shot and killed in broad daylight with the other guy videoing and it sounded like he was loading his gun and ready to do the same thing.

“So that’s my take on that, and I’m just like what kind of world do we live I where we hunt people and take their life away because we assume something? We assume that this is a black guy that is terrorizing our neighborhood so we’re going to go kill him? What in the hell, man? I don’t see how people can wake up and think like that.”

Wallace later said: “I’m taking an effort to understand where all the hate, where all the anger, the pain, the suffering is coming from. I’m doing my research, I’m learning about things. I feel better about speaking out about it.”

Wallace also told the story of a cousin who was killed in a police shooting in 2003 in Tennessee.

“We were at my sister’s basketball tournament, I can’t remember where,” he said. “I was running around the gym with all the brothers and sisters there and all of a sudden I hear a scream like the worst scream that you want to hear, not like somebody scared you straight, like something bad had just happened. I look over and I see my mom running out the door and we had just found out that my cousin was shot and killed by a police officer.”

A judge later cleared the officer in the shooting. The family filed a civil suit and lost in court on appeal.

Wallace will appear on Lunch Talk Live with host Mike Tirico on Wednesday on NBCSN. The show airs at noon ET.

The Dale Jr. Download with Wallace airs at 6 p.m. ET Wednesday on NBCSN.