Darlington. The Track Too Tough to Tame. The Lady in Black. A track of nicknames and enough character — note the egg shape! — that rival its rich history (including NASCAR’s Cup Series’ closest margin of victory, a .002 second fender-locked finish between Ricky Craven and Kurt Busch in 2003). The Southern 500 was a fixture on Labor Day Weekend for many years before going away for a little while. It returned in 2015, and has become one of the most important annual events in relation to the sport’s heritage.
Enter “Throwback Weekend.” Most of the garage has participated in this attraction, donning paint schemes that harken back to yesteryear. We’ve seen the 60’s through the 80’s, today we’ll deal mostly with the 90’s. While I wasn’t actively into NASCAR so much when I was much younger, there are enough famous paint jobs that have leaked through; I’m sure you’d recognize a few yourself, too (easiest one to spot being the “Rainbow Warrior” #24 driven by William Byron today, but made famous by Jeff Gordon for so many years). Drivers of yore have a good time with it as well, showing up to support and sometimes even hit the broadcast booth for a spell. And its not just about old wheelmen and classic paintjobs: the firesuits fit the bill, and the mullets are out in full force.
Back to racing: she’s called the Lady in Black because of the rubber left on walls by cars who misjudge a corner or get a little help from someone else. The term “Darlington Stripe” originates from this as well, a coarsely scraped strip on the ‘passenger’ side of the car from making contact with the retaining barriers. Some, if not all, will get one tonight.
Here’s what to look for:
—Denny Hamlin was fastest in Qualifying, and sporting a throwback..to himself! He drove this in 1997 — his very first racecar — and even has Chesterfield Trailer & Hitch on the side as well. We could very well see this car in Victory Lane as well; Hamlin sports a 5.8 average finish here and two wins, including the last time we visited in 2017.
—Kyle Larson will start outside of Hamlin. He’s got the second best average finish here in 8.8, so fitting to see him beside the best. He incurred his worst result last year in the form of a 14th, but has three Top 10s outside of that. He pays tribute to Davey Allison with this paint scheme.
—Kyle Busch ran runner-up to Hamlin in 2017, and starts 5th today. Darlington is the type of track that someone like Rowdy can really sink his teeth into. He only has one win here, but has finished in the Top 10 eight times in thirteen attempts. This week he’ll run a Skittles paint scheme reminiscent of Ernie Irvan’s 1998 car.
–This week gets a lot of attention for the styles that guys bring to the track, and it’d be wrong of me to not include Brad Keselowski’s car on this list. He’s driving a ‘vintage’ Miller Genuine Draft #2, a car that WAS Rusty Wallace for so long. It’s not his best track, but with a ride like this, you gotta pull for the guy.
–And this one is just so awesome. Matt Kenseth’s #6 Oscar Mayer patterned after the Wienermobile! Kenseth doesn’t have the best numbers here, though he did win in 2013, not too long ago.
Coverage of the race starts on NBCSN at 6:00pm, green flag scheduled for 6:15pm. This race is a lot of fun (sometimes with old school commercials), don’t miss it!