NASCAR

Darlington Viewer's Guide

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Steve Byrnes

Steve Byrnes is a host and reporter for NASCAR on FOX. A broadcast veteran, he has covered racing for more than 20 years. Follow him on Twitter.

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When Darlington Raceway opened in 1950, Curtis Turner won the pole with a lap of 82.034 mph. On Friday, Clint Bowyer won the Dodge Avenger 500 pole with driving over twice as fast at 164.987 mph.

It's 57 years old, and they're getting around here in a little over 30 seconds on this egg-shaped track. Drivers must run near the top of the track, and they're walking a fine line between getting the car turned and getting into the wall. We're going to see a lot of cars in the wall, some harder than others, but the 25-degree banking won't help much here.

Who to Watch

  • Jeff Gordon: The six-time Darlington winner tire-tested at the Lady in Black, and that should be a huge advantage. He may not think so, but he's one of the few — Greg Biffle, Dave Blaney, Juan Pablo Montoya and Reed Sorenson 3 that had some laps on the track with this car before Friday. Not to mention how well that team is performing right now. Gordon's worst Car of Tomorrow finish is fourth last week at Richmond, and he's only had one finish outside the top 10 this season. Plus, Gordon has led over 1500 laps at the Track Too Tough to Tame.
  • Jeff Burton: The track really suits him. He's run a lot of laps at the facility, and he's led 786 of them.
  • Greg Biffle: With two consecutive wins at Darlington, Biffle should be very good. They haven't had a great year, but he seems to like to be able to drive a car that's on the verge of being out of control. That's what happens at Darlington.
  • Jimmie Johnson: Hendrick Motorsports really has the Car of Tomorrow sorted out so I like this two-time Darlington winner.
  • What to Watch

  • Burning up brakes: When you take your foot off of the gas at Martinsville, you'll see the front end of the car sit down on the track because the low gear is already slowing it down before they even hit the brakes. It would be like putting your street car in low drive. You feel it suck and slow down the car. At Darlington, they don't have the same low gear when they let off the gas pedal. They need to use their brake because it's still rolling freely.
  • Worn-out track: There are several complicating factors at this track. In addition to the track's egg shape of the track and the fact that it's so old, they're racing on a worn-out surface. Kurt Busch said he tested for this race at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham, N.C., which is an hour to an hour and a half away from Darlington. It has very similar track conditions, and he said he was racing on top of polished rocks.
  • Four tires for sure: If you're one of the last cars on the lead lap, you might gamble on two tires early or late in the race, but that's not a race-winning strategy at Darlington. Pole-sitter Bowyer said, "grip wise we have about have as much grip than we had in the old car. Everyone will have a Darlington stripe when this race is over."
  • Adjustments on the fly: The Car of Tomorrow is such an unknown that the teams will have to figure out their strategy as they go along. At Richmond, it seemed like no matter adjustments they made, they couldn't fix their problems of being loose into and out of the turn and tight in the center.
  • Speed Mail Steve

    Pit Perspectives

    In nearly 25 years of covering NASCAR, I've never heard all drivers say the same exact thing about how a car was handling like they did last week at Richmond — loose in, tight in the center, loose off. The Car of Tomorrow is a work in progress, and the teams are having a hard time getting the car to turn. They have to slow down the car so much to get it turned that it's extremely different than they're usual setup. Will they get it to turn better? Certainly, some teams have figured it out better than others. Darlington will be the fastest track where these teams have run the Car of Tomorrow. Higher speeds should exascerbate handling problems — the faster they go, the harder they are to drive. There's a lot of trepidation heading into this race. To begin with, it's a difficult track. Add in the Car of Tomorrow, and it's got everybody on their toes.

    Finish Line

    Darlington has always been a place where you've got to keep up with the racetrack as opposed to the competition so drivers must race the track and not their competitors. The winner will do the best job of keeping up with this track. You're never going to conquer the racetrack, but the team that's closest is the one that's going to win. It's such a challenging racetrack at the best of times with the best of cars. It's going to be a huge test for these teams and drivers.


    NASCAR on FOX and SPEED host and reporter Steve Byrnes has covered racing for more than 20 years.

    Tagged: Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer

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