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Darlington Should Get a Second Date

Darlington Speedway Should Have Another Race Date

No matter what happens at Darlington, the Track Too Tough to Tame invariably becomes the Track That Leaves You Wanting More.

Ask any driver or crew chief in the Sprint Cup garage where they'd most like to watch a race from the grandstands, and it's a dead heat between the Daytona 500 and Darlington. The same goes for the core fans of the sport.

The egg-shaped track in the middle of the South Carolina sandhills presents a unique set of variables and more action in 500 miles than you're likely to see in five years at Pocono or Fontana. Nothing against those tracks—they just don't produce the sort of always-on-the-edge racing that's second nature to the Lady in Black.

Just ask driver Jeff Burton, who fought from 18th place to finish eighth in Saturday night's Showtime Southern 500 after suffering pit-road penalty late in the race.

“It has a special meaning to me,” Burton said of the 1.366-mile track, which owes its asymmetrical shape to landowner Sherman Ramsey's desire not to disturb a minnow pond at the west end of the property during the construction that began in 1949. “I think that the history of our sport is right here. The thought that someone would build this racetrack, the shape they built it, the size they built it at the time that they built it was pretty phenomenal.

“You go back and watch video. It's narrow now, but it was really narrow then. You watch that old video, and it's just really cool to be here. To me, it's the most historic weekend of the year. That makes it special.”

In 2003, NASCAR took one of its most iconic races—the Southern 500 run on Labor Day weekend at Darlington—and turned it into a nondescript event at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. Seven years later, it's time for NASCAR to admit its mistake and restore Darlington to the stature its deserves as the sport's oldest—and arguably most exciting—superspeedway.

Kansas Speedway is earmarked for a second Cup date, likely in 2011, as part of a casino development contract awarded to partners International Speedway Corporation, which operates 12 Cup tracks, and Penn National Gaming. Paving the way for the approval from the Kansas Lottery Gaming Facility Review Board was ISC's promise to petition NASCAR for a second Kansas date.

The highest probability is that Auto Club Speedway will lose one of its two dates to Kansas. As NASCAR constructs its schedule for 2011 and beyond, however, the sanctioning body should consider returning a pivotal race to one of its most historic venues.

Since the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup debuted in 2004, the September race that finalized the field for NASCAR's playoff has been held at Richmond. Nothing against the three-quarter-mile short track, and not to suggest that Richmond should lose a date—which it absolutely should not—but Darlington might be a better choice for that crucial race.

Jimmie Johnson's wrecked car and Tony Stewart's lack of speed notwithstanding, Saturday night's race, capped by a heroic drive from Denny Hamlin, went a long way toward identifying the real wheel men in the series.


Tagged as: Sprint , Sprint Cup

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Darlington Speedway
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 16, 2014 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, and Ryan Newman, driver of the #31 Caterpillar Chevrolet, lead a pack of cars during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 16, 2014 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 14, 2014 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, passes Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, to take the lead and win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 16, 2014 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell-Pennzoil Ford, pits during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 16, 2014 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, and team owner Tony Stewart celebrate winning in Victory Lane after the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 16, 2014 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, celebrates with his wife DeLana and son Keelan in victory lane after winning during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 16, 2014 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, celebrates with the trophy in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 16, 2014 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Marcos Ambrose, driver of the #9 Stanley Ford, poses with his team before his last race, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 16, 2014 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS, celebrates his victory and the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship Sunday, November 16, 2014 winning the final NASCAR Sprint Cup race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Ryan Newman, driver of the #31 Caterpillar Chevrolet SS finishes 2nd. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS, celebrates his victory and the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship Sunday, November 16, 2014 winning the final NASCAR Sprint Cup race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Ryan Newman, driver of the #31 Caterpillar Chevrolet SS finishes 2nd. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS, celebrates his victory and the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship Sunday, November 16, 2014 winning the final NASCAR Sprint Cup race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Ryan Newman, driver of the #31 Caterpillar Chevrolet SS finishes 2nd. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS, celebrates his victory and the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship Sunday, November 16, 2014 winning the final NASCAR Sprint Cup race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Ryan Newman, driver of the #31 Caterpillar Chevrolet SS finishes 2nd. (Photo by Christa L Thomas/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS, celebrates his victory and the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship Sunday, November 16, 2014 winning the final NASCAR Sprint Cup race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Ryan Newman, driver of the #31 Caterpillar Chevrolet SS finishes 2nd. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, leads Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 16, 2014 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 16, 2014 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 16, 2014 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

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