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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
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Redd`s Wicked Apple Ale Ford, celebrates in victory lane after winning during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 19, 2014 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/NASCAR via Getty Images)
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Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet, talks with the media following the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 19, 2014 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo Credit: Mike Ehrmann/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Ryan Newman, driver of the #31 Caterpillar Chevrolet SS finished in 5th position and Kasey Kahne, driver of the #5 Farmer`s Insurance Chevrolet SS finished in 12th position Sunday, October 19, 2014 in the final Contender 12 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Alabama. Newman, who was in the Chase, advances to the Eliminator 8 phase of the Chase which begins next week at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. Kahne, who was also in the Chase, did not advance. (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS finished in 26th position and Austin Dillon, driver of the #3 Dow Chevrolet SS finished in 13th position Sunday, October 19, 2014 in the final Contender 12 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Alabama. Gordon, who was in the Chase, advances to the Eliminator 8 phase of the Chase which begins next week at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
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Aric Almirola, driver of the #43 Smithfield Ford, and Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Halloween Toyota, are involved in an on track incident during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 19, 2014 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo Credit: Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images)
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The crew of Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Redd`s Wicked Apple Ale Ford, celebrates after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 19, 2014 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Redd`s Wicked Apple Ale Ford, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 19, 2014 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Crew members work on the Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Halloween Toyota, in the garage area during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 19, 2014 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Redd`s Wicked Apple Ale Ford, leads the field near the end of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 19, 2014 in Talladega, Alabama.  (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Redd`s Wicked Apple Ale Ford, races Ryan Newman, driver of the #31 Caterpillar Chevrolet, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 19, 2014 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Redd`s Wicked Apple Ale Ford, celebrates with an American flag after winning during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 19, 2014 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Redd`s Wicked Apple Ale Ford, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 19, 2014 in Talladega, Alabama.  (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, and Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet, lead a pack of cars during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 19, 2014 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Terry Labonte. (Photo Credit: John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)

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