The White Zone: Darlington deserves more than one race

Darlington
DARLINGTON, SOUTH CAROLINA - MAY 20: Ty Dillon, driver of the #13 GEICO Chevrolet, leads Ryan Preece, driver of the #37 Tide Power Pods Chevrolet, during the NASCAR Cup Series Toyota 500 at Darlington Raceway on May 20, 2020 in Darlington, South Carolina. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

With less than 30 laps remaining, the skies opened up over Darlington Raceway. As a result, the cars were brought down pit road.

Eventually, the race was declared official and Denny Hamlin celebrated his second win of the season.

After a roughly combined 684 miles of racing at “The Lady in Black,” in the span of four days it’s more than made its case for having more than one NASCAR weekend, again.

Once upon a time, not too long ago, Darlington Raceway wasn’t in the long-term plans for NASCAR. Back in September of 2017, Jeff Gluck of The Athletic told me that for years after the Southern 500 moved off Labor Day weekend, many in the media center thought the track’s days were numbered, and that they thought former track president, Chip Wile, was just put there to facilitate it.

In 2015, however, NASCAR announced that Darlington would return to its rightful place on Labor Day weekend. Furthermore, Wile announced the start of a new tradition, the throwback weekend.

Not only has Darlington’s luster revived, but it, as Nate Ryan of NBCSports.com put it, “has become a lifeline to rescue NASCAR from the brink….

Granted, this opportunity had more to do with Darlington’s proximity to Charlotte, N.C. (it’s an hour and 54 minutes from Charlotte Motor Speedway to Darlington Raceway, according to Google Maps). Furthermore, with no fans allowed to attend, it’s hard to gauge how well it did, financially.

Racing-wise, however, it was fantastic.

Sunday, you had a race of comers and goers. Wednesday, you had a midweek race that fans have clamored for for years, as well as the use of inversion to set the field. Thus, drivers like Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson had to scratch and claw their way through the running order most of the night to score top 10 finishes.

Tire strategy played heavily into the outcome, with Hamlin, whose team didn’t have scuffed tires ready to put on, staying out on the penultimate caution and most of the field pitting for new tires.

Coming to the line with 26 laps to go, Chase Elliott was hot on his trail and would overtake him for the lead, easily, if Kyle Busch didn’t misjudge his move to duck behind him and turned him into the inside wall.

These two races weren’t barn-burning classics, but they demonstrated that Darlington can put on more than one good race a year.

My only complaint is that NASCAR didn’t use the low downforce package it’s using for the short tracks, this season, at Darlington. As the 2015 Southern 500 demonstrated, low downforce, combined with an aged surface, makes for fantastic racing.

I hope the big whigs in Daytona look at these two races and decide in 2021 that Darlington will hold a spring day race, along with its Labor Day weekend slot. Even with the slot car package, it’s still a track for great racing.

That’s my view, for what it’s worth.

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I've been a fan of NASCAR since I was five years old. My passion for it, and auto racing in general, inspired me to pursue a career in it. For four years, I covered NASCAR and IndyCar for SpeedwayMedia.com. I'm currently studying at the University of Tennessee to pursue a career in sports writing. As a student at the University of Tennessee, and a native of Knoxville, Tenn., I'm a diehard fan of Tennessee Volunteers football. If covering NASCAR doesn't kill me one day, watching Tennessee football will. I'm also a fan of the Atlanta Braves, the Nashville Predators and the NFL. Outside of sports, I watch anime, read manga and watch a lot of films.

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