What to Watch For: Darlington

May 6, 2011
by Lee

The “Track too Tough to Tame”, the Lady in Black, and earning your stripes are all common conversation pieces when NASCAR makes its annual visit to Darlington Raceway. Darlington is a 1.36 mile oval with unique features that challenge the best drives on the circuit. Different radius turns on each side of the track makes it tough to setup the car to be comfortable on both ends of the track. Patience and being easy on the tires is crucial to finding the way to checkered flag in P1.

Before we get into what I expect this weekend at Darlington, a couple of news items that broke today that are worth mentioning. The first is Trevor Bayne. Bayne has been released from the Mayo Clinic after suffering an illness that caused inflammation, nausea, and double vision. Reports are that the inflammation and nausea has been treated with medication, but the double vision continues to persist for Bayne. Indications have been that his vision is improving, but is not back to normal. With that double vision still being a problem for Bayne, he will miss the Nationwide Series race Friday night at Darlington. A full diagnosis for Bayne has not been provided at this time, but long term prognosis is that Bayne will make a full recovery and should be able to return to the track in the near future, possibly even next week at Dover.

The next news article is the honorary pace car driver for the Indianapolis 500. If you recall a couple of weeks ago, Donald Trump was selected as the driver of the pace car for the start of the race this year. When the announcement was made there were those who supported to choice, and those who did not support his selection as pace car driver. Recently, a Facebook page was created by Indy 500 fans in order to voice their displeasure with Trump’s selection. The page grew to over 15,000 followers, and other negative press toward the selection began to rise as well. Today, Trump announced, via a written statement, that he would not be participating as the pace car driver at the start of the race this year. Interesting how social media can play a role in events from both the positive and negative side. Information is not currently available on who will be the new driver for the pace car.

Alright, so what do I think is going to happen this weekend? Darlington is tough to predict what is going to happen. This is one of the original superspeedway tracks that were built. The track was designed for much slower speeds than what are run today. The drivers are going to be on the high side of the track running next to wall all night long. Many of the drivers are going to beat and bang the wall multiple times during the 500 mile race. The drivers who can keep the right side of the car clean will have the advantage as the race gets toward the end.

I mentioned it last night, but my eye is on Jeff Gordon. Gordon cannot afford to have another disaster race. He cannot afford to have a car that is not up to speed, nor can he afford to be caught up in a wreck on the track that leaves him as a back marker. This is not any big news to Gordon himself. Having watched Gordon for a long period of time, he has the experience and knowledge of when he needs to push the car and when it might be time to lay back a bit. I would not be surprised to see Gordon near the front of the pack at the end of the race, and giving it his all to put his car in victory lane. Remember a couple of years ago he wheeled a car that should have blown up with 50 laps to go all the way to the victory.

Denny Hamlin is the next driver on the radar for the weekend. Hamlin is mired back in the points standings after subpar finishes early in the year. Hamlin had a great run finishing second last weekend at Richmond. Hamlin needs to keep the momentum going forward this weekend with another great run. Hamlin will have the same danger to navigate as all of the other drivers this week. At Darlington you have to know when to pit, when to push the car, and when to duck out of possible trouble. Make the right decisions and Hamlin could get his car in victory lane.

Darlington is always a place I like to pay close attention to. Darlington gives you a sense of who has momentum and who can communicate exactly what the car is doing at both ends of the track. Crew chiefs make their money at this track by having to make many decisions throughout the race. Crew chiefs might also have the tough decision on whether to take two tires at the end of the race or four. Darlington is a tire eating monster that never loses its appetite for rubber. Generally speaking, until the end of the race all stops will be four fresh Goodyear’s on the car.

If you are interested in tuning in for the races this weekend, here is the television schedule:

Friday May 6th is the Royal Purple 200 at 7:30 PM on ESPN 2

Saturday May 7th is the Showtime Southern 500 at 7:30 PM on Fox

If you miss either of these races over the weekend, be sure to stop back by www.troubleinturntwo.com for recaps of all the action.

Here is my fantasy pick for this weekend, I am going to go out the mainstream slightly with Greg Biffle.

Wreck of the week is Jeff Gordon and the big one on the short track at Richmond:

Have a great weekend.

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