KANNAPOLIS, North Carolina – Darlington (S.C.) Raceway is an egg-shaped oval, 1.366 miles in length – the odd shape stems from a promise track founder Harold Brasington made to Sherman Ramsey, the neighboring farm owner, that he wouldn’t disturb his minnow pond when the track was built in 1949. As a result, the western half of the track features a tighter radius in the turns.
The odd shape means that, to find the fast way around the track, drivers run extremely close to the outside walls in each turn. They sometimes brush up against them and thus earn what has affectionately become known as a “Darlington Stripe” on the right side of the car. And the black marks left on the walls by the tires rubbing up against them all race weekend have led to one of the track’s nicknames, “The Lady in Black.”
Given the difficulties the track presents, in the years since it was built, Darlington has been called one of the toughest of all tracks on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule, so much so that years ago it was also nicknamed “The Track Too Tough To Tame.”
When NASCAR teams return to the historic track for Sunday’s iconic Southern 500, the NASCAR industry will honor a part of the heritage of the sport by celebrating the era of racing from 1975 to 1984 with a throw-back theme. As part of the celebration, Danica Patrick’s No. 10 Nature’s Bakery Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) will feature a special retro paint scheme that incorporates the traditional blue, white and brown colors of Nature’s Bakery, along with a touch of woodgrain finish rounding out the vintage look.
In four Sprint Cup starts at “The Track Too Tough To Tame,” Patrick has earned a few “Darlington Stripes.” Her best Sprint Cup finish at the track is a 22nd-place result she earned in 2014.
In last year’s race at Darlington, Patrick was relegated to a 42nd-place finish after contact with the outside wall left the No. 10 Chevrolet with damage that was too significant to repair.
In her lone Xfinity Series start at the track, Patrick started 15th and took home a 15th-place finish.
As Sprint Cup teams return to Darlington for Sunday’s Southern 500, Patrick and her No. 10 Nature’s Bakery Chevrolet SS team will be looking to conquer “The Track Too Tough To Tame” in an effort to improve upon her record at the track.
DANICA PATRICK, Driver of the No. 10 Nature’s Bakery Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Talk about racing at Darlington.
“It’s a challenging track. It’s probably one of the toughest that we have on our schedule. There are four completely different corners and you’re typically entering them at high speed and usually right up against the wall. There is very minimal room for error, which is how you end up with the famous ‘Darlington Stripe.’ You have to definitely be aggressive and get the most out of it, but you don’t want to hit the wall because that’s a pretty big setback. It helps to have a good setup to start out with and from there you do your best to keep your bumpers clean so you don’t have tire rubs, accidents and things like that. In the Southern 500, there are usually a lot of cautions and a lot of things happen, so there’s a lot of opportunity for things to change and for you to try something different. It’s definitely our longest race of the year, so you have to be patient and not make mistakes so that you’re still in it at the end.”
Describe the Darlington Stripe and what it’s like to get one.
“I would say that, because my background is in IndyCar, I don’t look at gray areas of the track and think there’s a lot of grip there. I’m not used to driving by a wall. I didn’t grow up racing on dirt and running up on the cushion. The high line is something to me that I have to have a lot of confidence in the car to be able to go there with the kind of speed that needs to be taken. I’ve definitely earned the Darlington Stripe and, sometimes, there’s just not much you can do about it. I’ve even gotten it going down the straightaway where the right-rear (tire) catches the wall and pulls the front in. You’ve got to stay focused at all times, especially at a place like Darlington, where you have to be up on the wheel for all the corners because they’re all pretty different. It’s earned through pushing those boundaries of how high you can take the car and how much speed you can take doing it.”
Are you comfortable racing at Darlington, or is that even possible?
“I have found that when the car is comfortable and the car is good, any track can feel very easy, as well as extremely difficult. So, we’ll see how it goes and how good the car is and how comfortable it feels for me. I do always feel like the first couple of laps at Darlington seem like I haven’t been there in five years. Like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s the way turn four looks.’ Given the fact that there are so many tracks that we go to twice and many of them are similar and have a typical mile-and-a-half layout, when we go to Darlington, being such a unique track, it feels like it’s been a while since we’ve been there.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine