Darlington Redone HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (March 16, 2004) - Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, also known as "the lady in black", received a major makeover during the off-season.Â Like many tracks on the NASCAR circuit have already done or are in the...
HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (March 16, 2004) - Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, also known as "the lady in black", received a major makeover during the off-season. Like many tracks on the NASCAR circuit have already done or are in the process of doing, they added SAFER (Steel and Foam Energy Reduction) barriers in the corners of the 1.366-mile oval. The recent safety trend that hit the small southern town just north of the state capital is just the start of a proposal by the sanctioning body to have all facilities hosting events equipped with the system by January 2005. Already a tough place to race, the removal of track surface at Darlington should make it interesting for NASCAR drivers and teams.
"I'm not sure what to expect," says GM Goodwrench driver Kevin Harvick. "NASCAR has done a great job making the racetracks safer for all of us with these walls. I witnessed it first hand in Richmond (Va.) last year and the wall didn't tear apart, the foam didn't come out and none of the barriers grabbed the car. Most of the racetracks we've seen so far with the walls are places where it doesn't interfere with anything as far as the racing groove is concerned. But at Darlington you race pretty much right up against the wall where the grip is so to see that change is going to make us adjust the line we normally take. The change is permanent so we're going to have to live with it and do our best to adapt."
In six starts at the egg-shaped oval, the silver and black racing machine has posted two top-five and three top-10 finishes. The last time the No. 29 GM Goodwrench racing team visited the "track too tough to tame", they came away with their best performance. Harvick's runner-up finish to Terry Labonte was a fitting way to end the last Labor Day classic.
No. 29 GM Goodwrench driver Kevin Harvick on Darlington...
What's your take on Darlington?
"Darlington's tough, but I like it. It's a fast racetrack that has a lot of history and is very prestigious to win. It's one of those places where I'd like to win a NEXTEL Cup race and we came close last year. Keeping the car off the walls is a key when you go to Darlington, although that's going to be a lot harder now. The biggest thing is to get in a rhythm there and be consistent over the long runs. You have to take care of the fenders, tires and sides of the car. When there is a green flag pit stop, you have to be careful coming onto pit road. It's easy to slip and miss it with all the rocks and dirt."
Can you explain what a lap around the racetrack is normally like?
"Going into turns one and two you barely let off the throttle to avoid hitting the wall. You are wide open through the middle, then take a breath out of the gas and just kind of shoot the gap. You try as hard as possible not to hit the outside wall. It's so narrow and so fast that you are only inches away when you get in the gas again. After you get through the backstretch, you find turns three and four are a bit different. You have to let up a lot more getting in and use a little brake. With new tires you can run just about anywhere, but after they wear off you are right up by the wall. That's when the new SAFER barriers will become a concern."
Do you think the tires will be a big concern?
"It's hard to say because the tires fall off so quickly at Darlington. Once there gone, you have to rely so much more on the set-up of the racecar. You definitely have to worry about tires, but I don't think they're going to be as much of a concern as they were last weekend in Atlanta. We couldn't seem to get a handle on them during that race."
Will running the NASCAR Busch Series race on Saturday help more than usual?
"The biggest thing will be the seat time. With the racetrack's new configuration, I think it will be a bigger advantage than usual because it will allow me to get more laps around the place to figure out a new line to get into and out of the corners. It'll also be nice to run Saturday's race and get a feel for how cars react in traffic. Depending on how well we run, we can transfer some of that information to the Cup car."
Did you ever figure out why the car was such a struggle last Sunday in Atlanta?
"I don't know what happened. It looked like we had a bad set of tires after that first run, but things didn't pick up. It felt as if I would start off on flat tires and I couldn't get any grip in the corners. Richard seemed to think it's the new spoiler and tires when I'm in traffic, but I don't know. We were fine in practice yesterday and Robby (Gordon, teammate) seemed to run okay. I thought we had things figured out because we had been so strong early in the weekend. I guess somebody has to have a bad day every weekend. I just didn't figure it would be us two weeks in a row."
No. 29 GM Goodwrench crew chief Todd Berrier on Darlington...
How do you get prepare for Darlington?
"It's hard because we don't really know what to expect with the addition of the SAFER walls. We'll probably start with a similar set-up to what we ran in the fall when we finished runner-up to Terry Labonte. The first part of practice on Friday we'll go out in race trim and get Kevin adjusted to the reconfigured racetrack. With the way the tires go away so quick, we'll wait and make one or two qualifying runs late and see what happens."
Points of Interest...
* Team GM Goodwrench will take chassis No. 107 to the Palmetto State for this weekend's 293-lap event, the same one that was involved in an accident at this racetrack during the spring event in 2003. This is also the same car they ran last Sunday in Atlanta and two Sunday's ago in Las Vegas, N.V.
* Harvick's 32nd place finish in Atlanta relegated him from sixth to 12th in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series driver point's standings. This is the first time he's been outside the top-10 in 24 weeks dating back to last season.
* Last Sunday's Golden Corral 500 marked the first time this season that the Bakersfield, Calif., native did not lead at least one lap in a NEXTEL Cup Series event. The only other driver to do that is point's leader Matt Kenseth.
* Start time for Sunday's Carolina 400 is scheduled for 1:00 p.m. EST. TV coverage of the 400-mile race on FOX starts at 1:00 p.m., with radio coverage on MRN beginning at 12:30 p.m. Remember times and dates of the race may change, so check your local listings.