Darlington: Round 10 preview

The Track Too Tough To Tame: Darlington to make history, light up the South Carolina night DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (May 3, 2005) -- As the most venerable track on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series schedule, Darlington Raceway's designation as a NASCAR...

The Track Too Tough To Tame: Darlington to make history, light up the South Carolina night

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (May 3, 2005) -- As the most venerable track on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series schedule, Darlington Raceway's designation as a NASCAR tradition is a given. But tradition doesn't mean staidness. The egg-shaped, 1.366-mile oval is on the cusp of establishing several new traditions, with Saturday night's Dodge Charger 500 being the first of those firsts.

The 10th event of the 36-race schedule, the Dodge Charger 500 marks the first Saturday-night event in Darlington history. It's also the first Darlington event under the lights; last November's race was the first use of Darlington's newly-installed system, but that event began in late afternoon daylight and ended under the lights.

This weekend also is historic on its own: The May 7 date is Mother's Day Eve, a proper juxtaposition. Realignment has re-shaped the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup schedule in recent seasons, but Saturday's event coincided with another tradition -- the Mother's Day holiday. It's a traditional off-day for NASCAR's national series, and the Dodge Charger 500 not only preserves that tradition, it's also helping establish a new one -- night racing at the "Track Too Tough to Tame."

"I don't think I've tamed her," said Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet), who won both 2004 events at Darlington. "I've become decent friends with her and we'll just try to keep it that way."

So how appropriate that the track that's spawned so many traditions and legends is serving up its latest contributions on Mother's Day weekend? This weekend marks the 49th NASCAR NEXTEL Cup spring event at Darlington, a track whose nicknames -- "The Lady in Black" among them -- hint at the combination of reverence and exasperation that often accompany its mention.

A reminder: Darlington owes its unique configuration to the preservation of a long-gone fishing pond outside Turns 3 and 4, which are tighter than Turns 1 and 2. Its pebbly pavement -- combined with wind-blown sand from nearby South Carolina coastal plains -- gnaws tires. The 2004 debut of SAFER walls, while very welcome, didn't soften the threat of the "Darlington Stripe," the telltale right-side scrapes that await cars venturing too close to Darlington's walls.

"It's still tough," said Kyle Petty (No. 45 Georgia-Pacific/Brawny Dodge). "They have been saying it forever, but it's the truth, Darlington is a tough track. It's the one track that everyone wants on their resume, too. It has been around so long, and so many of the greats in our sport have raced on it."

-nascar-

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Kyle Petty , Jimmie Johnson