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Darlington still toughest




Steve Mickey

Steve Mickey

I promise that I will not get on my soapbox and argue that Darlington deserves another race instead of the Mother’s Day weekend date that NASCAR now gives it. What other track on the entire schedule — and that now includes Bristol — produces the kind of racing that forces you to stay in either your seat or in front of the TV for the entire event?

Darlington may be the oldest track on the Sprint Cup schedule and because of its age can’t offer the fans and competitors all of the amenities that the newer venues can, but what it can provide is plenty of white knuckle racing. There is no place on the track where a driver can relax and there is no lead safe enough where a driver can put it on autopilot. The track demands that you race every turn of every lap if you want to just be in contention when the final laps go off the board.

Saturday night, Darlington was at its best as it once again showed the series that a track doesn’t have to have the perfect layout or the just the right kind of banking to make for a good race. It’s because of its egg-shaped layout and different banking at each end that no driver ever really feels comfortable racing on the sand-blown surface that has broken many a driver’s heart in the past.

Of course, what made this season’s Mother Day’s weekend edition at Darlington all the more special was that it was the firstever trip to a Sprint Cup victory lane for Regan Smith and that his Furniture Row Racing team is a one-car operation. The win wasn’t just handed to him either; his crew chief Pete Rondeau made one of the great calls of the season when he ordered his driver to stay out in the lead on lap 359 of the 370- lap race.

It was indeed a gusty call, especially when Carl Edwards, who was running down Smith before the caution flag waved, came down on pit road for tires. When the race resumed Edwards quickly caught up with Smith but could not make the pass and that is when the final caution came out with just two laps left for a wreck that involved Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch.

That set up a green- whitecheckered flag finish and on the restart, Smith got a great push by Brad Keselowski. Edwards started beside Smith but had to peddle his car when Smith spun his tires so he would not pass him before they got to the start-finish line. It was just enough hesitation for Keselowski to get on Smith’s rear bumper and push him to his first-ever win in the series.

It was the second time this year that a driver had won his first-ever race for a one-car team. Trevor Bayne did the same with the Wood Brothers in the season-opening Daytona 500. The wins put both drivers in the all-star race in Charlotte in a couple of weeks and for Smith who is running for points in the Cup Series, it puts him in a position to get into the Chase by being the wild card driver with the most wins not already in the top-10 in points. It may sound far fetched to say such a thing, but it has just been that kind of year so far.

It has also been the kind of year where drivers have been taking NASCAR at its word when it said, “have at it” last season as far as drivers settling their differences on the track. Last week at Richmond it was Ryan Newman and Juan Pablo Montoya and apparently that still hasn’t been settled as the two got into some type of physical confrontation on Friday when both drivers were summoned to the NASCAR hauler.

That feud is “old” news now as Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick are on the front burner. Harvick tried to get to Busch on pit road after the race only to have his car pushed out of the way by Busch as the Joe Gibbs driver avoided the confrontation. It wasn’t over because the drivers’ haulers were parked side by side in the garage area and the two crews continued with a little pushing and shoving of their own.

Feuds and first-time winners are good for the sport and it could be what gets fans back at the track and the TV sets once again tuned in on race day!

Race Preview Event: FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks Track: Dover International Speedway (1-mile concrete oval, 24 degrees of banking in the turns) Date: May 15, 1 p.m. TV: FOX Radio: MRN Defending Champion: Kyle Busch


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