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Keep the Saturday nights coming




 

 

The Sprint Cup Series is in one of its best stretches right now if you are a fan of good ol’ Saturday night shootouts. Richmond’s version of a Saturday night short track shootout kicked off three consecutive weekends of racing, which will take the series to three very different racetracks.

Richmond definitely got the stretch started off right with some of the best racing of the season as it offered us a little of everything. You had a “big one” that is usually reserved for the tracks of Talladega and Daytona plus Denny Hamlin’s dominating performance that – thanks to a late race flat tire – left him nothing more than a spectator as the final laps went off the board. But it wasn’t a bad place to be a spectator as Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Busch put on quite a show for the crowd.

When Hamlin’s troubles allowed Dale Jr. to eventually take the lead, it was one of the few times I can remember that the roar of the crowd was actually louder than the sound of the engines. It has been two long years since Jr. has visited a Cup victory lane and his “Junior Nation” was hungry to see their favorite son once again crawl out from behind the wheel a winner.

It looked like Junior and his legion of fans were going to get their wish, but when you are racing Kyle “Rowdy” Busch for the win, you have to remember that it’s not a win until the checkered flag waves. Neither driver got to take the checkers as they got into each other, ending any hope of winning. The spin didn’t sit well with the Junior Nation as the roar once again filled the TV broadcast, only this time it was included with a one fisted salute that suggested Busch was number one with them!

All of that is just Saturday night short track racing and this weekend the schedule takes the series to Darlington for another Saturday night showdown at a track that more than lives up to its slogan of being the track that is “Too Tough To Tame.” Darlington only hosts one race each season and this year’s edition from the South Carolina track will be all the tougher because the track has just been repaved.

Darlington’s odd egg-shaped oval with a different radius and different amount of banking at each end along with its numerous bumps and dips has always been a nightmare for crew chiefs and drivers when trying to set up their cars. While it was tough setting up the car, it was all of this plus the old worn-out racing surface that made the racing some of the best on the entire schedule.

Darlington officials knew they had a one-of-a-kind racing surface that no other track on the schedule could come close to duplicating and when the plans were drawn up for the repaving, care was given to not take any of the “character” out of the track. The only thing that was changed in the repaving was the removal of the bumps and dips.

The result is a super smooth “old” Darlington that will produce speeds around 200 miles per hour on the backstretch. Those speeds will make for some great racing and will put a premium on brake wear as the turns are still as tight as ever. The combination of tight turns and high speeds may see the awarding of more “Darlington stripes” than in recent years. This is one track that may think it is a superspeedway, but you can’t help but get the feeling that it’s going to be another one of those ol’ Saturday night bullfights with the wreckers getting plenty of track time before it is all over.

If Richmond and Darlington on back-to-back weekends doesn’t scratch your itch for Saturday night racing, all you have to do is look at the next stop on the schedule. The series will be setting up camp as usual for the last two weekends of May at Lowe’s Motor Speedway with the first weekend’s taking place on Saturday night with the annual running of the sport’s all-star event, the NASCAR Sprint All- Star Challenge.

Racing at Lowe’s caps off maybe the best three-race stretch on the schedule and that they all take place on Saturday nights in a way returns the sport to its roots.

Race Preview – Event: Dodge Challenger 500. Track: Darlington Raceway (1.366-mile oval, 1 & 2 banked 25 degrees, 3 & 4 banked 23 degrees). Date: May 10, 7:20 p.m. TV: Fox. Radio: MRN. Defending champion: Jeff Gordon.

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