One of the great American traditions is upon us again this Sunday night at Darlington Raceway. Since 1950, when it’s been Labor Day weekend there’s been NASCAR running the Southern 500 at Darlington’s egg-shaped, high banked 1.366-mile layout.
This track oozes NASCAR which is why fans have been coming to the middle of nowhere in South Carolina for so long. It’s tradition, and while NASCAR was resisting against its historical importance for a brief period from 2005 to 2014 in favor of more traditional modern tracks, they saw the errors of their ways and brought the Labor Day weekend race back in 2015.
Rather than argue with angry fans about moving the Labor Day tradition, NASCAR embraced it and took things up full throttle asking teams to dress their race cars up in old school paint schemes. Last season Kyle Larson turned his No. 42 into a Mellow-Yellow Chevrolet, similar to what Kyle Petty drove in the 1980’s or Cole Trickle took to a Darlington win in the movie ‘Days of Thunder’. Just about every car entered this weekend will have something that will remind us of decades past. I love that!
So let’s talk about who is going to win. First of all, this thing is wide open. The track too tough to tame with four differing corners doesn’t play favorites with anyone. She dishes out wrath and Darlington stripes to everyone alike. They call Darlington ‘The Lady in Black’ and she’s looking at a moment in its history where so few drivers have conquered her. When Jeff Gordon retired with his seven Darlington wins, that left Jimmie Johnson as the active leader with three wins. Seven other drivers have one each. That’s it. She’s intimidating.
Denny Hamlin has been the best among all active drivers with a 6.2 average finish in 11 career starts, which includes a 2010 win. He’s been runner-up three times and has finished third and fourth, respectively, the past two seasons. After struggling to find speed for the first two-thirds of the season, the Joe Gibbs Racing squad is flexing their muscles in the past six races.
Hamlin captured the team’s first win of 2017 at New Hampshire, the 19th race of the season. Then Kyle Busch won his first of the year two weekends later at Pocono and won again at Bristol before the series took last week off. That’s three wins in six races and only two races remain until the playoffs start at Chicagoland.
I’d say they have themselves positioned nicely as a team to win a championship. Look to them this week as well.