Darlington deserves better on Mom’s Day

May 9, 2006 4:39 AM

Before examining this week’s race at Darlington, a Happy Mother’s Day to my loving mom in Jackson, CA. Love you!

The growth and popularity of NASCAR doomed the tradition of having Mothers Day weekend off. Among other things broken were taking two dates away from the South Carolina track. This eliminated the longest continuous running race in NASCAR, the Southern 500 on Labor Day weekend.

Tradition is one thing, but another disheartening fact on the whole subject is that one more unique track has been nearly put to rest. Darlington’s special 1.36 mile egg shaped oval has given way to California’s cookie cutter facility. At least Darlington hasn’t been eliminated altogether, but a 45 year tradition in sports makes it tough to swallow.

The best thing about the Darlington, aside from the history, is just how tough it is. There’s no easy day for anyone on this track. Once you relax, you get a Darlington stripe, which means hitting the wall coming too hard out of a turn.

Each side of the track is different and the surface is like sandpaper eating away at those Good Year tires till they have absolutely no grip after a few laps. Then, the drivers really have to use every ounce of their skills to get a good finish. This gives the fish tailing cars around the turns a similar look to old school Friday night dirt track specials.

There have been nine different winners in the last ten Darlington races dating back to fall 2000. In two of those races, the winner started 37, the lowest position since the inaugural event in 1950. The last driver to win from the pole was Dale Jarrett in 1997.

Kasey Kahne hasn’t won there yet, but he’s come pretty close. In his three career starts he’s been on the pole twice. In his last two starts he’s come away with a fifth and third. Kahne needs a big bounce back this week after losing three positions in the point standings.

The driver with the most success in the last three years at Darlington has been Jimmie Johnson, the current point leader. Johnson swept the 2004 season when the track had two races. He was third in the 2003 Southern 500 and seventh last year. His four straight top 10 finishes at Darlington is the longest current streak.

Jeff Gordon, Johnson’s teammate, is the current active leader in wins at Darlington with six. Only Gordon has won four straight Southern 500’s. His last win there came in 2002, but he placed third and second in his last two outings. Gordon is the driver to beat this week.

Mark Martin is another strong candidate. He hasn’t won there since ”˜93, but has contended in his last two starts with a seventh last year and second in 2004.

Greg Biffle won the race last season — his first top 10 finish at the track in five career Cup starts. Last week at Richmond may have been a turning point for Biffle and his team when they battled back from major adversity and a lap down to a first top 5 of the season. Last year after Darlington, Biffle had three wins.

Jamie McMurray has had three top 6 finishes in his last four starts, but that was in a decent car. Now he’s in bargain basement heaps that he’s been driving this year for Jack Roush.

Kevin Harvick is absolutely on fire right now. Last week he climbed from seventh to fifth in points and scored his fifth top 10 finish of the season. All five have come in the last six races, which coincides with the ultimatum given to him by car owner Richard Childress. Harvick is signed now and the car is running better than ever. His best finish at Darlington is second in the fall of 2003.

Indy 500 needs a hug

Station Casinos has had the Indianapolis 500 odds up in the sports books, but reporting the least amount of customer interest for the Memorial Day weekend classic.

"We always try and put up the odds a month or two early," said Green Valley Ranch’s Kelly Downey. "This is the first time I have ever seen this little interest both in volume over the counter and just people talking about it in general."

Downey added that over the past two years, Station Casinos has handled more betting action for NASCAR’s competing race to Indy, the Coca Cola 600 in Charlotte.