How NASCAR Drivers Facing Unique Challenge at Darlington This Weekend

by Matthew Memrick

NASCAR drivers heading into this weekend’s playoff-opening race at Darlington know one thing: new pavement brings uncertainty.

The 71-year-old South Carolina track, known for its affinity for putting a black stripe on cars and grinding up tires, got some much-need new pavement in Turn 2.

It could be anyone’s game with a chance for a playoff competitor to take a crucial lead over playoff-favorite Kyle Larson.

Darlington Officials Knew a Fix Was Coming

Fox Sports reported that track officials were tired of patch jobs from weather and bumps near the wall. Recent complete repaving jobs at Darlington were in 1995 and 2008. 

So, they got some long-term milling done (four inches worth) and paved a 600-feet long area. The patch job is 32-feet wide.

Drivers know that there’s a potential for more speed with any new pavement and a host of factors that must now play into a driver’s strategy.

Recent Darlington champ Martin Truex Jr. said he thought the repaved section might not be a big deal, but it will make everyone equally cautious in the turn. 

“Turn 2 was a big challenge before with the bumps and the lack of grip,” Truex said. “It will take that whole turn out of the equation. Everybody will just be flat through there.”

In the past, two-time Cup champ Kyle Busch said a racer could utilize the flat part of the track to make a move or make a pass. 

Now, that advantage is gone with no Darlington apron.

“The grip of that fresh asphalt is going to be so much faster that you’re going to have to be in it,” Busch said. “It’s going to be more challenging, more difficult to pass.”

Darlington Double-duty Drivers Get First Taste

With the Xfinity race running Saturday, some Cup drivers will get a little ahead of their Sunday counterparts.

Denny Hamlin and Tyler Reddick will get to test out the track early. Yeah, it’ll be in a different circuit circumstance with less powerful cars, but it could be helpful. They will get to test the downforce factors and figure out how to adjust their cars before Sunday’s pre-race inspection.

Veteran Hamlin knows the pavement experience is a good thing. He finished fifth after starting seventh in the May Darlington race. He also led five laps.

“For me to have the reps on that track with a car with a similar downforce level is going to be good practice,” Hamlin said.

On the other hand, Reddick will have to use the Saturday’s Darlington race. He’ll also use his memory of wrecking a Next Generation car in that same turn from earlier in May. 

While Reddick started tenth and finished 12th, he also led two laps. 

He said he’ll miss the track’s character with the bumps and patches. The racer said the new trackwork would change racing and make it harder for race leaders to keep their edge.

Teams will have to figure out how to account for the faster speeds coming into Darlington’s Turn 3 with lots of grip on tires now.