Nothing can really prepare an unsuspecting driver for the “Darlington stripe.”
Kurt Busch certainly didn’t know what he was in for when he drove in the spring race at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway in 2001, his first full season on NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series.
“My first race and first stripe,” said Busch, who finished 30th in that race. “That place chewed me up and spit me out. I think I wrecked 20 times, kept bouncing off walls. I wore out the tires but kept going. It really was an eye opener on how tough NASCAR was going to be.”
What’s a Darlington stripe?
It’s unique to Darlington and its 1.37-mile, egg-shaped track, where the Southern 500 is scheduled for Sunday. Let’s allow Busch to explain.
“The Darlington stripe is when you run up right by the wall and you are trying to get the best speed you can out of the car,” he said. “Just that quick, the wall just sucks you right on it and you’ve got the right side of your car pancaked.”
Darlington Raceway is also known by fans and drivers as “The Lady in Black” and “The Track Too Tough to Tame.”
Darlington can be similarly rough on drivers who come to NASCAR from other forms of racing, such as open-wheel IndyCar, where brushing the wall isn’t an option.
“I would say that, because my background is in IndyCar … I’m not used to driving by a wall,” said Danica Patrick, who hasn’t finished higher than 22nd place in three previous starts at Darlington. “I didn’t grow up racing on dirt and running up on the cushion. The high line is something to me that I have to have a lot of confidence in the car to be able to go there with the kind of speed that needs to be taken.
“I’ve definitely earned the Darlington stripe and sometimes there’s just not much you can do about it. I’ve even gotten it going down the straightaway where the right-rear [tire] catches the wall and pulls the front in. It’s earned through pushing those boundaries of how high you can take the car and how much speed you can take doing it.”
Kyle Busch, who has four victories this season, won at Darlington in 2008.
“A Darlington stripe is pretty easy to receive,” he said. “Running at Darlington is so tough, and we are carrying so much speed there nowadays that you have to run right up there against the wall in order to get your car pointed correctly for the next corner. At any moment you might slip a little bit and tag that wall. It can be very easy to do.”
Kurt Busch said teams prepare for hitting the Darlington wall by reinforcing the car’s right side.
“It’s extra weight, but it helps protect you from running into the wall too hard,” said Busch, who has three poles but has never won at Darlington. “It helps where you can keep your day going and not actually ruin your day when you run into the wall. You think, hitting the wall, usually your day is done.
“At Darlington, that is a tattoo. It’s a stamp that says now you are racing.”
On the grid
6 p.m. Sunday, Darlington, S.C.
Track: Darlington Raceway, a 1.366-mile, egg-shaped paved track
Distance: 367 laps/501.3 miles
TV: Race, Sunday, KXAS/5. (Today: NBCSN, practice, 10 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.; Saturday: NBCSN, qualifying, 2:30 p.m. )
Last year’s winner: Kevin Harvick
VFW Help A Hero 200, Xfinity Series, Darlington Raceway, Saturday, 2:30 p.m., KXAS/5
U.S. Nationals, Indianapolis, Lucas Oil Raceway, (TV: Sunday, qualifying, 10 a.m., ESPN. Monday, eliminations, 10 a.m., ESPN2)
Italian Grand Prix, Formula 1, Monza, 6:30 a.m. Sunday, NBCSN
Worth mentioning: Low-drag aerodynamic package will be tested at Darlington, similar to the one used at Kentucky in July.
Who’s hot/who’s not
Paul Menard: Won Xfinity race on Road America’s road course, near his hometown of Eau Claire, Wis.
Erik Jones: Winner at Ontario vaults to the top of the Truck series points standings.
Throwbacks: Several cars will have old-school paint schemes from 1970s and ’80s at Darlington to celebrate the Southern 500’s return to Labor Day weekend.
Kyle Larson: 41st-place finish at Bristol (Tenn.) put bigger dent into already-slim hopes for making Chase.
Blake Koch: Was in line for first Xfinity victory when car’s battery became disconnected late in the race. Finished 21st.
Alex Tagliani: Could have pushed Jones out of the way for potential Truck win (like Regan Smith did to Tagliani recently), but didn’t.