RELATED: Darlington throwback schemes " Fired up for throwback race It's 1.366 miles of character-testing asphalt; a track so demanding it required not one nickname, but two. The Lady in Black. Too Tough to Tame. Welcome to Darlington Raceway , host for six and a half decades of one of the most anticipated, most difficult events on the NASCAR schedule. The Bojangles' Southern 500 returns to what many believe is its rightful place on the Sprint Cup Series schedule, Labor Day weekend, with history in tow. That history will be on display as the track and various teams adhere to a throwback theme, part of a five-year program that launches this weekend. "I remember that 1968 Southern win that was on the old (layout); I wouldn't take anything for that win and then went on to win five Southern 500s," NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Cale Yarborough said recently. "I just have so many fond memories of racing here. Even though I had rather win here than anywhere else -- because it's home, it's the first superspeedway -- I absolutely hated to drive this place. It was just so tough to drive. But I still would rather win here than anywhere." Yarborough, a three-time champion and member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, hails from nearby Timmonsville, South Carolina. He made his first Darlington start in 1957 as a teenager. More than 20 years later, he became the first driver to win five Southern 500 titles. "I was definitely in over my head," Yarborough said of that first start, which came with car owner Bob Weatherly. "But I came back and won five times and that record stood for 30 years. When Jeff Gordon tied my record (in 2002), I told him, 'Jeff, you've got a long way to go son. Because you never won one on that old Darlington race track.' "This is a unique place. There's not another one like it. I think any driver would love to have a win at Darlington on his resume." • • • Fast Fact I: In 1965, Ned Jarrett won the Southern 500 by a whopping 14 laps, the largest margin of victory ever recorded in NASCAR's premier series. • • • The story goes that after purchasing the land for the track, owner Harold Brasington was instructed that he wasn't to disturb a nearby minnow pond when constructing NASCAR's first paved speedway. What resulted was a layout that features two vastly different ends of the facility, giving the track a somewhat egg-shaped appearance. The unique design, along with the application of what was known as "bear grease," resulted in yet another piece of NASCAR terminology -- the Darlington stripe. Cars would often ricochet off the wall as they skirted along the very edge of the outside racing groove. Because of laws that restricted certain types of commerce on Sunday, the Southern 500 was contested on Labor Day, the first Monday of September, annually from 1950 through 1983. "I guess what they had in South Carolina at the time were what they called Blue laws. We couldn't run on Sunday," Dale Inman, winner of seven championships as a crew chief for Richard Petty and eight championships overall, said. "We'd practice three or four days, practice on Saturday and then we didn't do anything on Sunday. Then we'd come back and run Labor Day. "Golly, while we were gone they'd paint the track in bear grease, so when we started the race it was just a different world for awhile." The appeal was obvious. Not only was Darlington the first big paved track in NASCAR's realm, but the purse in the early years was equally impressive as well. "The first time I went there I think was 1951," Inman said. "Lord, in those years they started them three abreast. They didn't use the banking, or very few used it. It was just unheard of at that time." Petty won three times at Darlington, including the 1967 Southern 500. But the race that stands out in Inman's mind came three years later in the spring event. The track, already known as one of the most treacherous on the circuit, lived up to its billing when Petty's blue No. 43 Plymouth came off Turn 4, broke loose and struck the inside pit wall with such force that it destroyed the concrete barrier. Petty's car flipped violently before coming to rest on its roof. "When we got to him, (the car) was ... in the middle of the race track and cars were still going by on both sides," Inman said. "We unhooked the seatbelt, he kind of came down pretty hard on the roof because he was laying upside down. "Until he groaned we didn't think he was still with us. But he did groan so we knew he was OK. The big thing was his shoulder was out of place. It knocked him out." Darlington favored no one. Not even NASCAR's soon to be King. • • • Fast Fact II: In 1976, David Pearson won NASCAR's version of the Triple Crown by capturing the Daytona 500 , the World 600 and Southern 500. • • • "Bear grease" is no longer a part of track preparation, but the Darlington stripe remains very much in evidence. When track officials moved the start/finish line to what had previously been the backstretch in 1997, the difficulty in navigating the cantankerous old circuit remained unchanged. Turn 1 didn't become any easier simply because it was now Turn 3. "You don't go to race tracks ... going, 'Man, I've got to beat this track,' " Hendrick Motorsports driver Dale Earnhardt Jr . said. "The track's not even a factor, not even a part of the conversation. ... But when you go to Darlington, the track is a competitor. The track becomes as big of a challenge as trying to beat the next guy in front of you or outrunning your peers. "Darlington is one of the few ovals that can reach out and grab you if you're not paying attention or being careful. Most of the tracks we go to you won't really run into the wall or spin out unless you have a failure on the car. Here, if you don't watch every corner, every little thing you do ... that challenge of it, how hard it is and the odds are so bad to come here and get a win, you're up against so much more. I think that's what adds to the appreciation for what it means to win here." • • • Fast Fact III: The movie "Days of Thunder" starring Tom Cruise debuts in 1990. Cruise's character, Cole Trickle, scores his first NASCAR win at Darlington Raceway . Naturally. • • • At the close of the 1984 season, then series sponsor RJ Reynolds, through its Winston brand, unveiled what was known as the Winston Million, a program that offered a $1 million bonus to any driver winning three of the series "Big Four" events -- the Daytona 500 , the Winston 500 at Talladega Superspeedway , the Coca-Cola 600 and the Southern 500. Previously, only two drivers had won three of the four races in a single season -- LeeRoy Yarbrough (1969) and Pearson (1976). In the first year of the Winston Million program, Bill Elliott came to Darlington having won two of the first three, at Daytona and Talladega. In the Southern 500, the future Hall of Famer had to nimbly avoid a spin by Dale Earnhardt and a smoking Yarborough entry in the latter stages of the race to seal the victory. It was a career-defining moment for the Dawsonville, Georgia native, earning him the nickname "Million Dollar Bill." It wasn't until 1997 before another driver collected the bonus, again with a victory in the Southern 500. Hendrick Motorsports driver Jeff Gordon held off a tremendous charge by Jeff Burton in the final two laps to pocket the bonus in the final year of the program. • • • Fast Fact IV : Johnny Mantz won only one NASCAR premier series event -- the inaugural Southern 500 held Sept. 4, 1950. The race featured a 75-car starting lineup and took more than six hours to complete. • • • Former crew chief Ray Evernham guided Gordon to four consecutive Southern 500 wins from 1995 through 1998. The most memorable win? "The million dollar win," Evernham said without hesitation. "Because we did not have a car to win that day. "We won that as a team and driver; we kept working on the car. I think we made 16 pit stops that day. "The car was basically destroyed -- front clip bent, rear clip bent, door bars ... we just stayed after it and won that race and we really shouldn't have. But we did." Evernham won 47 races as a crew chief for Gordon, with victories coming at nearly every stop on the schedule, including Daytona, Charlotte and Indianapolis. But Darlington, he said, holds a special place. "I love this place," he said. "It's still my favorite track. It challenged me. I could make a difference as a chassis person -- that's different from being a crew chief. "I loved making the car handle. The springs, the shocks, getting all that stuff right. You could make changes here. This is like a damn dirt track. You have to chase it. You chase it all day long -- 500 miles, five hours sometimes, you chase this race track. "You had to have a tough driver and a great pit crew. Our wins here to me are some of our best wins because we really won those races as a group. Jeff had to be the best, I had to be the best, the crew had to be the best. This place, to run as hard and as long as you do here, everything had to be just right. And when I look back at Darlington, they're some of the most satisfying wins that I had as a crew chief." MORE: Photos, facts about Darlington
The idea was to start slow and build on this year’s initial effort. But based on the reaction from teams, drivers, sponsors and others in the industry, Darlington (S.C.) Raceway officials might want to raise their goals going forward. This week's Bojangles' Southern 500 NASCAR weekend is the kickoff of a five-year plan to celebrate the history and heritage of the legendary race track. As part of the celebration, race teams will feature throwback paint schemes on their cars. RELATED: Darlington's throwback paint schemes Concessions will include items that haven’t been on the menu in decades -- fried green tomatoes, sausage perlo and pimento cheese sandwiches. The annual Southern 500 parade, idled since the early '90s, returns. Even ticket prices (for renewal customers) were given the throwback treatment -- $18 seats in the Colvin Grandstands, which is located on the original frontstretch of the 1.336-mile track. But it's the paint schemes that have everyone buzzing. More than 30 of the 43 entries lining up are expected to carry the special one-race look. That's quite a few more than officials originally anticipated. "Our goal," Darlington Raceway President Chip Wile told NASCAR.com, "was eight to 10. "This is a five-year platform; this isn't a one-year deal. We felt like if we could get eight or 10 teams on board to really showcase what we're trying to accomplish, we felt like in 2016 we could get more, in 2017 we would get more and so on. But the response that we've gotten from everyone in the industry has been incredible. "Everybody can rally around this idea, everyone from licensing to NASCAR to the team itself to the Hall of Fame. Everybody has a piece and a role in this weekend and they're all excited." Darlington was the first paved speedway greater than 1 mile in length to feature NASCAR events, hosting its first race in 1950. The Southern 500 quickly became one of the " crown jewel" races of the circuit, and it was run on Labor Day, or the weekend preceding the official holiday, from '50 through 2003. This year, the event returns to its long-held spot on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule. Shortly after taking over the reins of the track, Wile said he met with, International Speedway Corp. vice president and chief marketing officer, Daryl Wolfe to begin developing a plan to generate interest in the event, the only Sprint Cup Series race currently hosted by the track. "We started talking about, 'OK, how do we differentiate Darlington from the rest of the stops on the schedule?'" Wile said. "Obviously what we have here is the history and heritage of Darlington. We started brainstorming ideas. We got a focus group together that consisted of people in the industry -- teams, NASCAR, ISC -- and really vetted through the concept. Everybody agreed that it was a great idea, that it was something that the sport needed, so we went to work." The era the track is celebrating this year runs from 1970 through '74, Wile said, but "for the teams we just wanted them to celebrate something in the past. It could be from five years ago or it could be something from 50 years ago. "We felt like in order to be authentic to what we're trying to accomplish, we had to be able to reference data or artwork from a specific era," he said. "After talking to our focus group, we felt like the 1950s and '60s the sport was just getting its legs and there wasn't as much data to reference. So the start of the modern era of NASCAR started in 1970 so we felt like the first year we will celebrate 70-74." The pre-race concert will feature Grand Funk Railroad, which earned its first No. 1 single on the Billboard chart in '73. Country music's Tanya Tucker will sing the national anthem. "Two very iconic early '70s artists that are going to be a part of our weekend and really tie it all together," Wile said. "I really believe what's happening here is something that could begin a new tradition," Hendrick Motorsports driver Dale Earnhardt Jr . said. "The race itself and the track is all about tradition and history and we lean on its history and tradition to promote the event. This is possibly a new chapter for it to promote and market that tradition and history. And an opportunity for the drivers, teams and owners, everybody as a group to tip your cap to some of the things that each of you like about the past -- maybe a driver or paint scheme or something like that. "I think it's really cool. It's something that you would imagine sitting around with your buddies going 'You know what would be awesome?' But you’d never think … 'Well, that'll never happen but it would be really cool if it did.' "Well it's happening and it's a pretty cool thing that it's being embraced by so many people."
Winningnest owner at IMS yet to have driver win Brickyard 400 SPEEDWAY, Ind. -- There are very few racing achievements still left on Roger Penske's to-do list. But Sunday's Jeff Kyle 400 at the Brickyard represents a rare opportunity for Penske to accomplish one of the greatest feats in auto racing. A victory by one of his drivers Brad Keselowski or Joey Logano would give the legendary team owner the motorsports "triple crown " -- also counting wins in the Daytona 500 (Logano) and Indianapolis 500 ( Juan Pablo Montoya ) earlier this year. Of course a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway would be special, triple crown or not. Penske is the winningest Indianapolis Motor Speedway team owner (16 Indy 500 victories) in history but has amazingly been 0-fer at the track when it comes to NASCAR's Brickyard 400. Three times Penske was a runner-up with Hall of Fame driver Rusty Wallace (1995, 2000 and 2002), but the closest he's been lately is Logano's fifth place last season. "Anytime we hear Indy coming up we start getting the calls from Roger," Logano said Friday between practice sessions at Indy. "We really want to win this race. This is the one on his bucket list that he hasn’t gotten yet and we talk about it a lot. It would be very special to give him a Brickyard 400, along with the Indy 500 he won earlier this year up here and the Daytona 500 we won earlier, too. So this could be quite the trifecta if we could make it happen." Keselowski actually delivered Penske his first NASCAR win on the famed Indy 2.5-miler -- a 1-2 finish with then teammate Sam Hornish Jr . -- in the inaugural XFINITY Series race in 2012. Ironically, Penske was travelling and unable to attend the event -- something Keselowski vowed to tease him about at the time. The significance of Keselowski's day was not lost on him. "The Brickyard means so much to all of us as race car drivers and to the sport in general, and it transcends three different forms of auto racing, whether it's IndyCar in the United States, F1 and their history here, and then obviously with stock cars and their initial time here to the current date, from '94 on, it transcends into a special victory or a special place to race I should probably say," Keselowski said during his winner's press conference. Racing's "triple crown " has only been achieved one time -- in 2010 by Chip Ganassi, Penske's longtime and well-respected rival in both NASCAR and IndyCar series. And it's obviously very seldom even a possibility with the difficulty of winning both the Daytona and Indy 500-mile races. Keselowski's No. 2 Miller Lite Ford was second fastest in Friday's second practice -- the most promising of the two cars. Logano's No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford finished 14th in the final practice, preparing for Saturday's pole qualifying. Both drivers were optimistic about their chances on Sunday. Motivation won't be a problem. "I don't think you need any more incentive besides giving Roger Penske another win at Indy," Logano said. "You want to add your name to the list of guys that have won here for him. Every time I walk into the shop the first thing you see is all these Indy 500 trophies and the helmets that they wore when they won that race and the picture. "We all want to come up here and give our best effort and try to execute the race the best we know how to and build the fastest cars we know how to before we get there, but we do that every week. We do that for every single race track, but there's just a little bit added for this one. It's like going down to Daytona. You really wan to win the Daytona 500 because it's one of the biggest races of the year. This is the same story, but it's even a little bit more special I think for Team Penske than it is for everyone else." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
ELKHART LAKE, Wis. -- News of Richard Childress Racing 's crew chief switcheroo for its Nos. 3 and 33 Chevrolet teams in the NASCAR XFINITY Series might've seemed like a rash measure back in June. With Ty Dillon sitting second in the driver standings, the swap resembled an overhaul more than a tweak. Eight races later, the early returns are promising for both RCR outfits, with momentum aligning for Dillon's championship push heading into Saturday's Road America 180 Fired up by Johnsonville (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Dillon remains second in the standings with a 19-point deficit heading into the 23rd of 33 races this season, but he also has a streak of four straight top-five finishes built up for the final road course event of 2015. The Richard Childress-owned team announced its move June 24, moving Nick Harrison over to call the shots for Dillon's No. 3 operation. Danny Stockman shifted over to RCR's No. 33, a full-time team but with three part-time drivers -- Austin Dillon , Brandon Jones and Paul Menard -- sharing the seat. The younger Dillon said the change has gone smoothly so far, but that the more encouraging byproduct has been the team's ability to compete for top-five finishes rather than settle for top-10s. "It's going really good. We're all figuring it out and we've made sure we've had our communication down the last couple weeks," Ty Dillon said. "Every week, we've gotten stronger and stronger and had really good race cars. It makes it easier to finish top-five when you have such good race cars. Nick's been calling good races and we just have a lot of momentum right now, heading in the right direction. We keep finishing in the top five like we are, we're going to get some wins and really put the heat on them." The move paid some immediate dividends for Austin Dillon , who prevailed at Daytona International Speedway in the team's first event since the personnel change. The Dillon-Stockman pairing reunited the driver-crew chief combination that netted the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship in 2011, then the XFINITY crown two years later. Menard will participate in his fourth race under Stockman's watch this weekend, making his first XFINITY start in his home state of Wisconsin since 2010. The Sprint Cup Series regular said he understood the reasons for altering the team dynamic. "It was more for Ty, honestly," Menard said. "They called me to see if I was OK with making the switch and I said whatever is better for the company is fine with me. I know we'll run good with both those guys." Ty Dillon has methodically made up ground -- or at least held serve -- in the weeks following the change. After crashing out at Daytona and slipping to 43 points in arrears, he's chopped the deficit in half and then some, helping him apply pressure to Roush Fenway Racing 's Chris Buescher , the points leader since May. It's resulted in additional spring in the step for Dillon, noticeably so according to Harrison. "We've had a string of top-fives here, so we've got some kind of mojo rolling and we've been having fun doing it," Harrison said. "The pressure and intensity level's getting higher as we creep down toward the end of the year. Having some momentum is definitely showing to be a strength, and you can tell it's helping everybody's spirit going into the closing part of the year. "We've had two top-fives at Mid-Ohio and Watkins Glen, so coming here, I think confidence is up for not only us but especially Ty. I feel like that's real important. You can just tell his attitude and charisma is where it needs to be right now and I feel like that's going to help tremendously." The poise may come in handy this weekend on the blazing fast 4.048-mile circuit, where off-course pitfalls and the prospect of fender-bending conflicts await. Dillon has managed to steer clear of the former if not quite the latter in this month's other two road-course events, gathering top-five finishes at both. The potential for trouble -- mixed in with the uncertainty of possible racing in the rain -- hasn't done much to deter Dillon's outlook as the final third of the season begins. "We're going for it. This is definitely an opportunity," Dillon said. "We're not sitting back and trying to let things happen for us. We're going for it. You never know what can happen with rain and the way a road course races anyway, so we've got to be on the attack and try to win this race."
RELATED: Patrick inks new deal with sponsor, SHR " Busch extension coming 'soon' KANNAPOLIS, N.C. -- A planned fifth operation on Tony Stewart 's surgically repaired right leg may not happen after all, the three-time NASCAR champion said Tuesday. Stewart, who severely fractured his lower right leg in a sprint car accident in August 2013, has already had four surgeries, the most recent coming last December. A proposed fifth operation in the offseason would allow doctors to remove his stabilizing titanium rod hardware, but Stewart said he'll find out the status of the surgery in a couple of months. "We actually don't know yet. There's potential that we may not have to have the operation, after all," Stewart said Tuesday at the announcement of Danica Patrick 's new contract and sponsorship deal at Stewart-Haas Racing . "The rod that's in there might stay in there, so at the end of October we're having a meeting with the doctor and we're going to make that decision. Either way, it's either one-and-done or we're done." Stewart broke both his tibia and fibula in a crash at Southern Iowa Speedway, forcing him to miss the final 15 races of the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup season. He had three surgeries that year, followed by a fourth just ahead of 2014 Champion's Week, when his teammate Kevin Harvick was feted for his first Sprint Cup crown . Stewart said Tuesday that his leg felt "good," and that the signing of Nature's Bakery to sponsor Patrick's No. 10 Chevrolet was a bonus step in a positive, health-conscious direction. Still, Stewart said he's not feeling quite fit enough to emulate Patrick's yoga moves, which tout her flexibility on social media. "I doubt it," Stewart grinned. "Danica and I joked around, I said every time she does one of these poses and posts it on the internet, I'm going to do the same thing. But I said we've got to make sure there's a deal where you don't do but about two or three a week because I'm going to have to have a recovery period for when I break myself."
Should there be a road course race among the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup 's 10-race playoff portion of the schedule? I have been a proponent of this since the Chase was first instituted, written several columns and debated on radio and television over many years explaining the benefit of featuring a road course -- I believe the purest test of a driver's ability -- in the Chase. And now ... it seems others don't think the idea is far-fetched. An enthusiastic, and importantly, very large crowd -- sold out reserved seating -- witnessed a great show at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International over the weekend. And as typically follows a good road course show, the question of adding one to the Chase demands extra attention and at least serious consideration. The Century Survey of 100 NASCAR industry insiders, half from the media and half from the garage (including crew members, drivers, crew chiefs, track officials and public relation representatives) was released this week after taking a poll over the past weekend on whether a road course should be added to the Chase, and if so, which one. The most popular idea was to move the Watkins Glen race into the Chase. Adding Austin's Circuit of the Americas or shifting the June Sonoma, California, race into the Chase were the next two biggest vote getters. Interesting, the biggest disparity among the voters was an 8-1 vote with people in the garage (8) against even adding a road course at all. Only one media representative didn't want to see a road course in the Chase. Ten different tracks received votes as good venues to have in the Chase. In addition to the Glen, Sonoma and COTA, Road America (Wis.), Laguna Seca (Calif.) and Road Atlanta received the next most votes in that order. And NASCAR executives have indicated they are at least listening to the voice of the fans, media and industry insiders, even if they aren't quite ready to make a big change to the Chase yet. For many years, the drivers and teams were the tough sell. But the trophy isn't a foregone conclusion anymore going to a racer like the retiring Jeff Gordon or Tony Stewart or a couple road course ringers. RELATED: Let's debate adding a road course to the Chase In the 1980s and 1990s, road course races were tolerated by a large portion of the starting grid, considered a couple complicated weekends to just check off and collect as many points as possible -- two and through. It was common for drivers to show up with their helmet at a Bob Bondurant School for a quick refresher course in the days leading up to the Sonoma race and maybe hit a Skip Barber Racing School on the East Coast just before Watkins Glen. But today's NASCAR drivers embrace the skill set it takes to do well on road courses and have even come to like them and the unique challenge. There was a time for the argument that a road course race in the Chase essentially worked to the benefit of an elite group making it an unfair situation during the most important 10-week run of the season to crown a sport's champion. But that's not the case today and it's time for the Chase to turn right. "To me, always when I think of drivers that were really good, they did well on the road courses," said NASCAR's all-time road race winner Jeff Gordon . "But then you had this big drop off where drivers and teams just didn't really go after them and really struggled on them. To me, about the late 90s is when I saw everyone really putting a lot more focus and attention on them. And it started bringing the whole level of competition up higher. "By early 2000, 2001 it seemed like most of the field was good on a road course." The statistics back up Gordon. Until Kyle Busch 's win at Sonoma earlier this summer 10 of the last 11 races have been won by different drivers ranging from Clint Bowyer to Kasey Kahne , to Jimmie Johnson and Martin Truex Jr . At Watkins Glen, there have been only three repeat winners ( Tony Stewart , Kyle Busch and Marcos Ambrose ) in the last decade. On a FOX Sports 1 broadcast called "Fans Speak Out" this June, a poll revealed that adding a road course to the Chase was the No. 1 topic among those NASCAR fans. NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O'Donnell acknowledged the increasing calls for a Chase shake-up. "As you can tell, the fans voting it number one, there's certainly a lot of passion around it," O'Donnell said at the time. "It is a topic we look at each and every year. Although I don't see something in the immediate future when you look at '16, it is something that we're aware of from a fan standpoint, to look at and see if we can introduce that in the future." This week O'Donnell addressed the subject again. "We never say never to that question, but we really like where Watkins Glen fits on the schedule, the build-up, where it stands in the schedule, and drivers really going after wins," O'Donnell said Tuesday. "Some of the drivers feeling like that's their one shot to propel them into the Chase so that's a really neat storyline. It is something we'd look at down the road and would have to figure out weather considerations and that sort of thing. "But for the time being, we're really happy with where both our road courses stand in terms of how they play out throughout the regular-season schedule."
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Ryan Newman wins the 20th running of the Crown Royal 400 at the Brickyard at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Listen to what all the top finsihers in the Crown Royal 400 at the Brickyard ahd to say about the 20th running of the Brickayrd 400.
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