Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Too Tough or Lame?

Has the Lady in Black’s claws been clipped?

Darlington Raceway’s sandpaper-like surface has been repaved in the offseason with a smoother pavement that has the speeds climbing. But will the $10 million-project make the racing better? Drivers that tested at the track in March raved about the surface and lack of bumps in the corners. They hit 200 mph down the backstretch and could qualify at record speeds.

The banking and unique egg-shaped oval stayed the same. But will the new surface chew up tires at the same frantic pace as before? That made the pit strategy at Darlington so much more important and intriguing than at other tracks. The tires would be useless after just a few laps and the drivers would be hollering on the radio to come in as soon as possible. That made things really interesting in the closing laps.

The racing has been fantastic since they last repaved the track in 1995. Remember Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton dueling for the Winston Million on Labor Day 1997? Or how about Ricky Craven and Kurt Busch banging off each other to the checkered flag on St. Patrick’s Day 2003?

In the age of cookie-cutter 1.5-mile ovals that dominate the NASCAR schedule, hopefully Darlington’s character will remain a classic and still be Too Tough to Tame.

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