Martin Truex Jr. won the Southern 500 race last week in Darlington. Other than the Daytona 500, the Southern 500 is the most prestigious race drivers want to win.
Darlington Raceway was built in 1950 by Harold Brasington, a retired racer. He bought 70 acres from a farmer named Sherman Ramsey. The track is unique because of its odd, egg-shaped design. Ramsey would not give up the rights to a minnow pond at one end of the track. This caused turns 1 and 2 to be completely different than turns 3 and 4. This situation makes it very challenging for the crews to set up their cars’ handling in a way that will be effective at both ends.
The raceway is nicknamed “The Lady in Black” and “The Track Too Tough to Tame” by most NASCAR fans and drivers. The Lady in Black was derived because the night before the race the track maintenance crew would cover the entire track with fresh asphalt sealant in the early years of the speedway, thus making the racing surface dark black. Too Tough to Tame was a nickname drivers gave the track because they could drive lap after lap and then scrape the wall at any given time, creating what is called “The Darlington Stripe.”
Brasington made a deal with NASCSAR to run a 500-mile race in Darlington on Labor Day. The first Southern 500 was won by Johnny Mantz.
Mantz in his Plymouth was the race’s slowest qualifier, almost 10 mph slower than the pole winner, Curtis Turner. Mantz used truck tires, which did not wear quickly or blow out, while his competitors had to stop often to pit for new tires. As the rest of the field pitted for tires, Mantz just kept making laps on his truck tires. He would win by nine laps over the second-place finisher, Fireball Roberts, with an average speed of 75.250 mph.
Truex Jr’s win was his second win this year and first at Darlington. Kevin Harvick had the dominant car for the vast majority of Sunday night’s Southern 500, but pit road miscues put him behind in the final laps and he was unable to overcome the handicap. He lost 17 positions because of slow pit stops.
The top five finishers were Truex, Harvick, Larson, Hamlin and Logano. Saturday night’s race in Richmond is the final regular season race. Chris Buescher is still 30th in points, 11 ahead of David Ragan. Chase Elliott, Austin Dillon and Jamie McMurray hold down the three positions of drivers getting in on points. Elliott and Dillon are locked in. McMurray is 16th on the Chase grid, seven points ahead of Ryan Newman. All McMurray needs to do is finish ahead of Newman and then hope there is not a new winner.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. will not race again this year. Jeff Gordon and Alex Bowman will be the substitute drivers. Gordon will drive at Richmond, Dover and Martinsville. Bowman will fill in the other races.