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Cup Notes: Southern Is A Biggie

Jeff Hood | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, May 7 2010

Richard Petty takes a seat on a stack of tires at Darlington Raceway. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

Darlington, S.C. – It may not boast the largest purse of the season, but few race tracks can match the history and prestige associated with Darlington Raceway.

The 1.366-mile facility will play host to the 61st running of the Showtime Southern 500 Saturday night.

For two-time Darlington winner Jeff Burton, there’s something unique about pulling into victory lane at the egg-shaped oval.

“I hate to say it’s the biggest race of the year because I don’t mean any disrespect to Daytona, but this is right up there,” Burton said. “The Southern 500 has a special meaning to me.

“The history of our sport is right here. The thought that somebody would build this race track, the shape they built it, the size they built it and the time they built it is pretty phenomenal.

“To me, it’s the most historic weekend of the year. And that makes it special.”

Getting a grip: Based on practice speeds, there’s still plenty of grip remaining in Darlington Raceway’s track surface which was repaved prior to the Southern 500 in May 2008.

But four-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson says you’ve still got to be at the top of your game to win on one of the nation’s most difficult speedways.

“The game has changed a little bit with the track resurface,” he said. “A lot more falls into the hands of the setup. And as the track ages, setup is going to be very important as it was in the old days.

“As a driver you had to pick what you want. If you wanted to go fast and be a hero and lead 10 laps, you could do that and wear your tires out. But to survive at this track, it’s always been a driver’s track.

“I look forward to the track losing some grip and migrating back in that direction. You have to be extremely disciplined here. And I’m hopeful that the track goes down that way with the year going by.”

Winning memories: Defending champion Mark Martin’s other victory at Darlington came in 1993.

The 51-year-old driver says last season’s win was memorable, but he’s also fond of the victory he scored here nearly two decades ago.

“I’m such an old school driver that I can hardly remember winning in ’93,” Martin said. “I would have to say that the win last year was really special. 1993 was a different time. I don’t sink back into those times very much.

“But when I think about the people I was racing with, it is very heartwarming to think about the greats that I was racing with then and that I managed to get a win back then as well.”

All-Star gazing: Burton needs a win at Darlington Saturday evening or at Dover, Del. next weekend to secure a spot in this month’s Sprint All-Star race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

But the veteran driver said he has no plans to campaign for the fan vote that could lock him into the All-Star gala’s main event that pays a million dollars to win.

“I’m embarrassed that we’re not in the race,” Burton said. “I’m not going to go politicking to get in. We have two races to go win. And if we don’t get in, we have a third race (the All-Star race preliminary event) to win to get in it.

“I’m not on Facebook. I’m not on whatever they all are. I don’t even know what the hell they are. It doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t mean a lot to me if the fans voted me in. But I’m not asking for the vote.

“There might be some tweeting going on, but it isn’t coming from me.”

– Jeff Hood can be reached at jhood@racintoday.com

Jeff Hood | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, May 7 2010
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