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Minter: Tough To Tame But Easy To Remember

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, May 4 2011

The Sprint Cup teams head to Darlington Raceway this week for another attempt at taming one of NASCAR's great tracks. (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)

It’s hard to get your mind on racing while the Southeast is trying to recover from killer tornados and the rest of the world is looking for every detail about the death of Osama Bin Laden, but here goes.

One of NASCAR’s better races of the season, a short track run at Richmond International Raceway, sets the stage for another Saturday night race, Darlington Raceway.

After all these years, Darlington really still is the “Track Too Tough To Tame” even if it’s a little less tough since a recent repave.

“That track can just reach out and bite you so easy, and you have to race the track,” said Jeff Gordon, who leads all active drivers with seven Darlington wins and trails only David Pearson and the late Dale Earnhardt on the all-time winner’s list. “It’s a one-groove race track (and) it’s just one of those tracks where you can be riding around by yourself and just make the slightest little bobble and you’re in the wall.”

One of the great things about the Internet and sites like YouTube is that it takes just a few clicks of the computer keypad to relive some of Darlington’s great moments.

Among the memorable moments out there is a clip of the last five laps of the 1980 Southern 500. Asthat race wound down, David Pearson was leading, fighting off challenges from a young Dale

The famous Darlington stripe. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images)

Earnhardt, with Benny Parsons lurking just behind them.

But with two laps to go, the lead trio wrecked, probably from running through oil on the track. Pearson, driving the No. 1 Hawaiian Tropic-sponsored Chevrolet owned by Hoss Ellington, kept his wrecked car under control and continued on but at a greatly reduced pace. Just as he neared the finish line to take the white flag and with it the victory, 23-year-old Terry Labonte dove low on the track, avoiding Pearson’s attempt to block and nosed ahead. With the caution flag out, and no green-white-checkered-flag rules in place, Labonte cruised around Darlington one more time to claim his first victory on the Cup circuit.

Fittingly, the last of Labonte’s 22 Cup wins to date, also came in the Southern 500, in 2003, the last year the race was run on its traditional Labor Day weekend date. In that race, he outran two stars of another era, Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson, to get the win.

Kyle Busch, who turned 26 this week, likely has at least 15 more good years of racing left in him,

Kyle Busch benefitted from teammate's advice. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

which leaves one to wonder just how many races he can win.

Already, he’s got has 21 Sprint Cup victories, 47 in the Nationwide Series and 26 in the Camping World Truck Series for a total of 94 in NASCAR’s elite three series.

His latest Cup victory, at Richmond on Saturday, came at the expense of his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin, who apparently passed on some of his Richmond tricks to his teammate, who put them to good use.

Busch hasn’t proven to be much of a points racer when it comes to the Chase, but it wouldn’t be a shocker if he figures that out too.

However, watching Kyle Busch go for race wins every week might be more fun – and better for NASCAR – than if he begins settling for good points days.

– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, May 4 2011
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