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Retro Cars At Southern 500 Only Look Old

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, September 3 2017

The Southern 500 At Darlington on Sunday will feature paint schemes the look backwards. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Garry Eller)

DARLINGTON, S.C. – Retro weekend at Darlington Raceway has become one of NASCAR’s most popular, but that doesn’t mean the racing will resemble the era celebrated by the 30 old-school paint schemes in Sunday’s Bojangles Southern 500.

“I believe it’s new-school racing with old-school paint schemes,” NASCAR Hall of Famer Mark Martin said Friday. “The importance of the throwback weekend … is really showing respect for the legends of this sport. The racing has just moved way past back in that day.

“The double-file restarts are really pretty chaotic and insane, and the cars are so fast. The pavement here is so much better than it was back then. I did some double-file restarts here and it certainly wasn’t my favorite thing to do. I enjoy watching them, but I didn’t enjoy doing them.”

Clint Bowyer, who qualified 16th, said the cars had evolved tremendously since he joined the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2006.

“You used to have to manage tires, your equipment, all these things to manage a race to get the most out of any given weekend, let alone a track as unique as Darlington,” said Bowyer, whose Ford is carrying Martin’s Carolina Ford Dealers paint scheme. “Now, it just seems like with the tires, with the equipment, with everything the way it has evolved it’s almost a qualifying lap, driving as hard as you can every single lap and the car and equipment will take it.”

Kevin Harvick, Bowyer’s teammate at Stewart-Haas Racing, earned the pole in qualifying Saturday with a 177.730-mph, 27.669-second lap in his Ford. Martin Truex Jr., driving a Toyota, earned the other front row starting position with a 177.077-mph, 27.771-second lap on the 1.366-mile, egg-shaped track that opened in 1950.

When Martin began his NASCAR career there was no pit road speed, no double-file restarts, drivers wore open-face helmets and goggles, and the cars were built from templates taken from the respective manufacturer’s designated passenger car. Many of today’s safety features didn’t exist. Restarts were single file with lapped cars on the inside and cars on the lead lap on the outside. There was no free pass and the drivers raced back to the caution.

Jimmie Johnson, who qualified 18th, said when he joined the Cup series in 2002 competing at Darlington was about racing the track. Today, he said, it’s more about track position, strategy and having a fast car.

“You’re focused more on your surrounding competitors than just on the track,” Johnson said. “So it’s much different, although the last race here was kind of like the old days. I think we’re maybe five years out from when it will be like it once was where you solely have to focus on racing the race track.”

Truex said the double-file restarts make racing different at every track, not just Darlington.

“It makes winning a lot harder than it was when it was single-file just because of the unknowns of the double-file restarts,” Truex said. “There’s so many unknowns that come into those and then throughout the race, especially if you’re not on the front row.”  

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, September 3 2017
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