Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Special Day at Darlington; Milestone Race for Track, 3 Drivers

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Special Day at Darlington; Milestone Race for Track, 3 Drivers

Article excerpt

Byline: Don Coble, Times-Union sports writer

DARLINGTON, S.C. -- Bill Elliott stopped counting every time he started a race on the NASCAR Winston Cup series a long time ago.

Dale Jarrett has been doing it so long, he wasn't aware today's Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 (1 p.m., Fox) at the Darlington Raceway will be a significant milestone in his career.

And when Jeff Burton found out today's race will mark an achievement of his own, he immediately started thinking about hanging around the sport long enough to catch Jarrett and Elliott.

While Elliott, Jarrett and Burton all will make landmark starts -- Elliott his 700th career race; Jarrett his 500th; Burton his 300th -- it pales against the staying power of the 1.366-mile, egg-shaped speedway that is marking its own place in the sport's history.

Darlington, the oldest superspeedway in NASCAR, will be playing host to its 100th Winston Cup race.

Unlike the other more modern raceways built with the same cookie-cutter precision, the lack of exactness makes Darlington one of the most-respected venues in racing. The shape isn't symmetrical; the banking at both ends is different. The third and fourth turns are narrower because workers had to avoid a minnow pond during construction in 1949.

The track used to be known as the "Lady in Black." Now it's known as "Too Tough to Tame." Under any name, it's a place drivers love.

"It's a fun race track," Jarrett said. "The challenge is unbelievable. I mean, you can't go out and build tracks like that anymore. Apparently you can't, because nobody does.

"It's as hard an afternoon as you'll have as a driver, but it's very gratifying and rewarding if you can be fortunate enough to stay off the wall and do well. The two ends are so totally different. Trying to get a car set up for both ends is almost impossible, so the driver really has to do his part."

Tire management and the second-turn wall always play pivotal roles at the 63-year-old raceway. The old pavement and tight turns chew up tires at an alarming rate. In fact, drivers will need new tires before they need gasoline.

The outside wall exiting Turn 2 juts about 2 feet into the racing groove. …

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