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Publication: NASCAR News
Darlington wins over even its critics

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          NASCAR NEWS - Thursday, May 15, 2008

In the end, new Darlington wins over even its critics
Race saw just eight cautions; a track record for speed
By David Caraviello, NASCAR.COM

DARLINGTON, S.C - Carl Edwards loved Darlington Raceway. 
Then he hated it. Now he loves it again. 

A runner-up finish on one of the toughest tracks in NASCAR 
will do that. The Roush Fenway Racing driver was slowest 
in practice when the recently-resurfaced racetrack opened 
to the Sprint Cup circuit on Thursday, and qualified a 
distant 36th for Saturday night's Dodge Challenger 300. 
But he warmed to the new surface over the course of the 
main event, where he placed second to Kyle Busch. 

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"We were 43rd on the sheet when we came here first 
practice. I was down in the dumps," Edwards said. "I was 
feeling terrible. I didn't like the new surface, and I 
was frustrated. To come out of here with a second-place 
finish... I mean, Kyle had the fastest car. He was pretty 
unbeatable tonight. To finish second, beat the rest of the 
field, that's pretty good from where we came from. I'm 
very proud of my guys for rebounding on pit road. They 
did a great job. I'm not so frustrated with the surface 
anymore. I was terrible on Thursday." 

Terrible wasn't the word. He sounded almost despondent 
after first practice Thursday, lamenting the fact that 
his favorite track had been irreversibly altered. The 
feeling carried over to Friday, and his sub-par qualifying 
effort. "I felt like wearing black today," he said then. 
"I felt like we were going to have to have a funeral, 
because we killed my favorite racetrack." 

Saturday night, on the heels of his fifth top-five finish 
of the season, his opinion had changed considerably. 

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"Yeah, I like this track," he said. "And the reason I like 
it is because it seems like the driver can make a pretty 
big difference. I was a little nervous about the surface, 
because I felt like they took a little bit of it away. I 
still felt you could make things happen out there. I think 
with some age, it will be just the same. You know, it's 
still my favorite racetrack. I'm really excited about 
getting a little age on the surface, though, because it 
was great before they put the surface on. I hope it gets 

As expected, the new surface extended tire wear to 
unprecedented levels. On a 126-lap green flag run early 
in the race, the field went through only two pit cycles, 
with cars staying out on old tires for 60 laps at a 
stretch without sacrificing much grip. The average speed 
of 140.350 mph was a record, surpassing the 139.958 set 
during Dale Earnhardt's victory in the spring of 1993. 
But track position was still crucial on the narrow, 
1.366-mile layout. 

"Tonight was tough, but it wasn't the toughest Darlington 
I've ever driven, just because you really couldn't get up 
to a guy to pass him," said third-place finisher Jeff 
Gordon. "You know, a lapped car had to let me go in order 
for me to pass him. I don't know, maybe the other guys 
were a little better than that. I was able to keep my car 
[along] the wall all night. That's just what I focused on 
doing all night, just trying not to get in the wall." 

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The crash-fest some predicted didn't happen, as the 
night saw only eight cautions. "It was just like the old 
Darlington," said Jamie McMurray, who finished 11th. "You 
had to drive around the track the same, and you had to 
race guys the same way. You couldn't race people, you had 
to just race the track. So even though it was fast, it was 
still the same old Darlington." 

The old Darlington will come back soon enough, given the 
sandy soil and hot, breezy conditions that so often exist 
in this part of the world. After the track's last repaving 
in 1995, it took only about three years for the abrasive 
quality of the pavement to return. Of course, Darlington 
had two races a year then, and only one now. Edwards has 
an idea that might speed up the process. 

"I was thinking, boy, they should invite people from all 
over South Carolina to come and drive on this racetrack 
all year round, every day they want, to try and get this 
surface wore out a little bit," he said. "I think it would 
be a great promotion and definitely get this thing to 
where it wears out tires. That was the one part missing a 
little bit. Track position seemed to be important, but 
before it seemed like tires were huge. But I was impressed 
with everyone. I thought Thursday this was going to be a 
disaster. And it was for me yesterday. But today went 
pretty well." 

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