Mother’s Day weekend is all about honoring your mother, thanking her for her love and affection, and treating her like the lady she is. But in NASCAR, there is no lady more elusive or difficult to charm than the one they call “The Lady in Black,” the one and only Darlington Raceway in Darlington, S.C.
As NASCAR’s original speedway, Darlington has stood as one of stock car racing’s defining racetracks since 1950, and its egg-shaped, slightly misshapen 1.36-mile configuration has long intimidated both driver and crew. To run fast at Darlington is to run right up against the wall, where stepping over the edge of control by just a small step means brushing the wall and earning a Darlington Stripe.
To win Darlington is to have truly accomplished something. And this weekend, the stars of the NASCAR Cup Series will look to add their name to Darlington’s long and storied history in the Goodyear 400, Darlington’s first race of the season and one that honors the history and tradition of NASCAR racing.
How to watch the NASCAR Cup Series at Darlington
Date: Sunday, May 8
Location: Darlington Raceway — Darlington, S.C.
Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
Stream: fuboTV (try free)
What to Watch
Throwback Weekend: This weekend marks NASCAR’s annual Throwback Weekend, which has been held every year in Darlington since 2015. One of the most anticipated race weekends of the year, Throwback Weekend presents the perfect opportunity for the entire garage area to honor their favorite parts of racing history — and there is no better way of doing that than through throwback paint schemes.
Most of the field will be running throwback paint schemes this weekend, bringing together old colors and classic looks from throughout the history of NASCAR. Daytona 500-winning cars are represented, from Lee Petty’s 1959 Oldsmobile to Denny Hamlin’s 2016 Camry. So too are cars driven by NASCAR greats like Jeff Gordon, Bill Elliott, Rusty Wallace and Matt Kenseth. Then there’s the looks adorned by old favorites like Jimmy Means, Jason Leffler, Clint Bowyer and more.
For the full lineup of throwback paint schemes, click here.
Hendrick Motorsports: A wide array of drivers being honored this week, from Tim Richmond to Mark Martin, all won at Darlington while driving for Hendrick Motorsports. The company is the winningest race team in the history of Darlington with 14 victories, and they currently stand as the winningest organization this season with five wins after Chase Elliott’s first victory of 2022 at Dover. However, it’s been quite awhile since any of Rick Hendrick’s car have visited Victory Lane in Darlington.
Since Jimmie Johnson won Darlington in 2012 — the 200th win in team history — Hendrick Motorsports has been on a winless streak at Darlington that has now reached Year 10. In its stead, Darlington has come to be dominated by Joe Gibbs Racing, whose cars and drivers have won Darlington seven times since. Denny Hamlin has won three races apiece, and he’s complemented by fellow Gibbs drivers like Matt Kenseth (2013), Carl Edwards (2015), Erik Jones (2019) and Martin Truex Jr. (2021).
None of Hendrick’s current drivers have won a race at Darlington, but it’s hardly been from a lack of effort. Chase Elliott may have had the fastest car in a 500-kilometer race in May 2020 before getting taken out on the front-stretch, while Kyle Larson finished as a runner-up in both races last year — including the Southern 500, when he put it on the boards in Turns 3 and 4 in a thrilling last-ditch effort to pass Hamlin for the win.
Next Gen car: As is always the case when NASCAR comes to Darlington, managing tires and equipment is going to be essential to determining who runs at the front and who doesn’t. Darlington is famously hard on tires, as its abrasive surface combined with its odd geometry makes for a premium on grip and handling. That’s been true throughout all generations of NASCAR Cup car, and it’s sure to be the same for the Next Gen car’s first race at Darlington.
What will be interesting to see is exactly what happens after the right side of the Next Gen car becomes acquainted with Darlington’s famous outside wall. Time and again this season, the composite bodies of the Next Gen car have shown that they can withstand heavy wall contact without affecting aerodynamic performance or causing a tire rub. But the tradeoff has been that the suspension bears more of the brunt of wall contact, making it easier to damage a car’s toe links and throw its steering off.
As always, the car with the cleanest right side will likely be the one that ends up in Victory Lane at Darlington. But if drivers find that they can step over the line and not pay the price, someone might emerge victorious with a car that looks something like Ricky Craven’s did after his epic victory here in 2003.
Pick to Win
(Odds via Caesars Sportsbook)
Ross Chastain (+1000): Once a driver figures out Darlington, what usually happens is they contend for wins from that point onward. And in the last two years, Ross Chastain has started to show a real proficiency at this racetrack. In 2020, he was involved in a thrilling battle for victory in an Xfinity Series race, and last fall he contended for the win before finishing third in the Southern 500. Chastain’s career has taken off since then, and he enters Darlington with two wins and seven top-five finishes in 11 races this season.
Sunday in Darlington will be another big day for Trackhouse Racing, as car owner Justin Marks will get to drive Harry Gant’s 1991 Skoal Bandit during pre-race ceremonies. And it stands to be even bigger if Chastain can build on what he’s done in the past and finish the process of mastering this track.