Its reputation as the toughest and most challenging racetrack on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series circuit is widely known.
Successfully maneuvering around Darlington (S.C.) Raceway – aptly nicknamed “The Track Too Tough To Tame” – is like a carefully choreographed dance thanks to its distinctive layout. The 1.366-mile oval is uniquely configured thanks to a pond that the owner refused to relocate when constructing the racetrack in the late 1940s. The track’s architect made one end of the track tight, narrow and high-banked while the other he made wide, sweeping and flat.
Racing at Darlington produces a host of challenges. Drivers and their teams are constantly adjusting to the tires, the bumps and the overall character of the racetrack. And the racing occurs predominantly just inches from the outside SAFER Barrier.
The odd shape also means that, to find the fast way around the track, drivers race against the outside wall in each turn, sometimes brushing up against the wall and thus earning what has affectionately become known as a “Darlington Stripe” on the right side of the car. And the black marks left on the walls by the tires rubbing up against them all race weekend have led to the track’s other nickname – “The Lady in Black.”
This weekend, “The Lady in Green” – Danica Patrick, driver of the green-colored No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing – will make her third NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start and her fourth overall NASCAR start at “The Lady in Black” for Saturday night’s Southern 500.
Two years ago, Patrick made her first-ever start at Darlington in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. She started 15th and finished and impressive 12th. One night later, she made just her second Sprint Cup start ever, finishing 31st.
Her weekend impressed several NASCAR observers as Darlington is known as a track that is tough on first-timers. But “The Lady in Green” completed 513 of 519 laps in her first weekend at “The Lady in Black,” and did so without being in an accident – also a tough feat for a rookie, much less a seasoned veteran.
Last year, Patrick’s outing at Darlington – in her first full season on the Sprint Cup circuit – perhaps was a bit more challenging. She was forced to use her backup car after an accident in Friday practice caused heavy damage to her primary machine. Despite starting 40th in the backup car, Patrick still finished 28th.
This weekend, “The Lady in Green” returns with the same car she has raced in each of her previous starts at “The Lady in Black.” With two Sprint Cup races there already under her belt, Patrick hopes she has mastered some of the right steps in the intricate dance that is racing at Darlington.