By Cole Cusumano
It’s throwback weekend at Darlington Raceway! Since its inception in 2015, all three NASCAR National Series will embrace the festivities and the events at ‘The Lady in Black’ are being held in the Spring for the first time in nearly two decades.
For a place with almost as many nicknames as the memories engraved within the red and white-striped wall, Darlington is notoriously one of the most difficult on the circuit. Constructed in 1950, there’s truly no better venue to pay tribute to the heroes and legends across the sport than the 1.366-mile track ‘Too Tough to Tame.’
NASCAR Cup Series
Perhaps the biggest trend coming from the premier series is 10 different winners through 11 races. With 15 weeks left in the regular season and drivers like Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick still in search of triumph, this is shaping up to be one of the most even-keeled, yet competitive years to date.
In 2020, there were three races run at Darlington and it was the first back from the COVID-19 hiatus. To say Harvick was dominant would be an understatement. With two wins and a third in the other event, he was nearly unstoppable with an 1.7 average finish. Coming off his season-best result of second at Kansas Speedway, the driver of the No. 4 could be catching fire at the right time.
It can be argued the only other driver that contested Harvick was Elliott. The reigning Cup Champion sniffed victory twice at ‘The Lady in Black’ last year, until Kyle Busch spun him on what would be the final lap of a rain shortened race, and then when he was leading in the closing laps of the Southern 500 and Martin Truex Jr. aggressively slid up in front of him, taking both competitors out of the running. The No. 9 scored his fourth top-five of 2021 at Kansas and after pacing 142 laps last year, Darlington could be the perfect place to get his first win.
Kyle Larson will be someone to watch after leading a race-high 132 laps at Kansas last week — he’s also led 500 circuits at Darlington in just six starts. Lastly, this could very well be a breakout race for Erik Jones. The new driver of the No. 43 has never placed below eighth at the 1.366-mile track and one of his two career wins came here.
Cole’s Best in Show: Corey JaJoie and Spire Motorsports have the best throwback in Cup, because it’s an authentic tribute to Alan Kulwicki. From the number, to the font, the sponsor and the paint scheme itself, this is a true honoring of a former Champion and those are hard to come by with sponsor restrictions and such across the sport. Not to mention, the color palette is beautiful and so simple. Less is more.
NASCAR Xfinity Series
It feels like an eon since Jeb Burton scored his first Xfinity Series win, but the developmental series makes its long awaited return to the track this Saturday, May 8. Under the radar due to the Cup Series madness, there have been seven different victors in eight races, including four first timers. Even with reigning Champion Austin Cindric competing, there isn’t truly a favorite for the title thus far, making this another exhilarating season.
Last year, it was Cup Series regular who dominated the stat sheets at both Darlington races, with Chase Briscoe winning the first race and Brandon Jones besting Hamlin in a wild finish in the Fall. In terms of what to expect, there’s no telling. The premier level drivers dominated the laps led department, aside from Noah Gragson, who led the most laps last May. The driver of the No. 9 is still in search of his first victory this season and this track plays right into his wheelhouse.
Young phenom Ty Gibbs makes his fourth career Xfinity Series start and will look to keep his streak of top-fives alive. He recently led every lap in the ARCA Menards Series race at Kansas and placed fourth in his last National Series start at Martinsville Speedway.
Cole’s Best in Show: Michael Annett is fielding my personal favorite tribute all weekend — Darrell Waltrip’s Gatorade car. I’m a sucker for green and this simple, yet effective, paint scheme looks so slick. It’s also awesome to see the sports drink return as a primary sponsor in NASCAR for the first time since 1980.
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
The Truck Series may want to consider changing its title to the Toyota Tundra Series. The manufacturer has won all seven races in 2021 with Kyle Busch Motorsports emerging victorious in the last five. To say they’ve been dominant would be a drastic understatement.
Even with the lack of diversity in terms of winners, this has been probably the most entertaining Truck Series season in the last decade. The great mix of youth and experience has made for the best racing at this level, since it seems everyone has something to prove.
There’s really no telling what to expect at Darlington for the Truck Series, as they only returned to racing at the 1.366-mile track last year after a nine-year hiatus. With that in mind, this will be the first time throwback weekend will be celebrated at this level.
Ben Rhodes won last year at Darlington and is the only driver in the field with a win at ‘The Lady in Black.’ While he won driving a Ford, the two-time winner in 2021 has transitioned to Toyota and ThorSport Racing. The likelihood of everyone else chasing him or John Hunter Nemechek is probable on Friday, May 7.
Cole’s Best in Show: Shake n’ Bake! Although not much of a true throwback, Tyler Ankrum’s ‘Talladega Night’ Ricky Bobby tribute is such a cool looking truck.
You can catch all of the throwback festivities from Darlington Raceway on FS1 beginning with the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series LifeKits4Less.com 200 on May 7 at 7:30 p.m. The following day, the NASCAR Xfinity Series returns at 1 p.m. ET with the Steakhouse Elite 200. Finally, the NASCAR Cup Series closes things out on Sunday, May 9 at 3:30 p.m. with the Goodyear 400.