When it comes to NASCAR tracks, they don’t get any tougher than the track “Too Tough to Tame.”
It seems fitting then that the Camping World Truck Series – known for its fraternity of tough truckers – is returning to Darlington Raceway this weekend after a nearly six-year absence.
But while Saturday’s appropriately named Too Tough to Tame 200 at Darlington is highly anticipated by many members of the Truck Series garage, the race also raises concerns for veterans and newcomers alike.
That’s because the track that hosted its first race on Labor Day 1950 always has and always will be one of the most intimidating stops on any NASCAR series tour.
Saturday's race will be televised live on SPEED, starting at 7 p.m. ET with the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Setup, hosted by Krista Voda.
“There’s never a corner, a straightaway, not a single moment when you are under green that you can forget about the race track,” said Truck Series points leader Todd Bodine. “You race it every lap and you areracing the 35 trucks around you. It takes a lot of patience and at the same time, you’ve really got to get after it.”
The track’s unusual egg-shaped configuration and thin racing groove make it difficult for even the most accomplished drivers to navigate.
The quickest way around Darlington is unconventionally the longest way – up next to the wall – but that increases the risk of multiple excursions into the concrete.
Those excursions notoriously leave drivers with all manner of black marks, or “Darlington stripes,” on their cars or trucks.
“Darlington takes 100 percent concentration every lap,” said Aric Almirola, driver of the No. 51 Billy Ballew Motorsports Toyota and a 41st-place finisher in his lone Darlington start in a Nationwide Series car in 2007. “The second you lose focus, ‘The Lady in Black’ will quickly remind you why she demands so much respect. There’s a reason it has a reputation for being such a difficult track. You’re always just inches away from adding another stripe to the wall.”
Matt Crafton, who competed at Darlington when the trucks last raced there in 2004, makes no bones about the track's difficulty - or his lack of enthusiasm about this weekend.
“I can’t wait to get it behind us," said the ThorSport Racing driver. "There are so many variables there, things outside of your control. It might not be in the same league as a Daytona or Talladega, but it’s close. We need to make sure we keep the right front fender on the truck and not be up scraping against the wall."
The trucks will run 147 laps totaling just over 200 miles on Saturday, barring one or more attempts at a green-white-checkered finish. While not even half the distance of the Sprint Cup Series’ annual Darlington outing, there’s still plenty of time for trouble to find drivers.
This weekend will mark the Truck Series’ first time at Darlington since the track was repaved in early 2008, adding a new and intriguing wrinkle to the mix.
“I'm really going into Darlington and treating it like a brand-new track,” said four-time and defending series champion Ron Hornaday. “Even though I've been there before in the Cup Series and Nationwide Series cars, I think driving a truck around the track is going to be really different. We are really not sure what to expect.”
Hornaday and Bodine are two of only six entries for this weekend who competed in that last Truck race at Darlington back in 2004. Interestingly, no driver set to race on Saturday night is a previous Darlington Truck winner.
Ricky Carmichael, a 15-time American Motorcyclist Association champion now in his first full Truck season, is among those set to debut at the fabled facility where NASCAR legends such as David Pearson, Dale Earnhardt and Cale Yarborough scored some of their most defining triumphs.
“I’ve never been to Darlington, but I’m really looking forward to hitting the track,” Carmichael said. “There’s just so much history at that place – some of the greatest names in NASCAR have won there, and there have been so many amazing finishes. I know it’s a tough track and it’s going to be a learning experience for me.”
Veteran or rookie, the learning never stops at Darlington.