Race Weekend Central

5 Points to Ponder: The Lady In Black

ONE: The Lady in Black

Nearly every week when I write this column, I devote one point about the upcoming race track. It’s usually my third or fourth point, and it’s rarely my priority but next weekend’s track quite simply deserves to lead off. The Lady in Black is a jewel on the NASCAR schedule and one that runs all the way back to the second ever season of NASCAR in 1950. Darlington Raceway was race number 13 of 19 of that second year and just the 21st ever race in the history of the sport. Johnny Mantz was the first race winner – the only victory of his 12-race NASCAR career with the five hundred miles taking some six hours 38 minutes (and 40 seconds).

This time last year Martin Truex Jr. got it done, but it was Kevin Harvick with three slow stops on pit road in the final 100 miles who was the dominant car of the evening. Saturday night’s 500 miles will be the 114th race at the track “Too Tough to Tame,” and, just like every other time we visit, I’m expecting we’ll see a great race not least with the myriad of cool throwback paint schemes. Playoff picture wise, given the nature of racing at Darlington – race the track, not the opposition – this weekend is a chance for a hitherto winless driver to snatch a victory and a crucial post-season berth.

TWO: Jones’ time will come

In the end this past Saturday night, it was heartbreak on the high banks in the Bristol night race for rookie Cup driver Erik Jones. All told, the driver of the No. 77 Furniture Row Toyota led 260 laps and started from the pole for the first time in his Cup career, but it was Kyle Busch who swept the field on the way to his second Cup win of the season and three of three at Bristol for a historic second time.

“You don’t want to sound like you’re whining or being a sore loser by saying it sucks to run second, but it’s a bummer,” said Jones post-race. “It hurts. You know you want to win every race you’re in. This was the first shot that I really had to come really close to it in the Cup Series.”

For part of the race Jones battled for lead with the the No. 20 Toyota machine wheeled by Matt Kenseth, the driver he will replace in the Joe Gibbs Racing ride next season.

“I think it was a spirited battle,” said team principal Joe Gibbs, “I think tonight was a big night for both of them. I think they fought extremely hard.”

The old racing adage suggests that you have to lose one before you can win one and if that truly is the case, Jones lost one Saturday night. My guess is the win is just around the corner. He’s certainly one to watch as this season comes to a conclusion.

THREE: The Importance of Playoff Points

As we head into the 2017 playoffs it’s all shaping up nicely isn’t it? And if ever there’s a time to prognosticate now would be that time. As things stand with Kyle Busch roaring back to Victory Lane twice in the last four races, we look set for what could be an epic battle with Truex, the two best drivers of the season thus far. Once the points are doled out for regular season standings, Truex will have a whopping 50 points – 35 points plus 15 more for finishing first – that will carry through each round and who knows how many more he might pick up in the final two weeks of the regular season. That advantage should amount to essentially allowing Truex a mulligan race in each of the first two rounds. Given the way Busch is racing and what will likely be 30-plus playoff points, he’s another who can possibly afford a bad result or two in the first two segments.

Playoff points will likely play a huge role in who progresses and who doesn’t especially in the final cut after the penultimate race at Phoenix International Raceway. The more points you have in the bank headed into the final 10 races, the more chance you have to put yourself into contention for a spot in the final four at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

FOUR: Oh yeah, the 48

In the 11 races since Jimmie Johnson picked up win number three of the season at Dover International Speedway, the No. 48 has just two top 10s, four DNFs and three finishes of 35th of worse. In short, it’s not been pretty for the 17-year, 83-win veteran. Don’t be fooled, however, by this mid-season malaise. Look back to last season for evidence. Johnson won two of the first five races of the season (Phoenix International Raceway and Auto Club Speedway) and then didn’t win again until Charlotte in the fourth race of the Chase. Another win at Martinsville in race seven came before the big victory at Homestead-Miami Raceway to snag his seventh championship. And with this driver, this crew chief, this team and their collective experience of getting it done when it really matters I wouldn’t be surprised to see Johnson go all the way and win for a record eighth time this November.

FIVE: RIP Justin Wilson

Thursday, Aug. 24 will mark the second anniversary of the tragic passing of the popular driver Justin Wilson at Pocono Raceway. Competing in his 120th IndyCar race, on a partial 2015 schedule for Andretti Autosport, the three-time winner suffered a traumatic brain injury after being hit by a piece of debris from which he sadly did not recover. His untimely death reverberated throughout the racing community and tributes to his character poured in from all corners of the racing globe, while six lives were saved in the days after thanks to the donation of his organs.

Wilson’s passing was another reminder of the inherent danger in racing and why safety is and must always be a top priority. One such example of safety innovation is the Halo cockpit protection system that will debut in Formula One in 2018 while a similar device is actively being considered for IndyCar but has not yet been tested on track.

About the author

Danny starts his 12th year with Frontstretch in 2018, writing the Tuesday signature column 5 Points To Ponder. An English transplant living in San Francisco, by way of New York City, he’s had an award-winning marketing career with some of the biggest companies sponsoring sports. Working with racers all over the country, his freelance writing has even reached outside the world of racing to include movie screenplays.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

1 Comment
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

The first Southern 500 in 1950 had the same average speed as the first Indy 500 in 1911, about 75 mph.

Share via