DARLINGTON, S.C. – Repaving at Darlington Raceway in 2007-08 may have taken away some of the bite the track once had, but seven-time track winner Jeff Gordon is aware “The Lady in Black” is still hungry.
And still willing to ‘eat up’ race cars. Along with seven wins, Gordon has three pole positions, 18 top-five finishes and 21 top-10s in 30 starts at the 1.366-mile track. He has led 1,720 laps – more than double the amount of laps led by the nearest active full-time driver (Jeff Burton – 817) – at a facility with the moniker “The Track Too Tough To Tame.”
“You have to race the track,” said Gordon, who will drive the No. 24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet in Saturday night’s Southern 500. “It’s just one of those tracks where you can be riding around by yourself but make the slightest little bobble and end up in the wall. Because the track can just reach out and bite you so easy, you must race the track.
“We’ve seen it eat up race cars and competitors over the years. It’s not as tough these days as it used to be when the pavement was extremely worn out because you were really on the edge back then.”
The four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion enters the 367-lap race with seven consecutive top-five finishes at Darlington dating back to 2004. His fondness for the egg-shaped track dates back even further.
“I remember coming here the first time and liking it – it reminded me of Winchester Speedway and Salem Speedway where you run up against the wall,” said Gordon, who is 16th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings. “It’s a fast racetrack, but you have to be really committed to the ‘fast’ line which is right up next to the wall.
“It’s just one of those tracks that challenges your nerves and you must stay on your toes at all times. You have to keep that car on the edge through the corners, but it’s also a compromise because (Turn) 1 and 2 is totally different than 3 and 4 for what it takes to get the car through the corners.”
But each new year brings back some of the old.
“As the pavement wears each and every year, it gets back more and more of what it used to be,” Gordon added. “The track too tough to tame.”