Tough oval shows its dark side

Published May 7, 2005

Darlington Raceway is enough of a bear during the day. It requires skill, nerve and ingenuity beyond the wind tunnel. Teams spend millions researching the formula for speed, bring cars that cost hundreds of thousands, then jam cheap 2 by 4s inside the doors to keep them from being bashed in after frequent scrapes against the walls.

Today there's an extra wrinkle, as the Nextel Cup series runs its first night race on the 1.366-mile egg-shaped oval.

"I tested the Busch car there last week and I was a little surprised," said Dale Jarrett, who has won the Darlington spring race three times. "It's the first track that I've seen that actually had a shadow from the wall and the lights. There was about a 3- to 4-foot shadow coming off the wall, but everywhere else that we race we don't race against the wall like that. Maybe it's up there and we just haven't noticed it, but there is a definite shadow.

"Matt Kenseth and I were talking on Sunday at Talladega before the race and we agreed that it didn't bother us as much in 1 and 2 as what it did in 3 and 4. That could become a little bit of a trouble spot because you're relying so much on what you can see right there in trying to get around the corner, but it's still pretty cool."

Jamie McMurray prefers night time at Darlington to the glare that plagued drivers in Turns 3 and 4 last fall. And he always likes it fast.

"It's a cool place at night," he said. "There's so much grip at all these racetracks when the sun goes away, but this place probably gains more grip than anywhere else, here and Charlotte. When the sun goes down it gets really, really fast."