DARLINGTON, S.C. – Throughout his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career, NASCAR Hall of Famer Mark Martin was always the consummate gentleman behind the wheel.
If you had a faster car, Martin would cede a position to you, provided you extended the same courtesy when his car was better.
With the introduction of double-file restarts in 2009, and the advent of stage racing this season, politeness on the track has become all but obsolete. And the throwback paint schemes that highlight this weekend belie the degree to which racing has changed since Martin’s heyday.
“I believe it’s new-school racing with old-school paint schemes,” Martin characterized Bojangles’ Southern 500 weekend at Darlington Raceway. “The importance of the throwback weekend here that they have at Darlington is really showing respect for the legends of this sport. The racing has just moved way past back in that day. The double-file restarts are really pretty chaotic and insane, and the cars are so fast, and the pavement here is so much better than it was back then.
“It’s amazing that these guys can run around this place, it always was, but the speed of the cars today, that additional two or three seconds a lap that they run now makes it more difficult and probably hairier than ever. I think the race will be incredible. I did some double-file restarts here, and it certainly wasn’t my favorite thing to do. I enjoy watching them, but I didn’t enjoy doing them.”
Clint Bowyer, who ran his first full season in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2006, has seen a change in intensity during his time in the sport. This weekend at Darlington, Bowyer’s No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford is sporting a Carolina Ford Dealers paint scheme reminiscent of the car Martin drove in the NASCAR XFINITY Series for team owner Bill Davis from 1988 to 1991.
“I certainly wasn’t around in 1989 when this paint scheme was on the side of Mark’s car, but just in my tenure being in this sport, the evolution of the cars is just so much further than when I started,” Bowyer said. “You used to have to manage tires, your equipment, all these things to manage a race to get the most out of any given weekend, let alone a track as unique as Darlington.
“Now it just seems like with the tires, with the equipment, with everything the way it has evolved, it’s almost a qualifying lap driving as hard as you can every single lap, and the car and equipment will take it. It’s definitely different than the way it was even 10-12 years ago when I started.”
A spin in final Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice didn’t prevent Kyle Busch from topping the speed chart. The driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota kept his car off the wall, returned to the track with fresh tires and ran 173.320 mph to pace the session…
Trevor Bayne wasn’t as fortunate. The driver of the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford picked up a large Darlington stripe on the right side of his car, which the team opted to repair…
Similarly, Kyle Larson scraped the wall during final practice and suffered cosmetic damage to the No. 42 Chevrolet, which his Chip Ganassi Racing team was repairing. On the positive side, Larson was fastest in opening practice with a lap at 173.064 mph.