Oh yes, I know that last week I talked about the then upcoming Darlington weekend, and bemoaned the fact that tradition had fallen by the wayside when Darlington lost the Labor Day weekend. Last year, after the Darlington weekend, I remember The Legendtorial discussed how awesome it was/is to watch the drivers run that track. I will reiterate that point here again tonight! I love watching those guys run Darlington for it is truly a thing of beauty to see the smoothness with which the cars are handled around those treacherous turns. Oh, yes, I realize there are many times the cars bounce off that wall, sometimes they bounce off very severely, but even so, for 43 cars handling that track in the manner they do shows what NASCAR racing is all about, or should be about.
I would have to say, for both Friday night and Saturday night, that the grandstand crowds seem to support my theory that there is nothing like a race at Darlington. The Nationwide race Friday night had more people, by my estimate, than the Nationwide 300 had at Daytona. Probably more than were in the stands at Martinsville and Bristol combined for the Cup races, and more than at Phoenix. It was a great crowd on hand for what would turn out to be one heck of a race. Wish I had been there for that one.
Saturday night, under the full moon, it was announced the race was a sellout. Judging from what could be seen on television, it certainly appeared to be a sellout. Not exactly sure what a sellout at Darlington represents number-wise, but isn't it around 68,000, the same amount of seats at Auto Club Speedway? Whatever it was, the stands looked good, and from the overhead shots, there weren't many places left to park outside the track and there simply was no infield spot available to even put Ray Lamm's smart car. It was a good weekend for Darlington and definitely a good weekend for NASCAR.
So, please allow me to explain the title of tonight's Legendtorial. First, the "He Did" part. That refers to young Chase Elliott winning that race in a last lap move that was reminiscent of a young Fred Lorenzen taking on Curtis Turner in the race there in 1961. Chase won for the second time in as many weeks in the number 9 NAPA car. The old CY- REEN, in Dawsonville definitely awoke the Dawsonville early to bed group when that race was over. If you watched that race, it was no fluke. Chase led a good part of the race and put himself in the right place at the right time to fight for the win. This doesn't even take into account that he had to overcome two less than stellar pit stops. Chase flat out drove Darlington like a professional with years of experience instead of an 18 year old high school senior who is probably doing homework as we speak tonight.
I am very impressed with the interview skills Chase has. Of course, he has had years to observe, although his father is not exactly known as the best interview in motorsports, but Chase handles questions easily, honestly, and succinctly. He manages to get those sponsors in there as well. I frankly think he has done more for NAPA's fortune in NASCAR in the what, six Nationwide races so far this year than was ever accomplished by that Cup team into which NAPA poured endless money only to be embarrassed time and again.
You may recall that last year I stated I was not impressed by Chase Elliott. At the time I spoke truthfully. I also speak truthfully now when I say I am impressed and I believe his future in the sport will be extremely impressive.
Now for the "He Didn't" part of the title. Dale Earnhardt, Jr., did NOT win the Southern 500. That honor went to Kevin Harvick. Congratulations Kevin and the Stewart-Haas team for your second win of the season, in fact, the third win out of eight races for Stewart-Haas, none of which is credited to Tony or Danica, although it should be mentioned that Danica managed to secure yet another top 25 finish (23rd) which makes the second one this year I believe. But the reason I bring up the "he didn't" statement because of what I heard Saturday night and what seemed to take over on social media and motorsports sites Sunday. (This Legendtorial is being written Sunday night after reading tons of comments throughout the day). It seems Harvick's win takes a back seat to the fact that Junior had his best run ever at Darlington. Comment after comment remarked that Junior "almost won", that he was "competitive all night" and that he led "more laps than he ever has at Darlington". I am very happy that Junior had a stellar night at Darlington, but Kevin DID win the race. And he did it in pretty convincing style. That would be the big news out of Darlington were it not for the excellent run by the no longer "young" Earnhardt.
Now for the "who really cares anyway" part of the title. Obviously, folks, if you watched both races or either race, you saw fans that cared! How long has it been since you have seen thousands of fans on their feet waving caps, towels, flags, or whatever on the last few laps? Seems like it has been a long, long time. And for both races. Listen to the cheers break out when Chase Elliott drives by Elliot Sadler to take the lead on the last lap. Cheers louder than the racing engines. I really think those cheers outdid the cheers for Junior's win in the Daytona 500. And what about those last laps Saturday? Again, thousands on their feet screaming and yelling and waving whatever they could get their hands on as the fight went down to the wire (finish line in our jargon). So, who really cares? Obviously everyone who was in attendance. As I'm writing this Sunday night, I do not yet have access to television ratings but for those who missed it on television, either race, you missed great competition and some really great results.
I won't go into the weekly discussion about the awful job performance of the Waltrip duo. But I will ask those who watched if they noticed how many times D. W. used the term "rookie buddies", driving home the point that he conducted the rookie indoctrination class. Every time one of his "rookie buddies" hit the wall, D. W. would jump in with the comment that "yeah, that's one of the places I put an "X" on the wall". As for "Mikey", I noted in that pre-race "walk of shame" he does, that more folks tried to avoid him than to talk with him, but as I had the tv muted, I don't know what he was saying.
I do have one question for FOX, D.W., and NASCAR, based on something D. W. uttered from his never silent mouth. He said that Jeff Gordon hasn't won a race yet and even if Jeff is leading the points at the end of 26 races, he cannot be in the Chase. I may have misunderstood previous mentions of the Chase qualifications, but I thought if you were leading the points at the end of 26, you were included. If what D. W. said is true, then the Chase is truly more of a farce than ever it was before.
NASCAR, you had your night in the "sun", or more appropriately in the full moonshine. The Southern 500, though not on Labor Day weekend, was a spectacular race at a spectacular venue with the grandstands full. Both the Nationwide and Cup series put on great shows and had fans on their feet at the end. The passion was there in the stands, unlike anything I've really seen in the past several years. Maybe it's just my imagination because it was Darlington, my favorite track, but it was there. Go back and look at the video at the end of both races. Watch the fans, listen to the fans. Darlington is your oldest superspeedway. History was made there, the heritage of the sport of superspeedway racing began there and was, for several years, the only venue for stock cars to race on a superspeedway. From Johnny Mantz, to Fonty Flock, to Herb Thomas, to Buck Baker, to Fireball Roberts, to Larry Frank, on and on the history goes. Darlington, Mr. France, Mr. Helton, and whomever else in NASCAR has a say in things, is tradition, just as I said last week in my segment. NASCAR was once about tradition and I think what we saw this weekend says it can be again.
And, in this morning's paper (Sunday's sports section) what to my wondering eyes should appear but a statement by Helton that does not rule out a return to Labor Day weekend for the Southern 500. Seems I'm not the only one who has such strong attachment to that weekend for Darlington's Southern 500. I am hoping it happens, but we shall see. The track too tough to tame may become the track that will tame NASCAR's penchant for leaving behind tradition in search of whatever they are being told will work, when apparently it isn't working.
NASCAR, for the first time in a long time, you have had a weekend that shines for you and with the fans. Build on it. Don't let it slip into oblivion. In two weeks you have a short track race weekend coming up at Richmond International Raceway. You have a potential feud between Kurt Busch and Clint Bowyer. Can't get much better than that, huh? The hot-headed "Outlaw" versus "Five Hour Spineregy run to the hauler after a driver" in a possible pay-back situation. The last race at Richmond was a debacle, caused by Bowyer and the Waltrip team. As I recall, there were enough empty seats to have brought in the total population of coastal Virginia that night. I doubt that will be the case this year. Bet those Richmond tickets are a hot item right now.
Brian, Mike, the ball is in your court now. Or should I say the debris is on your track now? Don't drop it this time. Let's go for the gold, as they say. Oh, and I understand that since you folks in Race Control are so good at finding debris, Malaysia Airlines would like to talk with you.