By DONNA BETH WEILENMAN
Some brightly-colored, retro-painted Sprint Cup cars will have earned their “Darlington stripes” Sunday as the NASCAR series draws closer to the season end. And one driver who is hoping to get a checkered flag Sunday is Jeff Gordon.
Gordon, the Vallejo native who is in his final year of full-time racing, has yet to win in 2015. But victories count toward qualifying for the 10-race elimination called the Chase for the Championship. So far, Gordon remains as a contender for the Chase, but his hold on his slot remains precarious unless he can combine both season points and a victory.
“There are no guarantees unless you get that win,” Gordon said earlier this week. But he has seven wins at the South Carolina track, capturing the checkered flag once in 1995, twice in 1996; and once in 1997, 1998, 2002 and 2007.
Meanwhile, some of the other drivers will be piloting cars with retro paint schemes that honor some of the legends of stock car motorsports. Brad Keselowski’s No. 2 will wear the red and white colors of the car Bobby Allison drove in the Southern 500 in 1983; Austin Dillon will be in a No. 3 painted to honor his grandfather, Richard Childress, and the car he entered in the 1979 edition of the race.
Cale Yarborough’s colors will be on Denny Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota, while Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s car will be painted in David Pearson’s 1968 scheme.
Chase Elliott’s car will honor his father, “Awesome Bill” Elliott. Elk Grove native Kyle Larson’s car will be painted in the Mello Yello colors of Kyle Petty’s car, and Clint Bowyer will drive under the late Buddy Baker’s 1974 colors.
Darlington Raceway itself is a legendary track, wearing such names as “the Lady in Black” for the dark streaks its white walls will have before the race is done. Those streaks are caused by cars scraping along the sides. The cars get their own black streaks from the contact, and those marks are called the “Darlington stripe.”
Darlington’s tough, egg-shaped configuration has proven so challenging that it’s also called “The Track Too Tough To Tame.”
The track was built by Harold Brasington, a former racer who was inspired by the success of the Indianapolis Speedway. The uneven ovals are blamed on Brasington’s decision not to disturb a minnow pond.
He opened his track in 1950, and it is home to NASCAR’s Xfinity and Sprint Cup series races as well as the USAC Silver Crown Showdown.
The Bojangles Southern 500 will be broadcast at 4 p.m. Pacific time Sunday on NBC.