Darlington track patch surfaces as an issue for drivers

Darlington track patch surfaces as an issue for drivers

A 600-foot patch of the racetrack at Darlington Raceway is on the mind of a few drivers going into this weekend.

Track officials confirmed earlier this month a section of Turn 2 was repaved. The area had been patched in the past, so a different solution was needed to keep water from seeping into the cracks of the abrasive surface. However, only a repave was done, and neither the banking nor profile of the track was changed.

But even a 600-foot long, 32-foot wide repave on a notoriously rough and tough track was enough to get drivers’ attention.

“Oh yeah, it’s going to change things a lot,” defending Southern 500 winner Kevin Harvick said. “That was one of the hardest parts of the racetrack and one of the places that had the most character, so now there’s just no character and a lot of grip.”

Harvick is among those who believe this might lead to charging wide-open off Turn 2, at least early in a run. The longer the run goes, and the tires fall off, even in a newly smooth portion of the track, off-throttle time should still occur.

“But it’s going to be interesting because you’re going to have that one corner that has all that grip,” Harvick said. “Then you have the other end that doesn’t have all that grip. It’s going to be a lot smoother, and that part should be easier not having to time the bumps, and you probably won’t run on the apron, so you just have to get it engaged with what it looks like.

“Hopefully, they kept the apron and all the same. But I don’t think it’s going to have the same effect of trying to use the line and the cavity in the banking and the apron to put the right-side tires to try to gain some grip.”

The “Track Too Tough to Tame” just got a lot more complicated. Motorsport Images

Without practice, the importance remains high on having the correct car setup going into the day. Especially since Kurt Busch thinks Turn 2 will now create “a ton of speed.”

Brad Keselowski has questions about what the repave will do for tire wear. He called the patch a wild card.

Turn 2 is a critical part of Darlington. As Kyle Larson describes it, the corner is rough and slick, and if a driver doesn’t get through there well, they can pay for it. Drivers have bounced off the wall getting off Turn 2 or not had a great exit to set themselves up for a big run into the next set of corners.

“I have seen it, and I’m concerned about it, obviously,” said Darlington spring winner Martin Truex Jr. “Turn 2 was so difficult there before with just how the bumps had come back, and the lack of grip and the high-speed section of that corner. So that was really, really tough to make the car work good there — I thought that was one of our strengths the last time we were there when we were able to win.

“Little bit concerned about how it’s going to change and whether we can make the right adjustments to get through there properly now and not lose anything in (Turns) 3 and 4. We’ll see. I wish they wouldn’t have made (the patch) so long, but I guess the track might have been coming apart or whatever. But (it’s) definitely going to take that corner out of the equation for the most part just because you still have to slow down enough to make Turn 1 and get through the middle of the corner — your speed is going to be a lot lower than probably that asphalt can handle when you get to it. It’s going to be like crazy amounts of grip and probably wide open all the way off Turn 2.”

Kyle Busch hasn’t seen the patch and won’t see the races before the Cup Series takes to the track. Busch will be with his son Brexton, who is doing his own racing on Saturday. Then Busch will be making his way to Darlington on Sunday morning for the Cup race while the Truck Series is on track. But Busch knows his team will debrief him.

Regardless, it’s hard to know anything about the patch without being on track. Although, Ryan Blaney admitted, his team tried to prepare for it in the Ford simulator.

“That patch is long,” he said. “It starts right where you start turning off the wall to come back down to get off (Turn) 2. That used to be one of the roughest parts of the racetrack, that little area off 2, and now it looks like it’s going to be really smooth from what we can tell from pictures. And another big part of that, you’re going to be going a lot faster into Turn 3 since you’re going to be carrying a lot more throttle off that corner. So, that’ll change up kind of how you obviously race (Turns) 1 and 2, and how you enter 3.

“I’ll be curious to see. I’ll be locked into the Xfinity race and the Truck race to see and try to talk to [Austin] Cindric to see what he thought that new pavement felt like. But yeah, it’ll be a different Darlington, that’s for sure, and I’ll be curious to see how it races once we finally get the green flag.”

Even if a driver isn’t concerned about the Turn 2 patch, Tyler Reddick said the whole field should at least be paying attention to it.

“Or thinking about what they’re going to have to change in their cars potentially,” Reddick said. “What does this mean for the race? The pace fall off? Concern almost makes it sound like a bad thing. Yeah, I wish it could have been resolved without a full repave of Turn 2, but I think Darlington is the toughest place we race at … and now it just adds another piece that makes Darlington different than other places.

“I could be wrong. It could be wide open, locked down through there, but I really don’t think that’s going to be the case. The rest of the track is going to wear the tire out. I’m excited. But yeah, you have to be concerned to a point. Need to be thinking about what’s going to have to change, especially with no practice.”