There’s a reason why the Darlington Raceway is most often referred to by her nicknames ‘Too Tough to Tame’ and ‘The Lady in Black.’
She’s not nice.
[media-credit id=12 align=”alignright” width=”291″][/media-credit]When the Camping World Truck Series takes the green flag Saturday night in the Too Tough to Tame 200, it’ll be more than their third race of the season. Drivers will be in an all out fight not only with each other but with the track. Most are going to lose and only one can say he was able to survive be the track tamer.
Then come the 11 rookies entered in the field.
If all goes according to plan they’ll have looked at the performance Austin Dillon put on here last August in hopes of repeating it. To them, all hope isn’t lost. Dillon was on top of the speed charts during each practice session and then came home with a solid fifth place finish.
Being a rookie is already a disadvantage. But racing at Darlington, a rookie has an even bigger task ahead. Every one of them in the field, all 11, have never raced at Darlington in a truck before, except on any racing simulators they’ve invested in.
Simulators and confidence are the only things they’ll have entering Saturday night.
“I think the learning curve is going to be a lot like it was in Phoenix,” said Kevin Harvick Inc. driver Nelson Piquet Jr. The Brazilian finished 13th at Phoenix two weeks ago and sits 16th in points.
“It’s going to be another weekend where I’m learning the track and trying to gain as much experience as I can. I hope that some of what I learned in Phoenix will apply when we get to Darlington, but obviously they’re different tracks with different characteristics and difference challenges.”
Piquet Jr. feels his Phoenix performance will end up helping him at Darlington. Being able to race so closely to other competitors while bumping and banging was a good opportunity he says and something that he knows will come into play at Darlington.
On the other hand, Miguel Paludo from Red Horse Racing says he knows almost nothing about Darlington.
“I saw last year’s race on television,” he revealed.
“One thing I noticed is it’s a narrow track. I think it would drive a bit like Homestead, and since I have experience at Homestead that should help a little bit.”
Paludo will rely on his teammate Timothy Peters. Peters sat on the pole for last years race and finished second. Any experience that might rub off on the rookie is more than he had before.
And while he doesn’t know much about the track, Paludo does know about the famed Darlington stripe.
His crew chief in fact said that if he doesn’t get one this weekend his crew chief going to be upset because “it’s something that when you’re really fast and you’re running well, it should happen because you’re close to the wall.”
The wall has the tendency to become a magnet to racecars and trucks. From Darlington stripes to hard wrecks, the track isn’t very forgiving. It’s up to the driver to be on their best behavior or wait until as some says, the lady jumps out and bites you.
In order to avoid that, Red Bull Racing driver Cole Whitt will be leaning on Sprint Cup Series star and past Darlington winner Kasey Kahne. He won’t be a in a RBR truck, but Kahne will be in Saturday’s field.
Other than that Whitt says, “there is not a whole lot you can do. Kind of just have to get in there and get some first laps and just shake it down and get the feel for it and wing it. I think it will be good though.”
Whitt is the current Rookie of the Year point leader. Paludo follows close behind with Jeffrey Earnhardt in third. Just four points separate the top three as Joey Coulter, Justin Johnson and Craig Goess follow behind.
As the day begins every driver and every rookie will have an air of positivity about their chances. Each calling their shot and confident in their freshly painted and finely prepared trucks.
It won’t stay that way for long. Darlington is looming.
As the saying goes for rookies, “what they don’t know they don’t know.” Nowhere is that more true than this Saturday night.