Not too often does a track have a nickname that automatically intimidates the drivers long before the cars hit the track. But, NASCAR comes this weekend to a track that for years has been one that drivers lap after lap earn it's respect.
No track is shaped like it; no setup can prepare for it; the one groove it has has a fine line that once a driver barely steps outside that groove often means a meeting with a SAFER barrier.
It's the Lady in Black...the track Too Tough To Tame. This weekend, NASCAR is at Darlington.
This historic facility has earned a reputation thanks to the outside wall. Often when a car is in the wall at any other track, it means trouble for the team in trying to fix it so it can finish. At Darlington, if there's no scrapes on the right side, a driver didn't run well. A "Darlington Stripe" is a badge of honor, and one that many have been proud to wear.
It was here in 2008 where Kyle Busch's car had six different colors on the right side, yet still won. Jeff Gordon captured a million dollar bonus with a car that looked like it was hit by sledgehammers on the right side.
The black marks on the red and white walls are badges that are worn proudly by both rookies and veterans. Now, the writers are ready to earn their stripes this Mother's Day weekend, as this Lady is looking to show her cards to 43 of the best drivers on the circuit.
Let's take a look at who these men and women chose for Saturday night's Bojangles' Southern 500:
Misan Akuya: Greg Biffle
Greg Biffle is having an amazing season thus far. Still the points leader with a win in hand. Darlington is a track where the Biff can score more bonus points for the Chase. Biffle has two wins at the track too tough to tame. Look for Biffle to come out swinging Saturday night.
James Broomhead: Jimmie Johnson
No reason given.
Kelly Crandall: Kyle Busch
The 18 team seems to have found their groove, win in Richmond, second last weekend in Talladega. Busch and teammate Denny Hamlin are both tough at this track but going to go ahead with Rowdy to tame the Lady in Black.
Billy Fellin: Denny Hamlin
Hamlin is just money at Darlington. He's never finished worse than 13th at the Lady in Black.
Michael Hirshbein: Kyle Busch
No reason given.
Christopher Leone: Kyle Busch
Rowdy has been en fuego the past two weeks, scoring the win at Richmond and finishing second at Talladega. He won the Cup race at Darlington in '08 and the Nationwide race last year.
Plus, after last year's dust-up with Kevin Harvick, he's got unfinished business with the Lady in Black. He'll be strong.
Kara Martin: Jeff Gordon
No reason given.
Ryan O'Hara: Jeff Gordon
I know I'm taking a risk but he's has won here 7 times...come on now win!
Dustin Parks: Denny Hamlin
When I think Darlington, I think of the number 11. It speaks Cale Yarborough, who's greatest success came at this magical egg-shaped speedway. It was where we honored him as a past Winston Cup champion.
Now, Hamlin finds himself behind the wheel of the same number at Darlington. This weekend, he's running a paint job honoring Yarborough, who went in the NASCAR Hall of Fame this past January. What better way to honor his number, and his legacy, by running an honorary paint scheme at a track where he's synonymous.
Going with the No. 11 Great Clips Toyota for Saturday night at my favorite race track.
Patti Rodisch: Carl Edwards
He had a strong car here last year and nearly won the race but pit strategy sent this team home finishing second behind Regan Smith.
Edwards should have a strong week this week. Even with his DNF last week this team still has momentum on their side. They may be sitting 11th in the standings but this team is starting to get it together after a slow start to the season.
Edwards should be in victory lane Saturday night.
Sal Sigala Jr: Kyle Busch
No reason given.
Rob Tiongson: Jeff Gordon
This is probably either going to help or hurt my cause this week but I feel like it's time for Gordon and his No. 24 team to truly turn things around.
If they don't run well at Darlington this Saturday night, pretty much, this year might be written off. But if they at least score a top-10 or (even better) get the win, watch out, people! He's won here seven times, most recently in 2007 with an overheating Chevy Impala.
This time, it'll be a cool breeze to Victory Lane for the 40-year-old champion.
Standings following Talladega:
James Broomhead (366) Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 9th (1)
Billy Fellin (360) Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 9th (2)
Rob Tiongson (359) Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 9th (3)
Sal Sigala Jr. (356) Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 9th (1)
Kara Martin (351) Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 9th (1)
Misan Akuya (351) Jamie McMurray finished 11th (1)
Christopher Leone (350) Clint Bowyer finished 6th (0)
Kelly Crandall (332) Clint Bowyer finished 6th (1)
Dustin Parks (308) Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 9th (1)
Michael Hirshbein (306) Kyle Busch finished 2nd(1)
Patti Rodisch (288) Tony Stewart finished 24th (0)
Ryan O'Hara (273) Jeff Gordon finished 33rd (0)
Final Thoughts: This is one lady that can go from nice and calm to angry and controlling in the blink of an eye. The walls will have the classic red and white colors from NASCAR's hey-day, as well as the classic lettering. It will be the fourth consecutive year that look will adorn Darlington. In the last three races, each has seen a different winner, ranging from an ageless veteran to a first-time winner.
Saturday night, Darlington will write another chapter in it's magical history in the sport. At the end of 500 miles, the walls will have black marks from each time a car gets too high and decides to mess with the Lady in Black.
Coverage of 43 drivers trying to tame this marvel begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on FOX, with the green flag one hour later.
Summary of Picks: