DARLINGTON, S.C. — Darlington Raceway was the first Superspeedway of its kind, a tough grueling track that has demanded absolute focus and attention to detail at every turn from the very beginning.
In parallel, the Southern 500 was one of the first events to test the true power of man and machine. For some, it’s just another race, but to many others Darlington is about as classic as it gets in American auto racing.
As the 67th annual Bojangles Southern 500 approaches this Sunday, NASCAR once again pays homage to its past, with the stars of today nodding to the past with schemes and uniforms honoring the pioneers of yesteryear.
While the drivers and times might have changed, the goal has remained the same: win one of NASCAR’s crown jewels, the Southern 500.
With this year’s throwback race weekend on tap, here’s my ranking of the top-five most impactful moments in Southern 500 history.
HONORABLE MENTION: 2012 Bojangles’ Southern 500
In 2012, Hendrick Motorsports was looking to become the second team in NASCAR history to win 200 Sprint Cup races as an organization.
After so many close calls in the first 10 races of the season, then-five-time champion Jimmie Johnson broke through, starting second on the grid and leading 134 total laps en-route to his second Southern 500 victory and Hendrick Motorsports’ milestone 200th Cup Series win.
No. 5: 2015 Bojangles’ Southern 500:
There was magic in the air during last year’s Southern 500.
For the first time since 2004, the event was back on Labor Day weekend, where it had rested for its first 55 runnings. Because of the news, race teams and the speedway paid homage to the past history of NASCAR and Darlington Raceway with a massive throwback celebration.
With drivers racing paint schemes rich in NASCAR history and the airwaves again filled with the magical voices of Ken Squier and Ned Jarrett, the night was not only one to remember, it was one that brought back the passion of years and eras gone by.
In an effort to help the on-track performance, NASCAR also had a new aerodynamic package for the race. They introduced a low downforce package, creating less dependence on the body of the car and creating more input for the drivers to control.
The package and weekend, combined, created a total success and the nostalgia-filled weekend came to a close with three of NASCAR’s finest — Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards dueling for the win, with Edwards coming out on top and winning his first Southern 500 in a late-race dash for glory.
No. 4: 2011 Showtime Southern 500
The 2011 running of this racing classic was unlike anything the sport had ever seen before, with an unexpected winner and a rivalry boiling over characterizing the night.
Exiting turn four with five laps remaining, an intense battle between Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Clint Bowyer ended in smoke. As Bowyer slammed the inside wall and brought out the caution, Busch (in frustration) turned Harvick back up into oncoming traffic.
Fuming at race’s end, Harvick hunted down Busch on the cool down lap to show his displeasure. The sequence would climax on pit lane as Harvick climbed from his car and tried to throw a punch at Busch, while Busch decided to drive away from the confrontation and pushed the No. 29 into the pit wall.
Meanwhile, the caution period gave way to one of the most stunning moments in Southern 500 history, as Carl Edwards was afforded one final shot to catch journeyman Regan Smith, who had taken two tires on his final pit stop in an effort to steal the win.
Driving for Furniture Row Racing, a small team based out of Denver, Colorado,Smith ultimately put he and his team in the history books by winning their first crown jewel and notching his first career Sprint Cup win with the run of his life — one of the biggest underdog moments in the event’s history.
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