An odd, egg-shaped oval – Darlington (S.C.) Raceway – is a track that has been called one of the toughest of all on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule, so much so that it earned the nickname “The Track Too Tough to Tame.”
The 1.366-mile raceway’s shape stems from a promise track founder Harold Brasington made to Sherman Ramsey, a neighboring farm owner, that he wouldn’t disturb his minnow pond when the track was built in 1949. As a result, the western half of the track features a tighter radius in the turns.
“It’s a challenging track,” said Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR). “It’s probably one of the toughest that we have on our schedule. There are four completely different corners and you’re typically entering them at high speed and usually right up against the wall. There is very minimal room for error, which is how you end up with the famous ‘Darlington Stripe.’ You have to definitely be aggressive and get the most out of it, but you don’t want to hit the wall because that’s a pretty big setback.”
In five NASCAR Cup Series starts at “The Track Too Tough to Tame,” Patrick has earned a few “Darlington Stripes.” Her best NASCAR Cup Series finish at the track is a 22nd-place effort she earned in 2014. In her lone NASCAR Xfinity Series start at Darlington, Patrick started 15th and brought home a 12th-place result in 2012.
When she returns to the track this weekend for Sunday night’s Southern 500, Patrick will be looking to improve upon her record at Darlington, not only for herself and the No. 10 team, but also to help pay tribute to a NASCAR legend.
This weekend, many teams in the NASCAR industry will celebrate the heritage of the sport by running throwback paint schemes. As a part of that effort, SHR will honor 2018 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Robert Yates with a special paint scheme on the No. 10 Ford Fusion Patrick will race on Sunday.
After working in the sport for more than two decades, Yates launched his own team, Robert Yates Racing, in the late 1980s. In 1996, the team expanded to a two-car operation, fielding the No. 88 Quality Care/Ford Credit Ford for driver Dale Jarrett. The decision by Yates to add a second car to the stable resulted in Jarrett winning the 1999 championship with a paint scheme that Patrick’s No. 10 Ford Credit Ford Fusion will emulate at Darlington.
Ford Motor Credit Company is the financial services arm of Ford Motor Company. The brand was first seen on a NASCAR racecar in 1994, when it sponsored Elton Sawyer in what is now the NASCAR Xfinity Series. The sponsorship was very successful, so much so that in 1996 it expanded into the NASCAR Cup Series, which allowed Yates’ operation to become a two-car team.
Jarrett ran the No. 88 Quality Care/Ford Credit Ford paint scheme from 1996 through 2000, earning 20 wins, nine poles and leading more than 5,000 laps. That tally includes wins at Darlington in the 1997 and 1998 TranSouth Financial 400.
“I’m excited to run a true throwback scheme this year,” Patrick said. “It’s great that we’re able to honor Robert Yates and all he’s done for our sport. Robert and Dale had a lot of success in the Ford Credit Ford, and I hope we can add to that this weekend at Darlington.”
As the series returns to Darlington for the Southern 500, the chance to honor Yates will also be a special one for Billy Scott, crew chief for Patrick and the No. 10 Ford Credit Ford Fusion.
“I grew up a fan of Robert,” Scott said. “Everything I raced from the time I was 5 years old until I finally quit driving myself in my early 20s had a No. 28 on it. I just always idolized what he had done, what his career path was and how he was able to work his way into the sport and work his way up to being a car owner. My first interview when I went to work over there (at Yates Racing) was with the two of them (Robert and Doug Yates) sitting in a room. I remember walking in and being too nervous to talk pretty much as I sat down to interview. I would never trade the time I spent there with them.
“The sport has changed a lot over the years, but this is where our roots are and guys like Robert are the ones who worked so hard to build the foundation that we get to enjoy now. This tribute to Robert is truly deserved.”
DANICA PATRICK, Driver of the No. 10 Ford Credit Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Darlington’s Throwback weekend has really resonated inside and outside of NASCAR. What is your favorite part of the weekend?
“I like to see the old paint schemes. I don’t know my NASCAR history nearly as well as some others and I’m not really much of a history buff, but I feel like learning about the past is what makes things valuable. It’s what makes something prestigious and what creates legends. For me, the throwback weekend has been a really good way to remind people of where we came from and the history of the sport. It’s also really cool to see the outfits some of the girls walk down pit lane in, whether it’s big, big hair and bell-bottomed pants or the fashion from whatever decade we’re celebrating. It’s a really fun weekend and it’s a great way for us as a series in NASCAR to remind people where we came from and to give back to the history of our sport. I’m excited to run a true throwback scheme this year. It’s great that we’re able to honor Robert Yates and all he’s done for our sport.”
In addition to the special paint scheme on your No. 10 Ford Fusion, you have another throwback element this weekend. Talk about that.
“On top of running a true throwback paint scheme this year, I’m actually going to run a paint scheme on my helmet, which I almost never change. It’s just like my very first paint job on my helmet when I raced go-karts. Ironically, it has the same red and white swoops coming from the front and down the back like the No. 10 Ford Credit Ford, so it’s going to match the paint scheme really well. There will be a lot of reminiscing at Darlington.”
Talk about racing at Darlington.
“It’s a challenging track. It’s probably one of the toughest that we have on our schedule. There are four completely different corners and you’re typically entering them at high speed and usually right up against the wall. There is very minimal room for error, which is how you end up with the famous ‘Darlington Stripe.’ You have to definitely be aggressive and get the most out of it, but you don’t want to hit the wall because that’s a pretty big setback. It helps to have a good setup to start out with and from there you do your best to keep your bumpers clean so you don’t have tire rubs, accidents and things like that. In the Southern 500, there are usually a lot of cautions and a lot of things happen, so there’s a lot of opportunity for things to change and for you to try something different. It’s definitely our longest race of the year, so you have to be patient and not make mistakes so that you’re still in it at the end.”
Describe the Darlington Stripe and what it’s like to get one.
“I would say that, because my background is in IndyCar, I don’t look at gray areas of the track and think there’s a lot of grip there. I’m not used to driving by a wall. I didn’t grow up racing on dirt and running up on the cushion. The high line is something to me that I have to have a lot of confidence in the car to be able to go there with the kind of speed that needs to be taken. I’ve definitely earned the ‘Darlington Stripe’ and, sometimes, there’s just not much you can do about it. I’ve even gotten it going down the straightaway where the right-rear (tire) catches the wall and pulls the front in. You’ve got to stay focused at all times, especially at a place like Darlington, where you have to be up on the wheel for all the corners because they’re all pretty different. It’s earned through pushing those boundaries of how high you can take the car and how much speed you can take doing it.”
Are you comfortable racing at Darlington, or is that even possible?
“I have found that when the car is comfortable and the car is good, any track can feel very easy, as well as extremely difficult. So, we’ll see how it goes and how good the car is and how comfortable it feels for me. I do always feel like the first couple of laps at Darlington seem like I haven’t been there in five years. Like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s the way turn four looks.’ Given the fact that there are so many tracks that we go to twice and many of them are similar and have a typical mile-and-a-half layout, when we go to Darlington, being such a unique track, it feels like it’s been a while since we’ve been there.”
ROBERT YATES, 2018 NASCAR Hall of Fame Inductee and Championship Team Owner and Engine Builder:
The No. 10 Ford team is honoring you with a special throwback paint scheme in the Southern 500 at Darlington this weekend. Talk about what means to you.
“The No. 88 Quality Care/Ford Credit Ford was definitely a memorable program for our team. We won the Daytona 500 in Dale’s very first race in that scheme in 1996 and went on to win many more races and the championship in 1999. It was incredibly gratifying to have Ford as my sponsor and manufacturer, especially when we beat the competition. Getting to see this scheme run again will bring back many great memories. I can’t thank everyone at Stewart-Haas Racing enough for honoring me and everyone that was on the team during those years.”
BILLY SCOTT, Crew Chief of the No. 10 Ford Credit Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Talk about what the special Ford Credit paint scheme honoring Robert Yates means to you.
“The paint scheme our team gets to take to Darlington means a lot to me. Not only did I grow up a huge fan idolizing one of our sport’s legends, but I also had the privilege of working for him. It’s a true honor to get to celebrate him this weekend.”
Your NASCAR career started at Robert Yates Racing and you got to work with Robert and Doug Yates. How did all you learned during your time there help prepare you as you moved up the ranks to be a crew chief in NASCAR?
“I grew up a fan of Robert. Everything I raced from the time I was 5 years old until I finally quit driving myself in my early 20s had a No. 28 on it. I just always idolized what he had done, what his career path was and how he was able to work his way into the sport and work his way up to being a car owner. My first interview when I went to work over there (at Yates Racing) was with the two of them (Robert and Doug Yates) sitting in a room. I remember walking in and being too nervous to talk pretty much as I sat down to interview. I would never trade the time I spent there with them. Having Robert in the hauler every week up there bouncing ideas off of us – that’s the kind of passion that this sport was built on and what drove me to work in it. Engine building was Robert’s passion and a majority of what he did, but he was involved on the car side, too. He understood them well, had input, always had new ideas and was never satisfied with what we had. He was always thinking outside the box for different stuff. Getting to be exposed to that is something I treasure. That’s why we pay tribute to him. The sport has changed a lot over the years, but this is where our roots are and guys like Robert are the ones who worked so hard to build the foundation that we get to enjoy now. This tribute to Robert is truly deserved.”