DARLINGTON, S.C. — We are less than two months into the 2021 NASCAR season and the level of competition in the sport has likely never been better. We’ve seen seven different winners through the first seven NASCAR Cup Series races and with one of the sport’s most competitive short tracks looming this weekend in the form of Martinsville Speedway, it could be a safe bet that that streak will reach eight. The Modern Era (1972-2021) record of different winners to start a NASCAR Cup Series season is 10 set back in 2000, while the record in the Modern Era for the most different NASCAR Cup Series winners in a single season in its entirety is 19 set back in 2001.
The sport is coming off its traditional open Easter weekend, with the most recent competition coming two weeks ago with the Dirt Race at Bristol Motor Speedway. Having to battle heavy rain on Saturday and Sunday, a double header featuring the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and Cup Series was scheduled for Monday, March 29. When the dust settled, literally, Martin Truex Jr. emerged as the winner in the truck race while Joey Logano won for the first time this season in the Cup Series.
Next up is Martinsville Speedway, a challenging .526 mile that oftentimes brings out the fiery emotions of the NASCAR drivers and teams. Founded in 1947 by the late H. Clay Earles, Martinsville Speedway is the only track which has hosted NASCAR Cup Series races every year since the division’s inception in 1949. Tucked in the foothills of southern Virginia, Martinsville Speedway is the shortest track on the Cup Series circuit. Because of its small size, tight corners and unique shape – described most often as a paperclip – Martinsville offers some of the most exciting and close-quarters racing in the sport.
The track will host a tripleheader of racing this weekend with all three races being conducted under the lights. The action kicked off with the always exciting NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour on last night, while the Cook Out 250 NASACAR Xfinity Series race takes the Green Flag Friday at 8:00 p.m. The Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 Cup Series race will get underway Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
NASCAR conducted a two-day test session with its Next Gen racer car this week at Darlington. Driver Tyler Reddick, from Richard Childress Racing, turned laps in the Next Gen car which is the common name for the new racecar that will be used in the Cup Series starting in 2022. A further evolution of the Generation 6 car, the Next Gen will feature improved aero and downforce packages while introducing new technologies on the track. In addition, the Next Gen car is meant to lower costs and attract new original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to compete with Chevrolet, Ford, and Toyota. The Next Gen body style was set to debut at the 2021 DAYTONA 500, but when the COVID-19 pandemic postponed all NASCAR racing (and therefore, testing) until the month of May, the sanctioning body announced that the debut of the car would be pushed back a year to 2022.
In collaboration with McLeod Regional Medical Center and Darlington County, Darlington Raceway hosted another mass COVID-19 vaccination event on April 1. Operating with the efficiency of a well-oiled machine, the McLeod staff administered close to 5,000 second doses of the vaccine. It was truly an amazing experience to be a part of and the track would like to extend its sincere appreciation to the workers from McLeod, Darlington County, and the South Carolina National Guard for all of their support and assistance.
We are closing in on one month from our celebrated Throwback Weekend on May 7-9. All three NASCAR national series will be participating as teams, fans, sponsors, and the media will be celebrating the past, present and future of the sport. The teams are beginning to roll out their throwback paint schemes and the excitement is beginning to build around our event. Tickets are on sale for all three races: the LiftKits4Less.com 200 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race is set for Friday, May 7 at 7:30 p.m.; the Steakhouse Elite 200 Xfinity Series race is scheduled for Saturday, May 8 at 1 p.m.; and the green flag will drop on the Cup Series race at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, May 9. To get your tickets, visit www.darlingtonraceway.com or call 866-459-7223.
Receiving our second race date is a tremendous boost for this community, region and state. A recent economic impact study conducted by Dr. Tom Regan of the University of South Carolina College of Hospitality, Retail & Sport Management, showed the direct and indirect economic impact of the Labor Day race weekend at Darlington was in excess of $64 million annually. Of that economic influx, approximately $58 million impacted the Pee Dee Region. Considering the fact that Darlington will be hosting two race weekends in 2021, that annual economic impact will likely double.
Two of the most asked questions I have received since I came to Darlington in the summer of 2016 were “when are we getting our second race date back” and “when are we bringing the trucks back?” Fortunately, we are able to have both of these requests fulfilled this year. I encourage our fans to step up and support our May 7-9 race weekend with their attendance in the grandstands. That display of passion and enthusiasm will go a long way in Darlington being able to host two race weekends annually moving forward. Let’s show people that our fans are definitely Too Tough To Tame.