Top-Five Races At The Track ‘Too Tough To Tame’

2003 Carolina Dodge Dealers 400

DARLINGTON, S.C. (April 21, 2010) – Sixty years of competition at Darlington Raceway have produced enough electrifying races to easily constitute a made-for-TV special.

From the million dollar runs of Bill Elliott and Jeff Gordon to Ricky Craven’s nail biting win over Kurt Busch in 2003, Darlington has been the site of more than its share of thrilling showdowns.

Let’s look at the five best races in the history of the track “Too Tough To Tame,” beginning with one that many observers believe yielded the greatest finish of all time.

SPRING 2003 

Ricky Craven began chasing down Kurt Busch with about 20 laps to go in the Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 but everyone in attendance, including Craven himself, knew it would be hard to catch and pass the leader.

Craven, in his orange No. 32 Pontiac, finally reeled in Busch’s black No. 97 Ford with two laps to go and took the lead with a bold move to the inside of turns 1 and 2. Before Craven could pull away, however, Busch countered back to his inside and reclaimed the top spot off the exit of Turn 2.

Craven didn’t give up. He continued to harass Busch’s bumper before darting to the inside off Turn 4 on the last lap. From there, the two drivers banged off each other multiple times and literally drag-raced to the checkered flag, with Craven nipping Busch at the finish line by .002 seconds – the narrowest margin of victory in NASCAR history since the invention of electronic timing and scoring.

“There was so much confusion on the radio,” Craven said of the seconds that immediately followed the finish. “There was nothing that suggested I had won.”

Craven finally realized he’d been declared the winner after seeing his car number posted No. 1 on the leaderboard as he headed down the backstretch on the cool down lap. Craven, who notched one of his two career wins that day, likes to reflect on the meaning of his unforgettable Darlington triumph.

“As much as people were caught up in the finish – and I can say today I understand that and appreciate that more than I ever did that day – what really, really, really registered with me, what was important to me as a race car driver was that I had won at Darlington,” Craven said, “not that I had won by four inches, not that it was a finish that we would probably talk about for a while. None of that. It was all about winning at Darlington. And that’s how drivers think.”

Darlington Raceway President Chris Browning thinks the Craven-Busch duel made for the best race ever held at the track.

“It was and still is the closest finish in NASCAR history,” Browning said. “It was awesome. It was absolutely awesome.”

FALL 1997

Jeff Gordon had already won three times at Darlington when he arrived for the 1997 Southern 500. This time, the stakes were much higher – a million times higher, to be exact.

Needing a win to the claim the $1 million bonus courtesy of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, Gordon appeared on his way to doing just that until the final lap. That’s when a charging Jeff Burton came out of nowhere to challenge for the lead and nearly ruin Gordon’s bid for NASCAR glory.

As the two drivers approached the white flag, Burton nudged Gordon’s bumper and pulled to the inside. The two then collided again – only harder – as they crossed the start-finish line and headed for Turn 1.

“Neither one of them gave an inch,” Darlington Raceway President Chris Browning said.

But before Burton could pull completely even with Gordon, he slipped on the entrance to the first turn, allowing Gordon to hold the lead. Burton never mounted another serious charge as Gordon prevailed and became one of only two drivers to earn a million dollar payday at the track “Too Tough To Tame.”

FALL 1985

Before Jeff Gordon claimed a million dollar prize in the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, Bill Elliott accomplished the same feat 12 years earlier.

The year was 1985 and Elliott, a rising talent in the Cup series, was looking to win the third of NASCAR’s four crown-jewel events and thereby become the first driver to snare the so-called “Winston Million.”

Despite mounting pressure leading up to the race and stiff challenges from several competitors once the green flag waved, Elliott led 100 laps and captured the victory after starting from the pole position.

His triumph thrust the slow-talking Dawsonville, Ga., native into the national spotlight and brought extra attention to Darlington Raceway and NASCAR. From that day forward, Elliott became known as “Awesome Bill from Dawsonville” or just “Awesome Bill.”

SPRING 1999

The rain showed up just on time for Jeff Burton.

Leading the TranSouth Financial 400 with skies darkening, Burton’s bid for victory appeared to go by the wayside when his Roush Racing Ford suffered major damage from heavy contact with the wall off Turn 4. Burton caught a huge break, however, when rain began to fall just moments after taking the caution flag.

The precipitation kept falling, the race never resumed and Burton had scored his first triumph at the track “Too Tough To Tame.” If the race had resumed, Burton’s car would have needed extensive repairs and likely spent considerable time in the garage.

He learned that day that winning at Darlington doesn’t just require a fast car; it requires some luck, too.

“I have to tell you, I’m a little speechless,” Burton said after being declared the winner. “To win Darlington means a lot to me and to win like that, I don’t know how you can do it much better than that.”

FALL 1993

Mark Martin pulled away from the field with 10 laps to go in the Southern 500 for his record-tying fourth straight NASCAR Cup Series win and first at Darlington.

The race was cut 15 laps short of its advertised distance because of approaching darkness that resulted from a three-hour rain delay.

It wasn’t enough to deter Martin, who continued his assault on the competition with a memorable victory in the granddaddy of all stock-car races.

You can keep up with all of the latest news from Darlington Raceway at DarlingtonRaceway.com, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DarlingtonRaceway and on Twitter at Twitter.com/TooToughToTame.

Darlington Raceway or the track “Too Tough To Tame” as it is known to many, is where the purest of NASCAR competition meets true southern hospitality. A NASCAR staple since 1950, Darlington Raceway has seen some of motorsports most talented drivers thunder to Victory Lane. In 2010, NASCAR’s stars return to battle the track “Too Tough To Tame” in the Sprint Cup Series SHOWTIME Southern 500® and Nationwide Series Darlington 200. The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will also make a stop at Darlington for the first time since the 2004 season.

Don’t miss any of the paint-scraping action at Darlington Raceway in 2010. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and Nationwide Series will visit the track on Mother’s Day Weekend, May 7-8, for the SHOWTIME Southern 500® and Darlington 200. The Camping World Truck Series will make its return to Darlington Raceway for first time since 2004 on August 14 for the Too Tough To Tame 200. Tickets for all three events are on-sale now. Tickets can be purchased by calling the Darlington Raceway ticket office at 866-459-RACE or online at http://www.darlingtonraceway.com/tickets/.

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