Track Talk: A Preview of the Bojangles Southern 500

Kyle Petty, er, Kyle Larson takes the No. 42 machine for a nice lap!

Sporting events are quite synonymous with tradition for as long as we’ve kept records of historical events.  Tennis has four grand slams in the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, and US Open while NASCAR has its triple crown marquee races in the form of the Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600, and the Bojangles Southern 500.

Sure, the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis is quite special and Cup races at Las Vegas, Fontana, and Texas had a special mystique to them in their inaugural events.  However, when we’re talking about the original triple crown races in stock car land, there’s nothing quite like that third challenging leg in the form of the 500-miler at Darlington, SC.

Making this race even more special is that it’s returning back to its original Labor Day weekend date for the first time since the 2003 running which seemingly marked the beginning of a new era for the sport.  That moment inevitably was the one in which NASCAR began to dissolve some of the wonderful traditions that made it special for its longtime fans.  Moving the 500 at this 1.366-mile egg-shaped oval from its late summer date to a late fall stop in 2004 to its Mother’s Day slot from 2005-’13 and a temporary seemingly strange early April race weekend date was like moving one of the big three events to an absolutely absurd date.

Thankfully, Darlington Raceway’s sole NASCAR date has returned to where it absolutely deserves to be as the Labor Day Sunday event.  Of course, this edition will be run at night so while that leaves the 2003 race as the last pure daytime 500 at this fabled speedway, having it back on its traditional date is quite splendid.

Appropriately, NASCAR drivers and teams are embracing the return of the Bojangles Southern 500 back to its Labor Day spot on the schedule with retro paint schemes.  Some drivers and crew members have taken some creative liberties in taking on the old school theme with some racers sporting some classic styles with their looks and racing attire.  Just look up how Aric Almirola and Kyle Larson look during this weekend and you’ll almost wonder how much they’re enjoying being a 2015 edition of Richard and Kyle Petty.

The Track Talk team of Ashley HobbsAshley Hull, Jessica Bushee, Jessica TowKatie Copple, and Kim Melton are likely sporting some bell bottoms and perhaps have groovy hairdos to be absolutely out of sight.  So why don’t we talk about some funky NASCAR racing topics first to prepare for Sunday night’s race and get on the road again with our latest edition of Trending Topics!

Trending Topics by Rob Tiongson

Question 1
Sonny and Sean will be proud of their BFF Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Sonny and Sean will be proud of their BFF Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Over half of the field will be racing in some kind of throwback or tribute paint scheme for Sunday night’s Bojangles Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.  Which paint scheme is your favorite and would you like to see the retro paint schemes become a tradition at “The Lady In Black” on Labor Day weekend?

Bushee :  My favorite throwback paint scheme has to be Dale Jr’s, hands down. It just looks so cool! I’m hearing rumors that they might make this an annual tradition. While I think that’s a cool idea, aren’t they eventually going to run out of throwback paint schemes to run? I’m not sure how it would work, but I like the idea of it!

Melton :  The paint schemes this weekend are seriously rockin! I was drooling over about ten of them, so I will narrow it down to my top three choices. Number one definitely has to be Landon Cassill in the No 40. That patriotic paint scheme is to die for, I adore it. My other two favorites were Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson. Both of those cars look really sharp!

Hobbs :  Any time we see a throw back paint scheme, it is pretty awesome. It pays heritage to the golden days of NASCAR and it is something that really can only be done in this sport. As for the paint schemes for this weekend, which are complied here thanks to the amazing Jayski, I am drawn to the #4 car; maybe it is the bright yellow or the classicness that is presented, but that car just screams throw back! Also, the fact that Chase Elliott is paying homage to his father in the design on his #25 NAPA Chevrolet is pretty nice as well. The colors on board with Josh Wise this weekend, just man, that brings back some great days there! If only Gordon could bring back the 100% authentic Rainbow Warrior this weekend.

Copple :  I CAN’T CHOOSE!!!! There are so many cool retro paint schemes that I really can’t decide. Trevor Bayne, Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Ryan Newman, Aric Almirola, Jimmie Johnson, Danica Patrick, and I could keep going. This would be a great tradition to start at Darlington and with it being Labor Day weekend, it would make it even more special.

Hull :  My favorite throwback paint scheme is Kyle Larson’s tribute to Kyle Petty’s old Mello Yello car! It brings me back to when I started watching NASCAR in 1993. I remember at the Daytona 500, he and Bobby Hillin got into a fight,and that got me hooked into NASCAR! My other favorite paint scheme I like though is Martin Truex’s paint scheme. While it isn’t a throwback scheme, it is supporting ovarian cancer awareness, and it is an issue that is dear to my heart.

Tow :  ABSOLUTELY YES! Without a doubt throwback weekend should most certainly become a tradition at Darlington – because why not? It’s great to see so many teams and drivers pay tribute to other legendary drivers from our sport. Of all the paint schemes revealed between both the Cup and XFINITY Series I have three favorites: Joey Logano’s Cup scheme, Alex Bowman’s Cup scheme (LOVE that Modified look!), and Mike Harmon’s tribute to Davey Allison. However, although the paint schemes are cool and creating the most buzz, I think the most important part of this throwback weekend is that we are honoring the legacy of our sport and its roots. This is something that NASCAR should have done awhile ago! 🙂

Question 2
Rest assured, there's no JJ Abrams lens flare here.

Rest assured, there’s no JJ Abrams lens flare here.

Sticking on the topic of Darlington, this will mark the first Southern 500 that’ll take place on Labor Day Sunday since the 2003 running of this race.  What’s your thoughts on one of NASCAR’s crown jewel events returning to its original date and should NASCAR do everything it can to retain its traditions as much as possible?

Bushee :  Tradition in NASCAR is a good thing! On the flip side of that, keeping things fresh and trying new things is also a good thing. The only thing I wish NASCAR would be consistent with is the schedule. That’s just my thought on it at least.

Melton :  I am really excited that they chose for it to take place on Labor Day Sunday. This is super exciting for the fans, because as we all know, NASCAR fans love their tradition. NASCAR has changed so much over the years, so it is comforting to fans to still have some of that tradition to hold onto.

Hobbs :  For some reason, this event is just part of this weekend. It is history; it is like changing when the Daytona 500 is or when the July race at Daytona is run. There are just some races on the schedule that should be left where they are for the sack of history. This sport is all about tradition and I think it is time we took a step back and time and re-captured that tradition more, and what better way than starting with bring the Lady In Black back home with some throw back schemes on the track!

Copple :  Some traditions are important. Daytona 500 as the opening weekend. Homestead-Miami as the finale. Coke 600 as the Memorial Weekend race. Southern 500 as the Labor Day race. Special events like those should be kept as traditions. As for the rest of them… they should be mixed up every now and again!

Hull :  I am really excited about this race this weekend, even though Darlington isn’t really one of my favorite tracks. I just love that NBC plans on going all out for this race and are bringing back Ned Jarrett and Ken Squier to the booth! It will feel like the late 90’s again for me! I also love the throwback cars too! I think that if this goes well for fans, that it should be kept as a tradition! I think that is one way to win fans!

Tow :  Tradition is important, especially in sport. With all of these drastic changes and advancements in technology and culture it’s important for sports to take a moment and “slow down” to reflect back on the good old days when it was all about the personalities behind the wheel instead of the wheel itself. NASCAR should certainly keep the tradition of having the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway during Labor Day weekend especially if the throwback concept sticks.

Question 3
Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon talk about how cool the Chase would be with them in it.

Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon talk about how cool the Chase would be with them in it.

This weekend might be the saving grace for some of our winless racers currently in position to make the Chase field.  Of the five racers battling to make their way into the Chase, which one do you think can breakthrough this weekend and make a good case for a championship run in the postseason?

Bushee :  I’m going to have to go with Kasey Kahne on this one. I’d love to see him in the Chase again, so I guess maybe this is wishful thinking on my behalf. Ha!

Melton :  I am secretly (well, I guess not so secretly now) rooting for Jeff Gordon to FINALLY get his win this weekend. That man has been working his butt off to get a win and hasn’t had the best of luck. This is his last season and I would love to see him with a win or two and in the Chase. Out of the five, I think that he has the best shot. We shall see!

Hobbs :  Those guys on the bubble, I mean, it just screams Jeff Gordon! Of those six drivers inside the cut off point right now, Gordon has the most experience and knows how to get this done. Let us hope that the 24 team has found something during the off weekend to help get Jeff to the front, keep him there, and get him to the checkered flag first!

Copple :  I really want to say Jeff Gordon. It’s his last season and it would just be heartbreaking to see him miss the Chase. But in all reality, it is anyone’s game. Some driver sitting outside the top-16 could win one of the last remaining races and put themselves right into the middle of it all.

Hull :  Looking at the driver averages for Darlington, I think that if he can get past his bad luck this year, Jeff Gordon can have a great showing this weekend and could even win the race. Out of the five drivers trying to get into the Chase, he has the strongest average finish of fifth place. Even if he doesn’t win, he could have a solid weekend, and that could help him.

Tow :  Kasey Kahne…although him and the No. 5 team have been in a rut as of late I think that they have what it takes to make it into the Chase by a slim margin.

Question 4
In the words of Bad Luck Bootsy, let's g-o, go, go, ggggggoooo!

In the words of Bad Luck Bootsy from Board James, let’s g-o, go, go, ggggggoooo!

Dale Earnhardt Jr expressed some concern about restarts a few weeks ago in which drivers want stricter policing by NASCAR on these moments of the race.  Do you agree with his take or are there times in which the officials need to keep this element of the race resting in the hands of the on-track competitors?

Bushee :  This is a tough one. I think it would be a good idea for NASCAR to become more strict on restarts and how they’re done. However, what exactly would they do to a driver who jumped the restart or took off slow on purpose? How much policing can they really do in a case like this? It’s an intriguing topic and situation.

Melton :  This is one thing that I have always loved about Dale Jr. The man is not afraid to speak his mind and let NASCAR know when something needs to be done. I completely agree with him when it comes to restarts. I think that if drivers are breaking the rules then something needs to be done. ALL rules need to be enforced ALL the time, not just when NASCAR picks and chooses. We have multiple drivers who spoke up about the restarts at the last race and nothing was done. I think all the drivers are wanting here is some consistency.

Hobbs :  First, everyone hated NASCAR for their policing so NASCAR gave the drivers control. Once the drivers had control, things seemed fine and dandy. Time marches on and now the drivers are complaining that NASCAR isn’t doing enough about the restarts. At some point things are going to stop changing because changes are going to run out. When NASCAR controlled the restarts, the leader was not a fan. When the leader has control, at least one person is unhappy with how the leader started, or did not start. The drivers wanted more control and now they have it and they should keep it and stop complaining when something goes wrong just a few times. A few “off” scenarios do not represent the entire pie.

Copple :  Restarts, in my opinion, are always going to be up for debate. Drivers jump restarts, they move lines too soon, this and that and someone is always going to have an opinion about it. Restarts make the race exciting but officials do need to keep an eye on all restarts, all the time. They need to keep them as consistent as possible.

Hull :  I just think that NASCAR needs to be more consistent on their rulings, but that can be saved for another day to argue about. I think that it will always be an issue that the drivers will complain about. But if someone is clearly jumping the restarts, they need to punish said driver for doing so. They do need to better police it, and punish the right people for doing so. Restart rules are difficult, but maybe for now, they should just let it be in the drivers’ hands.

Tow :  I see both sides of the argument. Restarts can get a little crazy and I think certain tracks require an extra hand from NASCAR when it comes to officiating those. However, I don’t necessarily think it’s something that NASCAR needs to involve themselves in every time at every track.

Well, that was quite tubular!  Before we get to our totally radical race picks, let’s take a look and see what’s happening with those TPF Track Talk points standings after the Saturday night race at Bristol on August 22nd!
1) Ashley Hull – 808 points (4 wins) 
2) Rob Tiongson – 758 points (4 wins) 
3) Ashley Hobbs – 710 points (2 wins) 
4) Jessica Bushee – 653 points
5) Courtney Clement – 648 points (3 wins) 
6) Jessica Tow – 421 points (1 win) 
7) Kim Melton – 419 points(3 wins) 
8) Katie Copple – 55 points
9) Patrick Staropoli – 2 points
Way cool, y’all!  Let’s get boogie to those race picks for Sunday night’s Bojangles Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, race no. 25 of the 2015 season!
Totally gnarly and way cool look at our race picks.

Totally gnarly and way cool look at our race picks.

Tiongson :  He won here last year and yes, that was in springtime conditions.  However, I’m going with Kevin Harvick to win on Sunday night!

Hobbs :  Because… Kevin Harvick!

Melton :  The driver that I am choosing for this weekend is Jimmie Johnson. He has quite a few wins at Darlington and this seems to be a good track for him.

Copple :  Jimmie Johnson. In 16 starts he has only four finishes outside the top-10 and three wins among them.

Bushee :  As for my pick. I think I’m going to go with Kasey Kahne. He desperately needs a win and I think he may get it here. Or at least I hope he does. Ha!

Hull :  My pick for the Southern 500 is going to Matt Kenseth.

Tow :  Denny Hamlin for the win.

There you have it, race fans! The Track Talk crew has spoken and given their thoughts on Sunday night’s Bojangles Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.  How about you?  What do you think are the biggest storylines heading into tonight’s race and who is your favorite to win?
Tweet us now @ThePodiumFinish and tell us now! Thanks as always to the TPF team.  The opinions and thoughts express in Track Talk are solely of the authors and do not reflect on any organizations that we are affiliated with outside of TPF. This weekly feature is strictly for entertainment purposes and are not indicative of TPF, the organization, and its staff.
Rob Tiongson

30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field, and hockey. Born and raised in the Boston, MA area, racing was the first sport that caught my eye. From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, you'll likely see an article on The Podium Finish by either myself or one of my talented columnists who absolutely have the motorsports passion.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. I enjoy editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography.

Graduated from Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication.

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