The legendary nickname for Darlington (S.C.) Raceway is the "Track Too Tough To Tame."
The Daytona 500, which kicks off the season for the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series, is the most prestigious race in stock car racing, but a victory in a 500-mile race at Darlington is also considered one of the "Crown Jewels," along with Daytona, the Winston 500 at Talladega Speedway, and the Coca Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
What's odd about Darlington is that while it is called a raceway, "The Lady in Black" is actually considered NASCAR's first "superspeedway," having opened in 1950.
The 1.366-mile asphalt oval has four turns, with turns 1 and 2 banking at 25 degrees and 3 and 4 at 23 degrees.
The story is that the builder, Harold Brasington, wanted to build a rectangular oval like Indianapolis Motor Speedway but settled for an uneven egg-shaped oval that has one corner that is tighter, narrower and more steeply banked because he promised the person he had purchased the land from that the track would not disturb a nearby minnow pond.
Whatever the reason, the different turns make a challenging situation for drivers and crews to set up the handling of their cars to be effective at both ends of the track.
After a week's hiatus, the Monster Energy Series returns to action for the Bojangles Southern 500 at 6 p.m. Sunday, televised on NBCSN and streaming on NBC Sports. It is the penultimate race in the regular season, and there are still four spots remaining in the 16-driver playoffs for the Cup Series title.
Two weeks ago, Kurt Busch won at Bristol to become the ninth driver to get an automatic playoff berth with a victory. He joins his brother and points leader Kyle Busch; Kevin Harvick, who has the most playoff points; reigning Monster Energy champion Martin Truex Jr.; Clint Bowyer; Joey Logano; Chase Elliott; Erik Jones, and Austin Dillon as 2018 race winners.
Also at Bristol, Ryan Blaney, Brad Keseloski and Kyle Larson clinched playoff spots by earning enough points to have an insurmountable lead over enough drivers to make the field even if first-time winners capture the last two races to get automatic spots.
Sitting on the hot seat in the last two qualifying spots are seven-time Monster Energy Series champion Jimmie Johnson and Alex Bowman.
Of the 30 full-time drivers in the 2018 season, Johnson and 2017 winner Denny Hamlin are the only ones with more than one checkered flag at the Southern 500.