Drivers divided on Darlington SAFER walls
The installation of the SAFER barrier at Darlington Raceway has generated a lot of discussion this week, and there is a great unknown as to how it
will affect the racing in this weekend's Carolina Dodge Dealers 400.
But, of course, there are plenty of opinions. NASCAR Nextel Cup drivers are nothing if not opinionated.
"I don't understand," Jeremy Mayfield said. "We just came from the fastest racetrack on the circuit. There's not a soft wall anywhere at Atlanta. Now
we're going to Darlington, and you don't even need soft walls at Darlington.
"We need to run up close to the wall. I think that's the only place the asphalt is any good any more. They've taken it away.
"I think it might take some of the excitement out of Darlington. I think it adds a little extra excitement for the fans running up close against the
wall. Now you're not going to be able ride up against the soft walls because the groove is not there.
"We're going to be sliding and sliding into the wall. Darlington is worried about keeping their date, but if the race is not any good, they might be
losing their date."
Darlington has been in the rumor mill in the last couple of years as a candidate to have one of its two dates moved. NASCAR has already moved the
Southern 500 from its traditional Labor Day date to November, giving California Speedway Darlington's old date.
But does that mean the SAFER will make for a boring race?
Darlington, with its worn-out pavement and narrow groove, was already a treacherous
beast. With the SAFER barrier taking up more than two feet of pavement, the groove is even smaller.
That's one thing drivers agree on. The "Darlington Stripe"
used to be a badge of honor for drivers, as the best way the get around in the old
days was to actually bounce off the wall in the turns. These days, the stripe is something to be avoided, but that's not a simple task.
The SAFER barrier will take up as much as 30 inches in each turn, narrowing the track from 79 feet in Turns 1 and 2 to about 76 1/2 feet and from 62
feet in Turns 3 and 4 to 59 1/2.
Not all drivers agree, however, that the racing will change dramatically.
"I definitely think there is going to have to be an adjustment made on the driver's part about the line you take around the track," Matt Kenseth said.
"I think a lot of us are used to getting right up against the wall and really hanging it out coming off the corner, and that may not work out as well
with the new barriers in place.
"But as a whole, Darlington is a tough place to race lap after lap so in the end, it won't be a lot different once the race starts."