By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
Drivers from the NASCAR Xfinity Series had mixed reactions to the repaved ‘grip strip’ in Turn 2 of Darlington Raceway.
Several weeks prior to the Sport Clips / VFW Help a Hero 200 at ‘The Track Too Tough to Tame,’ track officials unveiled a repaving of the racing surface in Turn 2. Repeated patches and track deterioration forced the racing surface to be mended.
Although the transition from old to the new pavement was smooth, the transition off of Turn 2 was anything but. Several drivers hit the bumps, their cars breaking loose. The most high-profile case of this was Brandon Jones breaking loose in front of his Joe Gibb Racing teammate Daniel Hemric. Contact sent the No. 19 Menards / Bali Toyota Supra went sliding into the inside wall.
Race winner Noah Gragson was surprised by the apparent lack of grip in the new pavement. The driver of the No. 9 Bass Pro Shops / True Timber / Black Rifle Coffee Company Chevrolet Camaro SS compared the grip levels to that of a track treated with PJ1 traction compound. As the race dragged on, the grip in the newly repaved section of the track increased. That is comparable to tracks that had been treated with PJ1 traction compound in the past.
“(The grip strip at Darlington) was showing less grip in the paved lane than in the unpaved lane,” stated Gragson. “I don’t know if it was smoother, what it was, but you could stay wide open. It’s a whole new challenge trying to get through there and what line to pick. It was super grip through there.”
Third-place finisher Austin Cindric appeared to take a more measured approach with the condition of the repaved asphalt. With no practice or qualifying, the NASCAR Xfinity Series drivers were the first to hit the track. The turn was dirty, sandy, and lacked grip to start the race. Overtime, that improved.
“Today when we showed up it was a construction site, now it’s a racetrack,” Cindric bluntly said. “The way I see it, it’s dirty because it’s new asphalt, we’re the first cars to run on it. It gained grip throughout the day, cleaned up throughout the day. It’s something the track needed to do, and I see no problem with it.”
Harrison Burton, who started sixth, was among the first to drive over the new pavement at the start of the 200-mile race. The abrupt transition and subsequent bumps made the driver of the No. 20 DEX Imaging Toyota Supra think something had broken on his Joe Gibbs Racing machine. By Turn 3, he learned it was the track itself, and not his car. Burton ultimately finished runner-up.
“It was really fun to drive,” admitted Burton. “It presented some challenges. Normally that whole corner is setup to make that part of the racetrack to where you can get through it. It’s such an awkward angle. Now it’s just, I can get to the grip strip and then I’m good. The focus shifted from where they paved it to entry to center of that corner. This place, entry to center in Turns 1 and 2 have always been wild.
“I went and walked the track and (the transition off Turn 2 at Darlington) looked as smooth as it could be. First lap, it was really low grip, and everyone was sideways. Got to the end of it and it was like ‘woosh!’ I thought I broke something [on the car]. Drove off into the next corner and it wasn’t broke. That surprised me a lot. We didn’t have any scans of the racetrack before that. It was kind of a guess.”
Meanwhile, Justin Haley, third on the grid, compared the bump to those at Auto Club Speedway and Chicagoland Speedway. His No. 11 LeafFilter Gutter Protection Chevrolet Camaro SS appeared to hand the bump better than most in the field. Haley finished best amongst the Kaulig Racing brigade in fourth.
“I loved (the grip strip at Darlington), but we’re pretty good on the repaves with the No. 11,” explained Haley. “A lot of grip, and I mean a lot of grip. When you get to it, it just pulls you around the corner. It’s not bumpy. There’s a little bit of a bump coming out of it. But it’s nothing crazier than what we have at Chicagoland or Auto Club.”
Haley’s teammate, Jeb Burton, started and finished fifth. The driver of the No. 10 Dynagro Seed Chevrolet Camaro SS echoed the thoughts of his younger teammate.
“I didn’t have many problems there,” admitted Burton. “I was struggling before I got there, and it was actually saving me a little bit. It was different, added some character to the track, not having grip then having grip.”
While each of the top-five finishers had differing opinions on the Darlington ‘grip strip,’ its’ effect on NASCAR’s triple header weekend at ‘The Lady in Black’ will be felt throughout the playoffs.
Featured Photo Credit: Photo by Harold Hinson / Harold Hinson Photography.