Editor's note: Brad Parrott, a 19-time winner in NASCAR national series competition, has joined NASCAR.com as a guest writer for the 2014 season. Here is his first-person analysis ahead of Saturday's Bojangles' Southern 500 for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Darlington Raceway:
Darlington Raceway, this weekend's stop, is called Too Tough to Tame for a reason. We're going to one of the oldest, most historic tracks the NASCAR circuit visits and we'll try to make some history this weekend.
The track is very abrasive, and has aged well since it was last repaved, before the 2008 season. Still, with Darlington being in the heart of the South Carolina sandhills region, you always get plenty of sand and grit swept up on the track, it seems. New tires will be the key, so expect anything less than a four-tire stop to be a fairly big gamble or a quick bid for track position.
Even though NASCAR has raced there since 1950, the 1.366-mile track is always a challenge for both crew chiefs and drivers. At Darlington, drivers compete with the track as much -- if not more -- than they do with each other.
Brushing the wall to earn a "Darlington Stripe" is almost expected over the course of the race weekend. It's up to the drivers and crew chiefs to shake off the contact and keep riding the high line. It's also up to pit crews to keep pulling right-side fenders off the tires when it happens.
From the pit box, the odd, egg-shaped layout forces crew chiefs to compromise on their setups with one turn being tighter than the other. Finding a happy medium and managing tire wear will be crucial.
The Team Penske cars of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano have been one of the top stories of the season so far, especially in qualifying. By the way they are running in both qualifying and race trim, all their offseason work has clearly paid off. We'll have to see if they can continue to be among the final 12 drivers after the last elimination in Friday's three sessions.
Count on Hendrick Motorsports to be very strong this weekend -- I expect them to bounce back from the early misfortune at Texas, where teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson were taken out of contention in one swoop. Roush Fenway Racing could find a boost at Darlington, and Joe Gibbs Racing has a chance to build some momentum.
It can be anybody's race at this track, really. With the track's tendency of rewarding the toughest of the tough, whoever winds up in Victory Lane on Saturday night will have earned it.