SEEKONK, Mass. — Eight was the lucky number for Dave Darling at Seekonk Speedway on Sept. 18. The driver of the No. 52 Johnson’s Landscaping Pro Stock captured an eighth-place finish in the 40-lap feature, which was enough to clinch him a record eighth track championship. Competing in the top NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Racing Series division at Seekonk, Darling also sealed the NASCAR state champion for the state of Massachusetts.
In 75 years of racing at Seekonk, a third-mile Massachusetts oval located just 15 minutes from Providence, Rhode Island, no one had accomplished the feat of winning eight titles before. It was the fourth consecutive championship for Darling in the class, and it came on the heels of eight victories in 14 races, along with top-five finishes in all but three events.
“This isn’t how we envisioned the night to go,” Darling said after being involved in a first-lap wreck on the final night and riding to eighth at the end. “Car was awful after that, but hats off to the crew. We had a great season. We all wanted to win on the last night, but eight championships, it is just unbelievable. Four in a row is crazy. I can’t thank everyone enough — my family, my dad for all of his support, my mom, my kids. Everyone.”
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This season, Darling had to hold off rising star Ryan Kuhn, a member of the Alan Kulwicki Driver Development Program. Kuhn finished second in points, 52 points back, but at times the season seemed a lot closer than that. Kuhn didn’t go to Victory Lane like Darling did, but was consistent — inside the top-five himself in all but a few races. It was the victories that allowed Darling to flex his muscles, once again.
And that’s nothing new for him.
Over the last four championship runs, Darling has more than 25 wins, catapulting himself into title glory. Darling also won titles in 2013, 2012, 2007 and 2006. His first Pro Stock victory was in 2003, with his most recent coming this year. All of the titles have come with Ronnie Pond as part of the team, with about half coming with Pond as crew chief.
Darling won the title from 2017-2019, but during 2020, Seekonk didn’t compete in NASCAR Saturday action due to COVID-19. Jeff Belyea joined the team in the middle of the stretch, joining Ronnie Pond, and the two made an epic combination, one of the best in track history. Darling followed up a year off by returning to title form this year with eight wins — it was like he didn’t even have a break.
“It’s definitely emotional to get number eight. I have been waiting a year for it,” Darling said. “It was a long year and this was probably one of the more stressful championships. Even though the points were not tight, we just didn’t want to have a bad week to put ourselves in a bad spot.”
Luckily for Darling, when chaos struck on the final night, it didn’t matter. All he had to do was take the green in the 40-lap Pro Stock feature and the championship was sealed up.
“You can have the fastest car but on any given night anything can happen,” Darling said. “You try to be patient and make your own luck to some degree. It was definitely one of the more stressful years. Ryan (Kuhn) had a great season — so if we didn’t have the season we had — he’s been finishing top-five effort week and it could have been real close.”
For now, the celebration is well underway for the Seekonk, Massachusetts driver. With dedicated sponsors and team members, he will spend the winter months as champion again. But this time, he’s re-written the record books forever.
“I can’t thank everyone enough, to write the history books here is amazing,” Darling said. “I came here as a kid. It’s all of the people that make it happen. It’s the fans, the families of the crew… Jeff Belyea, Kevin, Kevin, my dad, Ronnie, Tom, Gary… some of them have been here for all eight. Their family allows them to do it every Saturday night, and we are thankful for that. It’s a grind, and a team effort.”
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