DARLINGTON, S.C. â Brad Keselowski canât wait to get to Darlington Raceway â and itâs not just because he won the last time NASCARâs best showed up.
This the fifth year the Southern 500 is NASCARâs throwback weekend, kind of an Old Timerâs Day for fans and competitors to honor and mimic the greats of the past. That includes bringing back splashy old paint schemes, vintage uniforms and outfits, and even some oddball facial hair styles like mutton chops and bushy mustaches.
âItâs NASCAR Halloween,â said Keselowski, the defending Southern 500 c hampion.
Darlington is celebrating the 1990-94 era in NASCAR and teams have been unveiling specially painted machines for the occasion.
Along with the work he and his Penske Racing Team will put in prepping for the next-to-last Cup Series event before the playoffs, Keselowski takes time to stroll the garage and the pits.
âItâs crazy to see all that goes into this,â said Keselowski, a three-time winner this year. âItâs great that we can keep doing this at a place with such a special history like Darlington.â
Keselowski won with a throwback last September honoring former Penske great and NASCAR Hall-of-Famer Rusty Wallace. Keselowski looks to channel the past Penske great again this week with a black-and-yellow, Miller Genuine Draft, No. 2 Ford that Wallace raced to five victories in 1996.
Amid the costumes and colorful cars is a last-ditch push to lock up a playoff spot in the 16-driver championship chase. There are nine drivers with victories this season, meaning there will be plenty of hard charging on Darlingtonâs gravelly, misshapen oval â especially when seven-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson is currently on the outside peeking in at 18th in the standings.
Johnson is counting on âButchâ to bring him back to success (the last of his three Darlington wins came in 2012) at NASCARâs oldest superspeedway. âButchâ was the nickname for Johnsonâs 1990 Chevrolet Thunder Sportside machine he drove in the Baja 1000 Trophy Truck division for a handful of races in 1995 when he was only 20.
âThrowing back to my roots,â he said.
The race will bring back somber memories for Richard Petty Motorsports. Bubba Wallaceâs car will have a scheme honoring the late Adam Petty, the fourth generation driver who was the son of Kyle Petty and grandson of âKingâ Richard Petty. Adam Petty was two months shy of his 20th birthday when he died after crashing in practice at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Wallaceâs car will have the colors of âVictory Junction,â the foundation the Petty family created in Adamâs honor.
âI think this really speaks for Adam and what his vision was,â Wallace said. âI was too young to know him and I feel like we would have had a great time, to grow together and to bring this organization back to where it needs to be.â
Kyle Petty, part of NBC Sports announcing crew, is famous for his Darlington dislike, advocating it be plowed over back into farmland because of its difficulty. Heâs honored, though, to pay tribute to the son he misses every day.
âItâs hard to believe that he would have been 39 years old this year, so itâs hard to believe itâs been that long,â Kyle Petty said. âBut to have this car here, to have it at Darlington and for everything that Darlington means to our family, what it means to this sport, it was just the perfect time.â
Darlington plans to remember NASCAR Hall-of-Fame driver David Pearson, second all-time with 105 victories, who died last November at 83. Pearson was Darlingtonâs career race leader with 10 victories at the track.
One more big throwback scheduled involves Dale Earnhardt Jr. who will be on the track. NASCARâs most popular driver for 15 years until his retirement two years ago plans to drive in the Xfinity event Saturday despite he and he family escaping safely from a crashed plane in flames two weeks ago in Tennessee. Earnhardt said last week he still intends to drive as long as the swelling in his back subsides.
Earnhardt said Thursday on SiriusXM radio that he is feeling better and capable of racing.
âItâs going to be a hard race to win, much less to run in the top 10,â Earnhardt said. âSo I donât know where really to put my expectations or my personal goals but Iâm pretty reserved in how Iâm approaching the weekend as far as what to expect.â