By Ethan Miller ’23
On Tuesday, William Byron’s throwback paint scheme for the upcoming Darlington throwback race was revealed. Featuring the iconic DuPont flames that so many fans have come to know and love from Jeff Gordon’s race cars in the early 2000s, Byron’s paint for the Goodyear 400 looked phenomenal. Except, of course, for one thing: the number. New this year, the numbers on Cup Series race cars have been slid forward, a deviation from decades of classic paint schemes that paced America’s premier race tracks. All historical precedent, gone in a board meeting decision by NASCAR executives- leaving many fans and teams in uproar.
To be fair, it does appear that moving the numbers forward has created more opportunities for brands to represent themselves on the racecar. Some teams, like Stewart-Haas Racing and Trackhouse Racing, have proven that their designers are the best in the business with their phenomenal paint schemes week in and week out. Others, like Hendrick Motorsports, got lazy and, instead of redesigning their drivers’ paint, simply moved the number forward on their old 2021 designs.
It goes without saying that some of the new paint schemes in 2022 have been stunning despite the outcry of diehard fans. As with any major change in NASCAR history, drivers and teams have adapted to the new rules. Personally, I hardly notice when the cars hit the track, and since the start of the season the outcry around the numbers has quieted considerably. Once the designers got their hands on the cars, the amazing paint schemes that we’ve all come to love returned. Some have been better than they would have been with door-centered numbers (see Trackhouse Racing’s dual GoPro paint schemes at Martinsville earlier this month). But that all goes away when it comes to throwbacks. Technically speaking, any throwback that a NASCAR Cup Series team runs on May 8th at Darlington Speedway is a poor attempt, as none of them will have the correct number placement. NASCAR forcing teams to adhere to the number placement rules even for the throwback race makes the entire premise of the weekend a farce.
Is it too much to ask for NASCAR to relax the rulebook for one weekend?
Returning to Byron’s Gordon throwback, the entire design is thrown off by the skewed-forward number, and it’s not the only scheme that looks grossly incorrect due to the placement rules. Throwback weekend celebrates the great cars, teams, and drivers from NASCAR’s past. Since door-centered numbers are now, sadly, a thing of the past, why can’t they be included in the Darlington throwback weekend?
Throwback weekend used to be a treasured event. When it started in 2015, every scheme was a knockout. But now, as many of the available iconic schemes have been used, teams are having to dig a little deeper to find a good scheme to parody. As a result, it brings me to question how much longer NASCAR should keep this up. I love throwback weekend, especially at Darlington (the only better location in my eyes would be North Wilkesboro), but if NASCAR won’t budge on moving the numbers back to their rightful location on the side of the car, the practice of classic schemes at Darlington should be retired. If the schemes don’t even accurately replicate the iconic paint of decades past, why should the throwback weekend continue to exist? NASCAR needs to make a decision: either make an exception for teams for the Darlington weekend or bring the organized throwback weekend to a close. If you can’t honor the past accurately, don’t do it at all.