CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — The return of the Southern 500 to Labor Day weekend will be marked by a throwback celebration at Darlington Raceway that will include everything from the retro paint schemes on the track to the actual broadcast booth.
The Southern 500 last ran on the holiday weekend in 2003.
NBC has agreed to be part of the throwback theme, with its on-air talent scheduled to wear 1970's-style clothing. The on-screen graphics and music will also be a nod to that era.
The booth will also briefly step back in time, as the regular crew of Rick Allen, Jeff Burton and Steve Letarte will be temporarily replaced in-race by Hall of Famers Ken Squier, Ned Jarrett and Dale Jarrett.
"To bring (the Southern 500) back on Labor Day, I think this is perhaps one of the best moves that NASCAR has made in a decade," Squier said in an NBC conference call.
Burton said the entire theme at Darlington leading into Sunday's race will be a celebration of NASCAR's history, while analyst Kyle Petty said the throwback paint schemes will educate many younger fans.
"I think a lot of times we all wax nostalgically about things that went on and things that happened, but here's an opportunity to educate fans," Petty said. "When you see that 17 car of Ricky Stenhouse painted up like the old Holman-Moody 17, when you see the 16 car painted up like Tiny Lund and that kid that has just been a fan since 2000 says, 'Who is Tiny Lund?' Then it's an opportunity to educate fans to the history of the sport."
DARLINGTON-TIRES: The driver-preferred low-downforce aerodynamic package will again be used at Darlington Raceway, and this time Goodyear will bring a tire better suited for the setup.
Goodyear didn't have time to produce a softer tire for the July race at Kentucky Speedway, where the low-downforce package was first used. Despite the drivers not getting a tire they had hoped for, they still raved about the low-downforce package.
The tires for Sunday's race at Darlington will feature a left-side tire with construction and mold shape changes, and a right-side tire that should create more grip.
Darlington has been traditionally brutal on tire wear, and former crew chief and current NBC analyst Steve Letarte thinks the product Goodyear is bringing potentially "matches a track perfectly."
"If Darlington's surface has aged as we all hope it has, then it's going provide a unique opportunity for crew chiefs to have multiple attempts to change their car and the fight for track position won't be as glaring as on some of these other recently repaved tracks," Letarte said. "With spots in the (Chase) still available, I think we're going to see much more desperate (pit) calls from guys who see their opportunity to make the playoffs dwindling."
COBB FINED: Jennifer Jo Cobb has been fined $7,500 by NASCAR for having a cellphone in her car during practice for last week's Truck Series race at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park.
The fine for having a phone in her car was a P3 violation and drew a fine of $5,000. But Cobb was fined an additional $2,500 because the infraction happened while she is on probation.
Cobb wrecked in practice last Friday and television cameras caught her reaching back into the truck to grab her phone. She was already on probation through the end of the year for walking on the track after an accident at Dover in May.
Drivers have been prohibited from having phones in their cars since the 2012 season. Brad Keselowski tweeted photos from inside his car of the fire during the Daytona 500 created when Juan Pablo Montoya hit a jet dryer.
Keselowski was not penalized, but NASCAR reiterated that drivers could not have phones in their car. He was fined $25,000 when caught with a phone because he again took photos from the car later that year at Phoenix.
INDYCAR-TV RATINGS: IndyCar is celebrating increased television ratings following Sunday's season finale at Sonoma Raceway, which was the most-watched IndyCar race ever on NBC Sports Network.
In all, viewership on NBCSN this year was up 34 percent, while overall viewership on among all IndyCar broadcast partners was up 16 percent.
Sunday's race featured six drivers eligible for the championship, with Scott Dixon winning the race to tie Juan Pablo Montoya in the standings and earn the title on a tie-breaker. The race averaged 841,000 viewers on NBCSN, with more than 1 million viewers watching the final quarter hour.
It was the most-watched cable telecast of an IndyCar Series race since NBCSN acquired the rights in 2009; it was also the highest cable viewership since the Richmond race on ESPN in 2008.
For the year, combining NBCSN and ABC telecasts, IndyCar races averaged 1.144 million viewers.
"More fans found a lot to like with the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2015 and the growth in television ratings and viewership reflect that," said Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman & Co., parent of IndyCar and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. "Our TV audiences increased significantly as we approached the championship that went down to the very last lap."