NASCAR returned to the track for the first time since COVID-19 forced on-track activities to cease in March. In the interim, fans have been privy to eNASCAR racing virtual races through the iRacing platform, but Sunday it was back to the real-life asphalt of Darlington Raceway.
As the cars rolled out of pit road, Brad Keselowski lead the field. As the green flag dropped, the cars accelerated and we were back to green flag racing…for only a moment. It took all of one half of a lap for the first caution to fly for an accident as Ricky Stenhouse Jr. spun out in the backstretch. This raised questions as to whether practice time should have been provided for drivers to regain familiarity with their cars before heading back to full speed on arguably the toughest track on the circuit.
After leading just before the end of the first stage, Jimmie Johnson lost control as Chris Buescher checked up and made contact with Johnson. Johnson was one of two Hendrick Motorsports cars that had been making strong runs before an accident ended their competitive runs. William Byron finished 14 laps off the lead lap after an incident in the second stage. As the race wore on it became clear that Kevin Harvick’s #4 was the class of the field as he worked his way to the front. In the end, Harvick was able to out-duel Alex Bowman on a late restart to seal the victory.
Steve O’Donnell, Chief Racing Development Officer for NASCAR, mentioned in the post-race press conference that not having fans at the track was an odd feeling. Harvick echoed that sentiment in his post race interview commenting, “We won the race and it’s dead silent here.”
NASCAR’s premier series will continue their season sooner than typical, as they will race next Wednesday evening at Darlington Raceway. Next weekend kicks off the annual NASCAR Memorial Day weekend events with two races coming at Charlotte. The first, a 600 mile affair on Sunday evening, is usually beginning as the Indianpolis 500 is ending. With the Indy event being delayed until August 23rd. A second, 500 km race, will be held at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Wednesday.
Photo Credit: 366150Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images