NASCAR back on track at Darlington as season restarts

Harvick takes home 50th win while pit crews returned wearing masks, sitting apart in tents instead of huddling on the pit wall. More than anything else, they showed biggest of all changes... no fans.

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Kevin Harvick poses with his trophy and mask following his victory at Darlington. [Photo: USA TODAY]

The Chicago Blackhawks sounded the horn on March 11 after a win over the San Jose Sharks not knowing that it would be the last game they played perhaps of the entire 2020 NHL season. Chicagoland sports fans watching the game may have know about an Utah Jazz player testing positive for Coronavirus, and that the Jazz-Thunder match-up had been suspended.

The next day dozens of sports leagues around the world shut the doors. NBA, NHL, Formula 1 racing, NASCAR and MLB soon to follow. The last thing that stopped sports to this level was World War II.

No one grasped how long it would be till we had live sports again.

On Sunday, 72 days after the last NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series race 40 drivers, teams and pit crews filled in to Darlington Raceway in Darlington, SC for a return to real life racing.

Unlike most other leagues, NASCAR has been active during the COVID-19 pandemic. The racing simulator IRacing has seen virtual races go out on to airwaves across the country. Guys like Timmy Hill who would never have a chance to say they won a race against NASCAR talent on a speedway track in real life because of differences in team funding, got to say that. Those races should be remembered because in IRacing everyone is equal in car. It’s just you, the rig (as they are called) and your skill to drive a car.

On May 17th, at 2:30 pm the race hit the air on Fox after the usual hour pre-race show. Fox showed the drivers wearing masks until they stepped in the car. Pit crew members wearing masks and sitting apart in tents instead of huddling on the pit wall. More than anything else, they showed biggest of all changes… no fans.

How NASCAR deals with no fans is different than other sports, the engines are so loud they make the crowd a dull noise. However, it is an interesting look at how American sports will go on without fans due to the issues with large gatherings.

Kevin Harvick won the Real Heroes 400 named for the front-line workers fighting COVID-19. It was his 50th win in NASCAR, and he will have a chance to win again not next Sunday but this Wednesday. Because of the shorted schedule Nascar is doing something it hasn’t done before; Two races in one week. The top 20 will be inverted EX: 20th place finisher Ryan Preece starts in 1st and Harvick who finished first starts 20th when we race again on Wednesday night under the lights.

Next weekend the NASCAR Cup Series teams will make the venture to Charlotte, NC for another two race event at the Charlotte Motor Speedway and even though no fans will be there Busch, sponsor of the #4 car driven by Kevin Harvick, will still bring fans to the race just in a different way. All a fan had to do is send a tweet of themselves and a Busch beer on post it with two special hashtags #Yourfacehear and #Buschcontest. Ten winner will have their face on the #4 and a pair of 2021 Nascar race tickets.

After Charlotte will be trips to Bristol, Atlanta, Martinsville, Miami, and Talledega announced as ready to go up through June 21st.

For Chicagoland NASCAR fans, however, the race at Chicagoland speedway won’t be returning in 2020. The event has been postponed  along with Kansas, Michigan, and Sonoma Raceway in California. Because all Nascar events in Iowa are also officially postponed, it’s very unlikely we will get close to racing in person at the NASCAR level till 2021.

That shouldn’t be too much cause for concern however, this is the starter pistol, the first run at sports coming back. Perhaps we should have expected this from the company and sport whose roots are in bootlegging during prohibition.

The idea NASCAR would run against the grain and be the first Major American sport back isn’t so weird at all.

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