The Darlington Raceway in South Carolina ended the two month drought of Sunday-free Nascar and despite having no fans in attendance, the race came down to the final 33 laps as Kevin Harvick (4) blew past Alex Bowman (88) to pick up his 50th career victory proving why he is still the chase leader. A couple drivers made their long awaited return, 48 year old Matt Kenseth (42) coming out of retirement makes him the oldest current driver on the race track but his age didn’t slow him down as he worked his way up from the mid 20’s finishing in 10th place. The other driver to make his surprising return was Ryan Newman (6) his first appearance behind the wheel since his near tragic crash back at the Daytona 500 and raced pretty solid finishing in 15th, he may have squeaked into the top 10 if his car didn’t spin out on lap 253. Another disappointing race for the defending champion, Kyle Busch (18) who failed two pre-race inspections forcing him to start from the rear, overall Busch mainly stayed in the top 20 with a few laps in the top 5 but some pit-road issues late cost him dearly as he finished 26th.
Stage 1 (90 laps): All 40 drivers haven’t had any practice before the race, this was evident with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (47) as he passed the second turn of the first lap and hit the side wall ending his day. Brad Keselowski (2) and Bowman’s Chevy lead the majority of the opening frame until Jimmie Johnson (48) went to the inside to pass Bowman on lap 81, he would run smoothly until the final lap of the stage when Johnson’s hood hit the backside of Chris Buescher (17) which caused him to slide down the track hitting the side wall to end his day. How lucky could William Byron (24) get? He wins the stage without leading a lap!
Stage 2 (95 laps): Harvick’s Ford would begin his dominance early in stage 2 with a comfortable lead on Bowman’s Chevy, Byron and his Camaro was having a steller 3rd place spot until he lost control, spinning out hitting the outside wall ending his afternoon, hence the nickname, “The Track Too Tough to Tame.” On lap 154, the 6th caution was waved, but no wreck, instead an advertisement against the outside wall detached and got lodged on Tyler Reddick’s (8) grill, the raceway workers hurried to turn two as they peeled off the debris to avoid Reddick’s Chevy to overheat. After another caution was called on lap 174 as Christopher Bell (95) spun out, Keselowski’s Mustang took the lead off of pit road and didn’t look back as he snatched the stage 2 win.
Stage 3 (107 laps): After Buescher spun out, Harvick jumped out in front with under 75 laps to go. Ryan Newman spun off turn one on lap 253 but clocked in at 15th to cap off an impressive return. After the restart, Harvick (4) with Bowman (88), Elliott (9), and Kurt Busch (1) trailing behind could only see their chances of winning become smoke. Harvick, nicknamed, “The Closer,” dominated the final 33 laps as he led a total of 159 laps for the victory. Once Harvick finished his celebratory burnout, in a post race interview, looking back toward the empty stands, he said, “I didn’t think it was going to be that much different, and then we won the race - and it’s dead silent out here.” He went on to thank his good friend, a Charlotte emergency physician, Dr. Josh Hughes whose name was written above Harvick’s car door in appreciation of health care workers fighting the coronavirus pandemic.
Despite no practice, no qualifying and no fans, a lot of drivers performed well, Harvick is the only driver to finish in the top 10 in 5 races this season, Chase Elliott (9) and Denny Hamlin (11) get back on track rounding out the top 5, Martin Truex Jr. (19) gets his best finish of the season at 6th and how about rookies, Tyler Reddick and John-Hunter Nemechek finishing 7th and 9th respectively continuing their promising starts. Last year's Darlington’s winner, Erik Jones (20) worked his way up from the mid teens and finished 8th and the “Ageless Wonder” Matt Kenseth to wrap up the top 10. A lackluster performance for the two time winner Joey Logano (22) finishing 18th but what an amazing effort from Kyle Busch (18) as he started from the back of the pack to manage a top 5 spot with roughly 50 laps left but after losing a lap due to a pitstop, he came up with a rough 26th place finish.
Nascar will continue this Wednesday at the Darlington Toyota 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 next Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. There were no fans at Darlington but according to FOX Sports, Sunday’s race averaged 6.32 million viewers and was the most watched competitive sports event on television behind this year’s Daytona 500 which reached 7.03 million viewers. Nascar is back!