It had been 10 weeks since we last heard the roar of the NASCAR Cup Series and though the road back seemed so bleak at times, what we witnessed on Sunday was more about the steps it took to get to the green flag than what took place afterwards.
It wasn’t just show up and put on a race as the rest of the sports world was watching to see if you could successfully put on a contest and still abide by the social distancing guidelines all the while in front of an empty set of grandstands.
There has never been a race day like what we witnessed on Sunday but it was a testimony to those that put on masks to go about their race day jobs or crawl behind the wheel of a car to put on a live sporting event that the country had been craving.
The show that they gave the viewing audience for the first time in months let everyone forget about the hardships they had been going through and for a couple of hours get to return to just being fans.
Kevin Harvick was the dominant car for much of the race as he notched his 50th career win and the first of the season.
Hendrick Motorsports Alex Bowman finished second to Harvick on the day that it was announced that he was given a one year extension on his contract that will keep him at HMS through 2021.
Kurt Busch finished third and Bowman’s teammate Chase Elliott finished fourth. It appeared early in the race that it was going to be a dominating day for Hendrick drivers as seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson had one of the stronger cars in the opening stage of the race.
He was on his way to winning the first stage when he wrecked on the final lap that ended his day as his Chevrolet could not be repaired.
Matt Kenseth returned to the series for the first time since 2018 as Chip Ganassi hired him to fill in the vacant seat left after Kyle Larson was fired for a racial slur that he used during an iRacing competition.
The former series champion finished tenth in his first outing with his new team. Adding yet another story line to the first race back was the return of Ryan Newman behind the wheel after suffering a serious head injury on the last lap at the season opening Daytona 500.
The Roush-Fenway driver piloted his Oscar Mayer Ford to a 15th place finish. The series returns Wednesday night to Darlington for a second race before going to Charlotte Motor Speedway on Sunday for the traditional running of the Coca-Cola 600.
By this time of the season going into Charlotte’s own version of speedweeks, the points race has started to take shape and even though Darlington was only the fifth race of the season there are some drivers that have already started drawing away from the rest of the pack.
It’s all about being one of the 16 drivers that advance to the 10-race playoff portion of the schedule with the opportunity to run of the title. Four drivers have now advanced by owning one of the five checkered flags that have been awarded. Joey Logano leads all drivers with two wins with Kevin Harvick, Alex Bowman and Denny Hamlin each having notched one win.
Harvick sits on top of the points standings with the rest of the top-five being rounded out by Bowman, Logano, Chase and Brad Keseolwski. Recent championship runs has taught us that the all-important Playoff points leader board can become crucial for drivers that advance through the rounds of the playoffs.
Logano leads all drivers with 10 Playoff points followed by Harvick and Bowman with six each. Both driver and Playoff points will be so big each week because of the uncertainty of completing the entire schedule.
Steve writes about NASCAR for HD Media.