By Nicholas Sterling
The drone cam flew overhead as the No. 4 Busch Beer Ford Mustang did burnouts at the start finish line. This was as close to the action as fans could get.
Kevin Harvick led 159 of the 293 laps en route to his 50th career NASCAR win at the Darlington Raceway. The race marked the return to the track for NASCAR after a 10-week layoff due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
There were no fans at the track and all personnel members present were required to wear a mask.
The atmosphere was like nothing seen before at a NASCAR track but once the cars got back on the track, everything seemed normal again.
Early in the race, it looked like it was going to be a battle amongst the Hendrick Chevrolet’s of Jimmie Johnson, Alex Bowman, and William Byron. That all changed on the last lap of stage one.
While leading the race, Jimmie Johnson’s car came up on the slow car of Chris Buescher and the two made contact. Johnson’s car went spinning and made hard contact with the inside wall, ending his day.
Many fans flocked to Twitter to express their disappointment as the seven-time champion has now gone 100 races without a win.
Back luck hit his teammate Byron as he cut a tire and spun just laps into stage two.
Hendricks’ other two cars ran at the front all day as Bowman finished 2nd and Chase Elliott ran 4th.
A couple of surprising finishes happened in the back half of the top 10. Rookies Tyler Reddick and John Hunter Nemechek earned career best 7th and 9th place finishes, respectively. The finish is especially impressive for Nemechek as his team, Front Row Motorsports, hadn’t had a top 10 finish at a non-restrictor plate race since 2017.
From one spectrum to another, Matt Kenseth made his first NASCAR start since 2018 as he replaced the suspended Kyle Larson. The 48-year-old ran solid all day and came out with a 10th place finish.
With the safety guidelines being put into place by NASCAR, there is no qualifying or practice for the Darlington races. The starting lineup for this Wednesday’s race was determined by the top 20 finishers on Sunday. But here’s the thing, the lineup will be inverted.
This means that 20th place finisher Ryan Preece will actually start on the pole for Wednesday night’s race. He will be joined on the front row by Ty Dillon.
That race will be on FS1 at 7:30 p.m. Fans should check the weather forecast before tuning in as Tropical Storm Arthur is moving through the Darlington area this week.