After a two month break due to the coronavirus pandemic, NASCAR returned to live racing at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina with the “Real Heroes 400.” As you might imagine, things were different.
To follow CDC guidelines, there were no fans in attendance, qualifying and practice were canceled to limit track personnel, crew members had to wear face masks and spotters were spread out instead of huddled in one area overlooking the track. But when the racing started it looked and felt for the most part like a normal race.
El Cajon native and seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson was having a great race until he wasn’t.
Johnson, who has three wins at the track, was leading the final lap of the first stage when his car broke loose while trying a lap a car and went hard into the inside wall. His number 48 Chevrolet sustained heavy damage knocking Johnson out of the race.
“I felt like I was going to be able to exit the corner side-by-side with him and things just went horribly wrong there,” Johnson said in an interview after the incident. “What a great car, I feel terrible for my team.”
Johnson, who is trying to snap a winless streak that dates back to June of 2017, finished 38th. Kevin Harvick took the checkered flag for his 50th career NASCAR Cup series win. Harvick did the traditional burnout and donuts on the track but even in Victory Lane his teammates kept their distance.
“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,” said Harvick on the track after the win. “We miss the fans.”
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NASCAR is back at Darlington for a Cup series race on Wednesday night before heading to Charlotte Motor Speedway for the Coca Cola 600 next Sunday, barring anyone involved with the events exhibiting signs of COVID-19.
If this return works, and all those involved are able to stay healthy, it could be the start of a blueprint for other leagues in the U.S. to do the same.