By: Ashley McCubbin
In a time where there are uncertainties and answers to be determined, having some normalcy in your life can certainly help you navigate through these times. That’s why it’s nice to see race fans get a piece of that virtue of the NASCAR Cup Series returning to the race track on Sunday.
The Real Heroes 400 was the first event run in 70 days for the premiere stock car division, and it was certainly nice to see the sights and sounds of the racecars on the track once again. The sanctioning body should be applauded for all of their efforts taken leading into the weekend, whether working with state governors, setting up one-day shows, and all the policies that are put in place for everybody’s safety. Given what everybody saw on Sunday at Darlington Raceway, it appears the right provisions have been put in place as everything went smoothly – in that matter.
While simply being able to witness the action on FOX and see cars battle side-by-side once again is a great feeling, the actual event that took place before us shouldn’t be lost in the action.
It wasn’t no perfect A-class event by any means and certainly won’t go down as the greatest race of the season, or perhaps in the top-five when things shake out. Sure, there was some great side-by-side racing throughout the pack with some moments that caught your attention. You also can’t overlook the close battle between Kevin Harvick and Alex Bowman on the final pit stop. Ultimately, it had that ‘ol school intermediate feel with tire wear and the cars spread out to a degree.
However, you cannot deny that track position was critical and what separated things at the end of the day. The drivers that started up front and were able to maintain their cars solidly finished up there, as it seemed that passing within the top-five was at a premium throughout the event. While the No. 4 Busch Beer Ford Mustang was fast, Harvick certainly has a strong starting spot draw (second) and his pit crew to thank for the victory on Sunday.
It will be interested to see whether the drivers whom finished inside the top-five can do so once again on Wednesday night with the top-20 finishers inverted for the green flag, though under different conditions being a night race.
Hendrick Motorsports entered the hiatus on a high, courtesy of a dominating victory from Bowman at Auto Club Speedway and consistency from Chase Elliott. It is worth noting that they have won a stage in every race completed this season, too.
It seems that has continued, as they had four of the fastest cars on the track in the early stages. If not for a couple events, they easily could have parked one of their Camaros in victory lane.
Since Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knuas broke up, it has been difficult to watch the seven-time Cup Champion show his previous form of winning. The fans got a glimpse back in time on Sunday, though, as he drove his way to the lead in the opening stage, pulling a gap ahead of his HMS teammates Bowman and William Byron. Ultimately, contact with a lap car on the last lap of the opening stage took him out of event.
Byron showed as much speed as his HMS counterpart once he inherited the top spot, but contact with the wall caused a flat tire and took him out of contention. Bowman, meanwhile, kept his strong start to 2020 going in running inside the top-five all day en route to finishing second, while Elliott rebounded from a pit road speeding penalty in the first stage to place fourth.
Come Wednesday, it will be interesting to see whether they can score the victory, but that will be a tall order should the feat be accomplished by Johnson and Byron. Both will take the green deep in the field as a result of the starting line-up procedure adapted due to no qualifying seeing them both start where they finished on Sunday.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has been criticized for being too aggressive in the past, and that certainly bit him. Entering an event with no practice, he made the decision to go three-wide off of turn two on the opening lap, getting loose, stuffing the No. 47 Chevrolet in the inside backstretch wall.
Despite a third-place finish at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, he has now finished each of the other four events in 20th or worse. It’s certainly not how you want to begin with a new team, especially after your performances previously wasn’t too strong.