HARVICK AND NASCAR ARE BACK

KEVIN HARVICK CELEBRATES – The first race back after the health break and Kevin Harvick, #4, ran away with the end session and took the win.                           (Nascar Photo)

Hodges News Service

DARLINGTON, S.C.-- NASCAR and Kevin Harvick had reason to celebrate last Sunday night. The sanctioning body staged a very successful race, the first one since March 8, due to the coronavirus shutdown and “Happy” Harvick won it for his fiftieth career Cup Series victory.

Harvick was first out of the pits after a lap 255 caution. He managed to hold off Alex Bowman for a lap, then checked out on the field to win by 2.154 seconds.

“This is a top win for us,” said Harvick, who led 159 laps of the 293 lap race. “If there was a downside it’s not having any fans in the stands. It’s really weird racing without fans.”

“I really thought this race would play into our hands. The guys took a lot of time getting the car ready. From the first lap it felt good and we just did what we had to do,” said Bowman, Stage One was runner up.

“I knew we could run with Kevin, but I couldn’t quite get around him on that last restart,” said Bowman. “I just needed a little more.”

Kurt Busch did not lead any laps but came in third, while Chase Elliott was fourth.

“Had a slow start for sure, it was nice to get our NAPA Chevy back driving decent there at the end,” said Elliott. “Hate that we were so far in left field to start the race, but really proud of the effort. Pit stops were fantastic and the adjustments were really good. The track kept changing and we were able to kind of keep up with things and finally get caught back up to a decent place at the end. Hopefully we have something really good to build off of on Wednesday. Heard that was our best run at Darlington, so that’s good! Hopefully Wednesday is a few spots better.”

Denny Hamlin was the fifth place finisher, followed by Martin Truex Jr., Tyler Reddick, Eric Jones, John Nemechek, and Matt Kenseth.

Polesitter, Brad Keselowski led 80 laps, but faded near the end of the race. He finished 13th.

Ryan Newman back for his first race since the horrific crash at Daytona was 15th.

“Really proud of everybody’s effort today to unload the Oscar Mayer Ford as good as we did,” Newman said following the race. “We started pretty strong and for the first 180 laps or so we were really good, then we got the car too free and we needed it to turn better, but we never got the front to work and made the back loose. Overall, great to be back in the race car, proud of how everybody worked, not just our team, but everyone in NASCAR to break the ice on getting the world back in motion.”

Joey Logano wound up with an 18th place finish. He had problems that probably kept him from finishing higher. First, he brushed the outside wall, then during lap 214 he had to pit for tires and went a lap down.

Jimmie Johnson wound up with a DNF. He ran into the rear of Chris Buescher on lap 89, spun down and hit the inside wall.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was the first car out. He spun on the first lap and hit the wall.

This was one of the milder NASCAR races at Darlington, “The Track Too Tough To Tame.” There were 10 cautions for 57 laps, but no major wrecks. Most were simple spinouts, where the driver lost control of his car and either spun around or brushed the wall.

Top-10 Cup leaders after 5 of 36: 1. Harvick-218, 2. Bowman-190, 3. Logano-185, 4. Elliott-178, 5. Keselowski-158, 6. Hamlin-154, 7. Almirola-151, 8. Blaney-144, 9. DiBenedetto-141, 10. Bowyer-135.

NASCAR’S CHANGING FACE

Jeff Gordon and Mike Joy were not at the Darlington track for Sunday’s race. They called the race from a studio in Charlotte, while Regan Smith was the only at-track reporter for the broadcast team, working the pits. Larry McReynolds, an analyst, also worked from the Charlotte studio.

NASCAR has limited the number of people at the track to only those essential to compete and broadcast the race, so Fox had a dramatically reduced roster and used a high-speed custom-built drone that can offer more perspectives than usual since fans weren’t in the stands. The Fox team used instant messaging with crews to glean the critical information Gordon and Joy needed to properly call the race.

When the Cup Series kicked off on May 17 at Darlington, the lineup was determined in part by a random draw for starting positions.

The starting lineup for the next Cup Series event, scheduled May 20 at Darlington, used the finishing order from May 17 as the basis for two inversions: Starting positions 1-20: The top 20 finishers from the May 17 event will be inverted for the start of the May 20 race. Starting positions 21-40: The bottom 20 finishers from the May 17 event will be inverted for the start of the May 20 race; any new entries will be placed at the tail of the field.

There will be same-day qualifying on May 24 for the Coca-Cola 600.

In addition NASCAR announced that the field size for Xfinity and Trucks races temporarily will be expanded to a maximum of 40 vehicles each. The change will be in place for events scheduled without qualifying.

The temporary procedure change increases the field from Xfinity Series’ customary 36 entries and the Truck Series’ usual 32. No changes were made to the NASCAR Cup Series’ field size, which remains at a maximum 40 cars.

Meanwhile Kyle Busch will run all seven of the races. Busch, who’s practically unbeatable in the Xfinity and Truck Series’ is going to compete in all of them over an 11-day period.

Because of Busch’s experience in the Cup Series, NASCAR limits him to five races a year in each of the lesser series, and he plans to do the max.

“I’m running all of them,” he said. “Every one of them that’s scheduled, I’m in. It’s going to be getting thrown to the wolves - that’s for sure.”

There is also a $100,000 bounty to any driver that beats him in one of the lesser series races.

TV SCHEDULE THROUGH

WEDNESDAY, MAY 27

Sun., May 24; Cup Series at Charlotte; 6 pm ET; TV: FOX

Mon., May 25; Xfinity Series at Charlotte; 7:30 pm ET; TV: FoxSports1

Tue., May 26; Truck Series at Charlotte; 8 pm ET; TV: FoxSports1

Wed., May 27; Cup Series at Charlotte; 8 pm ET; TV: FoxSports1

The May 17 and May 20 Cup Series races at Darlington are not replacing the scheduled Southern 500 on Labor Day weekend, the opener of the NASCAR Playoffs. NASCAR intends to keep its 10-race postseason format and tracks involved unchanged, but the situation remains fluid.

Here is the complete NASCAR race schedule through June 21. All races will be run without fans.

Sat., May 30 - Bristol Xfinity; Sun., May 31 - Bristol Cup; Sat., June 6 - Atlanta Trucks; Sat., June 6 - Atlanta Xfinity; Sun., June 7 - Atlanta Cup; Wed., June 10 - Martinsville Cup; Sat., June 13 - Homestead Trucks; Sat., June 13 - Homestead Xfinity; Sun., June 14 - Homestead Cup; Sat., June 20 - Talladega ARCA; Sat., June 20 - Talladega Xfinity; Sun., June 21 - Talladega Cup.

No further scheduling has been announced.

Racing Joke: Two old retired drivers had moved to a Florida retirement home. They were playing cards one day when one looked at the other and said, “Now, don’t get mad at me. I know we’ve been friends for a long time, but I just can’t think of your name. I’ve thought and thought, but I can’t remember it. Please tell me what your name is.

His friend glared at him. Finally, he said, “How soon do you need to know?”

Racing Trivia Question: When did Charlotte Motor Speedway hold its first race?

Last Week’s Question: What year did Alan Kulwicki win his only Cup Series championship?

Answer: It was 1992. He edged Bill Elliott by just 10 points.

Gerald Hodges is a syndicated NASCAR writer and author. His books may be viewed and ordered online at Amazon.com. You may contact him by e-mail at: hodges@race500.com.