I suppose it isn’t a surprise that Kevin Harvick, The Closer, sealed the deal on Sunday with a dominating final stage push that left everyone else in the dust. Harvick led 150 laps overall, essentially doubling the 80 laps led by Brad Keselowski.
This was the first race back for NASCAR which really needed this opening. This sport and all the teams are sponsored and if no one is racing, it is hard to sell companies on reasons to sponsors the sport or its teams.
NASCAR couldn’t have asked for a better opening round that starting two races at Darlington before moving on to Charlotte for a pair.
A couple of the drivers looked a little rusty, in particular Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. who didn’t even finish a lap before wrecking his car. Jimmie Johnson was leading Stage 1 and got too close to the 17, Stenhouse’s old ride if that isn’t a huge coincidence, and got into Chris Buescher sending the 48 into the wall and ending his day. Later on William Byron was having a good race when he suddenly lost it and wrecked. Unlike Johnson, he would return but finished several laps down.
Wednesday night the Cup drivers return to Darlington for a night race. The cars, if the rain holds off, should have more grip as the sun drops. But if it rains ahead of the race, look for it to take a while longer to rubber up. The drivers leading the first Stage probably won’t be the drivers at the lead in the end. Oddly enough, the starting positions for the night race are inverted from the day race finish. Meaning Kevin Harvick stars 20th and Ryan Preece will start from the pole alongside Ty Dillon. But it’s not all young drivers up front. Joey Logano and Clint Bowyer didn’t have great drives on Sunday but find themselves with good starting positions. The tricky part will be for the veterans to make it through the field in Stage 1 without spinning on a potentially green track and getting caught up in another car that loses grip.
Chances are, some of the drivers we saw running up front will be back up front, the cream usually rises to the top. Denny Hamlin will start 16th and he didn’t impress anyone on Sunday so unless he can find some speed, look for Hamlin to be mediocre again. Alex Bowman will start 19th but he had a lot of speed Sunday, just couldn’t get past Harvick and into the clean air. Watch Bowman on Wednesday. I fully expect Martin Truex, Jr. to be back up front by Stage 2 at the latest. Jimmie Johnson will have his work cut out for him. He will have to stay sharp and patient as he fights from 37th. Kyle Busch will also have to start from deep in the field and stay off the wall. I do look for the Fords of Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski to be headed to the front. Only conditions will tell if they can find speed or find themselves stalling out in dirty air.
NASCAR also announced a slate of races to follow the Coca Cola 600 on Memorial weekend. Look for Cup races, without fans as of now, at Bristol, Atlanta, Martinsville on a Wednesday night, Homestead and then Talladedga on June 21. The Xfinity and Gander Truck series will offer companion races for each event as well, so you have plenty of racing to absorb.
Stay safe, healthy and we wish you all well in the coming weeks and months as the country opens back up.
(Photo courtesy of NASCAR Media)