NASCAR continued its 2020 season last Sunday – Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin won the two Cup races in Darlington – Chase Briscoe celebrates an emotional Xfinity victory
NASCAR Cup Series
NASCAR is finally back: Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the traditional stock car series in America has resumed the 2020 season. Last Sunday and Wednesday, two ghost races were held at the Darlington Raceway, without spectators and with strict hygiene rules.
Without practice and qualifying and with a drawn grid, the green flag of the 400-mile long The Real Heroes 400, dedicated to the helpers in the coronavirus crisis, was waved on Sunday. Brad Keselowski started the 293-lap race from pole position thanks to the luck of the draw.
In the first stage, all signs pointed to a victory for Jimmie Johnson, who had taken the lead during the race. On the final lap there was a contact with Chris Buescher, whom the Hendrick driver wanted to lap. Johnson lost control of his car and crashed into the inner barrier. His teammate William Byron won the first stage, but then dropped far behind due to a loose wheel.
The second stage was won by pole setter Brad Keselowski, who beat Alex Bowman to the line. The race was won by NASCAR veteran Kevin Harvick ahead of the Hendrick driver in the #88 car. Kurt Busch finished third ahead of Chase Elliott, while Hamlin completed the top-5.
Two youngsters, who drove their first Cup race in Darlington, attracted attention with strong performances on Sunday: Childress driver Tyler Reddick finished seventh in his #8 car. John Hunter Nemechek at the wheel of his Front Row Ford convinced with a solid ninth place. For both Cup rookies it was the best result in their young careers so far.
Hamlin wins second race, Busch in focus
The top-20 of Sunday’s race were simply reversed for the starting grid on Wednesday, which is why Ryan Preece got the pole position. After a delay due to rain the 500 kilometre race (228 laps) was finally started. Clint Bowyer prevailed in the first segment and collected the important bonus points.
The Stewart-Haas driver was unbeatable in the second stage as well, which is why he again scored ten championship points and one play-off point. Chase Elliott, who was the focus of attention later in the race, ended up second. In the fight for positions Kyle Busch tried to get back into the train of cars. He misjudged the situation and sent Elliott into the wall. The young Hendrick driver showed his frustration with his middle finger – directed at Busch of course.
The Gibbs driver has apologized several times to Elliott and Hendrick Motorsports. On Twitter, the reigning NASCAR champion wrote: “I want to apologize again to Chase & his team. I made a mistake & misjudged the gap. I really hate that it happened for those guys. I have too much respect for Chase and Alan [Gustafson, Crew Chief] to do that maliciously.”
The rain-shortened race was ultimately won by Hamlin, who scored his second win of the season after the Daytona 500. Kyle Busch finished second ahead of Harvick and Keselowski despite the incident with Elliott. Erik Jones completed the top 5 ahead of Joey Logano, Aric Almirola and Jimmie Johnson.
NASCAR Xfinity Series
The NASCAR Xfinity Series also continued its season. The first race after the forced break was supposed to take place on Tuesday, but the race in Darlington had to be postponed to Thursday due to rain.
In a thrilling race, it was Chase Briscoe, who fought a fierce battle with Kyle Busch in the final laps and won the race. After several contacts with the wall as well as with Busch and severa lead changes, the 25-year-old prevailed against Busch and sped to victory.
It was a very emotional victory for Briscoe, as it was only on Tuesday that he and his wife learned that they had lost their unborn child. The winner’s interview in Darlington’s Victory Lane was correspondingly intense.
“This is for my wife. This has been the hardest week I‘ve ever had to deal with,” Briscoe said shortly after climbing out of the car with tears running down his face. “When I took the lead, I was crying in my car. This is more than a race win. This is the biggest win of my life after the toughest day of my life. To be able to beat the best there is, is so satisfying.”