KEVIN HARVICK RINGS IN NASCAR’S RETURN AT DARLINGTON
It’s back. The clashing steel and burnt rubber of forty screaming cars that can only be the NASCAR Cup Series returned with a squeezed in schedule to make up for the races postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. NASCAR made its official return after two months of waiting at the Lady in Black herself; Darlington Motor speedway.
The starting lineup for The Real Heroes 400 was decided with a random draw cut into segments in correlation with the owners; Brad Keselowski was the lucky driver to draw the number one position while Alex Bowman continued where he left off with him drawing second. When the long-awaited green flag finally waved over the empty stands, it immediately became apparent that no one had been able to practice as cars were everywhere on the track; a recipe for a wreck. That wreck would come off of turn two on the first lap as Ricky Stenhouse Jr went nearly four-wide on the backstretch and bounced off of Corey LaJoie and spun into the wall; his day was officially over before completing a lap as the yellow waved. With the restart on lap six, Keselowski kept the lead as BJ McLeod, making his first start in Cup with his own team, started to slow on track with an issue; making it to the pits before bringing out a caution. With no further issues, Keselowski kept the lead until the competition caution came out to help the drivers plan for adjustments. With this caution, the top twenty pitted first and then the second half pitted with everyone keeping their positions as they came back on track. As the green came out, Quinn Houff had to pit for a new fuel cell, and Bowman took the lead after passing Jimmie Johnson and then forcing Keselowski to go too high and lose grip. As things settled, Hendrick Motorsports seemed to be the team to beat as they had three cars in the top five with Johnson taking the lead seemingly out of nowhere as he came flying up on Bowman in a hurry with ten to go in the stage. Then the heartbreak hit Johnson as he tried to lap Chris Buescher on the final lap of the stage and got into the back of him. Buescher slightly smacked the wall and kept driving, but Johnson spun into the backstretch wall and picked up heavy damage which ended his strong, promising day. With Johnson’s wreck, William Byron inherited the stage one win.
Kevin Harvick, with the number one pit stall, was first off pit road for the stage two lead, but he nearly lost it on the green as Denny Hamlin gave Bowman a big push to get him to his side. Then the heartbreak struck again for HMS as the very strong Byron had a flat tire and slammed the back of the car into the wall coming off the corner; he drove away, but the car was too heavily damaged to compete up front. Harvick drives off first from the pits again and drives away on the green as Bowman and Kurt Busch fight for second. The yellow waved again soon thereafter as Daniel Suarez spun, but was able to keep it off the wall and continued on. Everyone pitted again, and Harvick continued his strong stops and drove away with the lead again on the green with Bowman right on his tail. Right as things seemed to settle, Hamlin picked a big piece of debris, a banner piece off of an advertisement stuck to the walls of the track. Hamlin became to overheat and had to pull in behind Clint Bowyer to blow the piece off, nearly spinning him in the process, he was able to get rid of the piece, but it immediately was picked up by Tyler Reddick. The caution then came out for the removal of the remains of the banner that were still on the wall to prevent future issues. Harvick was first out of the pits again, but the biggest news of the stops was the heavy damage on Kyle Busch’s car, after already having a bad start with an inspection failure and having to start in the rear, he had now collected the wall. Soon after the restart, Christopher Bell had another hit to his Rookie of the Year battle as he spun collected the wall, the damage was minor, and he drove away, but it effectively ruined his run. Keselowski came out of the pits first as Harvick’s team had their first fumble of the day with a very slow stop that moved him down seven spots. The restart came with eight to go in the second stage; Keselowski cruised to the stage win as everyone behind him raced for a position.
Bowman left the pits first but was not able to keep the lead on the restart as Harvick pushed Keselowski to the lead. After laps of settled out racing, the caution waved for Buescher being bumped into the wall by Bell right as Joey Logano was on his way to the pits for a loose wheel. Harvick’s team was back in their groove and gained him the lead back by mere inches on pit-road. Harvick just squeezed ahead to the lead on the restart and kept the lead for a long green flag run. The run was ended after Ryan Newman, in his first race back after his horrifying Daytona 500 wreck, nearly spun into the wall; he was able to keep it under control and drive away to pick up fifteenth at the end of the day. On the restart, Harvick tried to pull away again, but Bowman crawled to his side, and the two raced hard for the lead for a few laps; a battle that Harvick won. With only twenty-seven laps to go, Kyle Busch, who had been able to drive back into the top ten, had to pit with an issue and ended up finishing twenty-fifth as a result. Meanwhile, Harvick slowly checked out on his way to the win, the fiftieth of his career and first of the season. He will try to repeat this Wednesday night in the same car in the follow-up race at Darlington, the Toyota 500.