Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas, NASCAR, Darlington Raceway, 17th May 2020

Is this how motorsport will look in 2020? NASCAR returns at Darlington

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Yesterday NASCAR became the first major motorsport series to hold a race since the pandemic began.

A 40-strong field of drivers took the green flag for the Real Heroes 400 at Darlington Raceway. In a country which has had more Covid-19 infections (over 1.4 million) and deaths (more than 85,000) than any other, the series took many precautions to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.

The entire event was compressed into a single day. No practice or qualifying were held, just 293 racing laps around the 2.19-kilometre oval.

The event was held behind closed doors with no fans in attendance (Red Bull Ring and Silverstone intend to do the same when F1 returns in July). Teams’ motorhome were spread over a wider area and garages reorganised to give mechanics more space.

To keep numbers within the circuit to a minimum only essential team staff were present and all were required to practice social distancing and wear face masks – failing to do the latter risked a hefty fine. Journalists sat two metres apart from each other in a sparsely-populated media centre.

Start, NASCAR, Darlington Raceway, 17th May 2020
The race was held behind closed doors
Teams were also required to monitor the health of their employees and random temperature checks were conducted. However Covid-19 tests were not conducted.

The race went ahead without problems and Stewart-Haas’s Kevin Harvick won the first NASCAR race to be held for 70 days. It was the fifth round of the championship which was originally supposed to have held 12 races by this time.

NASCAR intends to play catch-up over the coming days with another race at Darlington on Wednesday followed by two races at Charlotte Motor Speedway within the following week. This will include one of the series’ centrepiece races, the 600-mile race on May 24th. This is usually scheduled alongside the Indianapolis 500 but has that date to itself following the postponement of IndyCar’s blue riband race to August.

The drivers carried tributes to local medics on their cars in recognition of their work to save the lives of those affected by the pandemic. Harvick’s race-winning car bore the name of Dr Josh Hughes – some of the other tributes can be seen in the gallery below.

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Pictures: NASCAR returns at Darlington

Video: NASCAR returns at Darlington

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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12 comments on “Is this how motorsport will look in 2020? NASCAR returns at Darlington”

  1. Paul Spencer
    18th May 2020, 12:19

    They’re really missing sponsorship opportunities on the face masks – think of the extra publicity… ;-)

    1. There was a football match in South Korea last week where one of the managers had a face mask branded by sponsor Hyundai.

    2. Josh (@canadianjosh)
      18th May 2020, 21:57

      No kidding, Kurt Busch looked like a nurse….. is Ferrari putting their little horsey symbol on all the ventilators they’re making…..🙄

  2. Harvick was really braving it out round the outside of Bowman…properly good racing there.

    Having seen this it confirms my view that I won;t care about the stands being empty once the F1 season gets back underway, the on track action is all that really matters.

  3. How was the grid decided ?? Championship order ??

    1. A combination of owner points and random draw. Top 12 charter teams in points drew for grid spots 1-12, then the next 12 for 13-24, and the final 12 for 25-36. The 4 unchartered cars started 37-40.

      Wednesday will be different. The Top 20 finishers from Sunday will be inverted for grid spots 1-20. The bottom 20 will start as the finished on Sunday.

  4. On the crowd attendance is not any different than an ordinary NASCAR event. :P

    1. Josh (@canadianjosh)
      18th May 2020, 16:24

      Darlington is a sellout every year so the difference is astronomical.

      1. @canadianjosh whilst Darlington might proclaim that it is “sold out” for the NASCAR races, International Speedway Corporation’s 2018 Annual Report let slip that they had quietly removed 11,000 seats from Darlington that year, reducing the capacity from 58,000 to 47,000.

        It’s been part of a deliberate strategy to avoid the sight of empty seats at a number of venues that NASCAR races at. By removing seats, the spectators that are there can be concentrated into a smaller number of stands – careful selection of the right camera angles then allows them to make a half empty venue looked more packed than it really is.

        The fact that Darlington might be advertising itself as “sold out” hides the fact that they might have only achieved that by selling less tickets in the first place – so it’s not quite as positive a news story as you might first think it is.

  5. How Smart; only 30 or so crowd but all standing next to each other.
    Too many people think that when wearing a facemask it’s all right to stay close to others.

    1. @coldfly Those guys were the team spotters. Part of their responsibility is to act as a messenger between the drivers. They were separated at the start but congregated later. I’m sure NASCAR will have a word with them.

      1. NASCAR stopped it before the race ended. Social media was starting to kick up a firestorm about it and, to their credit, they acted fast to fix it.

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