It’s been an odd year and now the 2020 NASCAR Cup season gets even odder.
Kevin Harvick finished second in the FanShield 500k on March 8 at Phoenix Raceway. He led 67 laps but couldn’t quite catch winner Joey Logano and finished just .276 of a second behind him. Despite not yet having a win in 2020, Harvick left the mile oval with the points lead.
Then the racing stopped, along with every other sport on March 13 due to the COVID-19 worldwide pandemic.
Thankfully for drivers and their fans, the TV broadcasts turned to iRacing, which is a premier motorsport racing simulation. NASCAR, FOX and iRacing teamed up to show races on Sunday afternoons.
Now though, it’s time to get back to real racing with Sunday’s Darlington 400 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. The historic 1.366-mile oval has hosted some of the biggest and most important races in NASCAR history.
None may be more important that this one, though.
There will be no fans in attendance, an extremely limited number of workers in the infield, along with no practice and no qualifying. It’s unlike anything seen before in major-league automobile racing.
Harvick will pilot the No. 4 Busch Light #YOURFACEHERE Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) for the first time since March 8. Fans are what make every sport great, especially NASCAR. But right now, it’s best these events are run without fans in the stands for their safety, as well as the safety of the drivers and teams. Even if fans can’t be there in person, Busch Beer wants them to be there in spirit. So, the company is asking fans to tweet pictures of themselves with a Busch Light logo using the hashtags #YOURFACEHERE and #buschcontest for a chance to be featured on Harvick’s No. 4 car, along with a pair of tickets to a 2021 NASCAR race of their choice.
The upside for Harvick as NASCAR returns to racing is that he has some of the most experience of any driver in the field. This will mark his 687th start and his 24th at Darlington.
He’s had success at Darlington with one win, three poles, eight top-five finishes, 11 top-10s, and he’s led a total of 581 laps in his 23 career Cup Series starts there. His average start is 14.4, his average finish is 14.3 and he has a lap-completion rate of 96.1 percent, 7,842 of the 8,195 laps available.
Since 2014, the combination of Harvick competing at Darlington in SHR equipment is particularly impressive. In his last six Cup Series starts there – all of which have come with SHR – he has finished inside of the top-10 in each. Five of those were top-fives. He has an average finish of 4.1 during that span. And of the 581 laps Harvick has led at Darlington dating back to his rookie year in 2001, a total of 518, or 89 percent, have come with SHR despite only six, or 27 percent, of his 23 Darlington starts being with SHR.
Perhaps more important than anything is Harvick’s relationship with crew chief Rodney Childers. They’ve been paired together since 2014 and are longest-running current driver-crew chief combination in the garage. And Childers always seems to provide Harvick with a good car, which will be key as there is no practice or qualifying. As the old racing slogan says, “Run what ya brung.”
And that will be the key as Darlington is unlike any other racetrack where NASCAR competes. It’s an egg-shaped oval – the odd shape because the western portion needed at tighter turn radius as founder Harold Brasington promised Sherman Ramsey, who owned a farm next to the property, that he wouldn’t disturb his minnow pond when he built the track in 1949.
The odd shape means that, to find the fastest way around the track, drivers run against the outside walls in each turn, sometimes brushing up against it and thus earning what has affectionately become known as a “Darlington Stripe” on the right side of the car. And the black marks left on the walls by the tires rubbing up against them all race weekend have led to the track’s other nickname – “The Lady in Black.”
While the race is being run, it’s important to never forget the first responders, doctors, nurses and hospital workers who have fought COVID-19 during this pandemic. Those including Dr. Josh Hughes, an emergency medicine physician with the Mid-Atlantic Emergency Medical Associates practice and the assistant director of the emergency department at Novant Health Presbyterian in Charlotte, North Carolina. Hughes was part of a PSA that Harvick did with several athletes for “The Real Heroes Project.”
Hopefully, for a few hours Sunday, NASCAR can give everyone something exciting to watch.