To paraphrase a line from Titanic, it has been 74 days.
That is how long it will be since the checkered flag waved at Phoenix and the green flag will be back out on Sunday. The emptiness that everyone has been feeling for this long cannot even be put into print form. Life in a sense ended in mid-March, when racing, and the world, came to a halt.
To say that NASCAR returning will be a breath of fresh air, however, may not exactly be the right terminology.
I say that only because the way it will look from within the garage and on the screen, is anything but fresh. We all have been used to seeing empty seats at the race track over the last several years, even at some of the most notorious tracks that sell out capacity. Some took out seats, or banner some off to get sponsor plugs.
But to not see one fan in the stands, either with a camera in hand, a pennant in the air, or a cold beer being drank, is not a breath of fresh air. In a sense, it’s emptiness. It’s not the same. It’s not…normal.
Normal…a term that has been overused ever since the pandemic began.
The idea of a “normal” lifestyle is different to each individual. Even a normal race day is different from driver to driver, so this is anything but normal for everyone. Never before have teams literally unloaded off the truck, gotten inspected, and been put on the grid to race. No practice time…not normal. No qualifying attempt…not normal. Temperature checks entering the garage every time…not normal. There is never going to be a normal weekend for anyone in the sport…any longer.
As much as many may think this is normal, it’s far from it. There is nothing normal about taking away two races on a schedule and having them “made up” as part of a two-race week.
For many, racing on Sunday will just “feel” normal, but everything outside of that is not.
What this Sunday will feel like, however, is familiar. It is a familiar feeling to watch 40 drivers on a Sunday afternoon compete for a checkered flag, points, and the thrill of victory. It’s familiar to see pit stops, drafting, a bit of a tire rub, and in this case, a Darlington Stripe.
That being said, staying close to home certainly has some perks. NASCAR returning to a historic venue, with a 400-mile spring race, does have a familiar feeling. Brings back thoughts of 2003 when Ricky Craven and Kurt Busch decided to play bumper cars and brought the crowd to it’s feet.
Whether a finish like that will happen, I suppose will be determined later in the evening.
What we will see on Sunday will be the farthest thing from normal. It is not even close to the actual term. But instead, what we will see is something familiar. We are going to see 40 cars get a command to start engines, then roll off turn 4 awaiting a moment that has been over two months in the making. It will finally be time to turn them loose, and wave the green flag.