It was not the usual circumstances on Sunday afternoon. Not a single soul in the grandstands except for 40 spotters and television camera operators. It was not the usual feeling, with teams spread out in the garage and into the parking area. It wasn’t a normal vibe, as cars went through the inspection line and directly to the grid, not a single lap turned.
It was not the normal weekend, as broadcasters were in studio, one at the track, media personnel limited to less than a handful, and the closest fans got to the track was a restaurant outside turn 2, along with some stragglers that went to a private parking area to tailgate.
However, once the cars got the command from the individuals on the front line of the pandemic, it all seemed to be normal.
The drivers swapped their masks for their helmets, and it was as though nothing had changed.
Fact of the matter was, a lot had changed, but the competition was exactly what was expected from NASCAR. To come back after two months away, no time in the cars, and just say “have at it” was a task even the best of drivers may have trouble with. And yet, they did it.
Nothing was “normal” with how the first race back from a two-month hiatus was to be, but yet, the entire time, what was on the track felt exactly that…normal.
As is expected, the contenders rose to the top of the field, and even had some trouble, while Darlington itself proved to be the ultimate challenge for everyone involved. It felt like NASCAR was again in the 1990’s and into early 2000’s when they returned to the “Lady in Black” for a 400-mile affair during the spring season. The one thing that was slightly different was the fact this was ran in May, rather than in March or April.
In the end, what mattered is the fans at home were not watching anyone playing video games, or suddenly getting disconnected simply because someone else was wanting to watch another program. No one was making fun of drivers, or an online crew chief, and certainly no one was losing sponsors because of something they did, or ultimately a job for what they said.
What mattered the most on Sunday was 40 drivers came to Darlington Raceway, and they were there to do what they were hired to do…race.
And guess what, everyone gets to do it again on Wednesday night.
The difference is, unlike 400 miles, this will be 500 kilometers, and it is the ultimate sprint to the finish. The track “Too Tough to Tame” has to somehow be controlled twice in a matter of four days, with the second race shorter, and that means more white knuckle moments, and potentially some aggravation.
At that point, social distancing will be the farthest thing from the minds of competitors, since at least one will want a confrontation.
NASCAR is back, and that empty feeling of having no sports to watch, and root on, is over.