Trying to get things turned around from week to week for any of these teams is a hard task, as the car from the previous race arrives on Monday morning, gets torn down, and in some cases put aside for later use or not seen again. But to turn around and get a car ready in two days, then go right into preparations for a third race in a matter of eight days…talk about overtime.
But that is what this pandemic has done for NASCAR. However, even before thinking about the next event, what we witnessed as part of a double-showing at Darlington certainly makes us wish fans were in the stands.
Can you even imagine what the reaction would have been if the stands had a sea of No. 9 garb being shown off, as it usually does, and that tap by Rowdy had happened? Chase Elliott gave him one bird, but it pretty much would have also been the entire grandstands giving him a pair. The only saving grace was that Kyle Busch admitted he made a bad judgment, but the problem is in Elliott’s case, that is still a sour pill to swallow. He had a car potentially that could have gotten by eventual winner Denny Hamlin, and instead saw his car get hauled to the garage just as the rain drops began falling.
There will be payback coming, that is an absolute certainty, however that payback will not come at Charlotte.
Doing something like that at a high-speed track like the 1.5-mile quad oval will result in, for comparison, what happened when Carl Edwards turned Brad Keselowski in Atlanta years ago. One thing that is certain in this era of racing, drivers do not forget when someone did them wrong. They always ensure at some point to get even.
If Elliott were to pay him back, my money is that happening at a place that Busch is really strong at…say…Bristol? But, that we will be waiting to find out.
Right now, the focus is on endurance and endearing honor.
Whether fans are in the stands or not, having one traditional event not lose it’s event to the pandemic is enormous. There is still something about Charlotte Motor Speedway and Memorial Day weekend that forever are interlinked. From the first race on the track where cars were tearing up tires to the point of “borrowing” some from the infield fans to now having a fallen hero carried on every car, this place means everything to a driver. Many notable drivers have been victorious in the longest event, but a few more have not gotten the honor of taking the win in the longest event.
Men like Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart never got the honor of celebrating the win in the ultimate endurance race for NASCAR.
For those that made this event their first career victory, such as Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte, and Casey Mears, it has a major meaning. Then there’s moments where history is made, like Jimmie Johnson in 2004 taking home his third consecutive win in the race in thrilling fashion, or just years ago when Martin Truex Jr. put his stamp on the race when he led all but eight laps…12 total miles…of a 600-mile event.
Aside from all that, the real reason this race is so special, especially this year, is to be able to honor those that are not here to witness a green flag, whether in person or on television. Come Sunday afternoon, the sound of God Bless America will still come over the speakers, a visual of bagpipe players belting out Amazing Grace will still be heard, 21 guns fired off, and finally the emotional playing of TAPS will bring everyone to tears.
It’s the longest race, on the most solemn of weekends. No fans, no autograph sessions, no practice. Just qualifying, and racing.
It’s time to get back to the track, and back to something familiar…the marathon of NASCAR.