February 17, the 2020 season began with a repeat winner in the Daytona 500, and one driver in the hospital causing the entire racing community to be worried, but hopeful. It went through the western swing of tracks.
Then, it stopped.
The pandemic stole away our sports, our escape, our way of forgetting about our problems and instead replaced it with an empty feeling. It was a void that not even online racing could not fill. Fans wanted engines fired, cars hitting the track…they wanted racing.
Finally, it happened, at Darlington. It was anything but normal. Teams had no practice time, no qualifying, and instead were met with temperature scans, had to stay in their motorhomes or cars until race time. Drivers had on face guards, while the broadcast teams had boom microphones to keep the drivers at a distance. Most importantly, looking up in the stands…emptiness. Not one soul in the seats. It was anything but normal, but on the track, it felt familiar.
Who would have ever believed that after over 70 days of being shut down, not allowed at the track, and some teams not even allowed to be in the shop, we as a sport would get to this point.
The schedule saw a lot of different changes, from seeing one double-header weekend suddenly having three. Wednesday night races became a thing, and even a Friday night delight. Surprising additions came on board, including a track that originally was to debut at the 2021 Clash, and the Cup teams even had their first experience of being on a wet track with grooved tires. This came one night after Xfinity somehow completed a race in a pouring monsoon where at certain points no one could see.
Somehow, NASCAR made it through the regular season, through the playoffs, and will settle the championship on time, and do so in front of a crowd.
Is it somewhat surprising of who actually will compete for the championship…of course. Let’s face it, not having the defending champion in the final race to complete his title defense is certainly unique. Add in the fact the regular season champion, who’s won the most races on the season, was one position shy of moving on and you have quite a different and unexpected championship battle.
Are the ones in the championship certainly worthy of competing for the title…absolutely.
Let’s face it, you have a pair of Penske drivers that each have a championship to their credit, both winning it under different circumstances. There’s also another driver that has dominated this season, although not with the same amount of victories to his credit. Finally, a second-generation driver that won his way in and could take home a title to match the one of his hall-of-fame father.
Four different drivers, each with a different path to get to this point. A season that has been anything but typical has finally gotten to the point of deciding a champion. A pair of Fords, a Camry, and a Camaro will all enter the championship battle with a clean slate.
The first one to the line will take home the trophy, possibly both the one for the race and the one for the title. Each year since the current format was introduced, the winner of the race has also won the championship. That could very well happen once more.
We must now dust off this final race, and officially decide a 2020 champion.