A lot of firsts can be said took place this weekend at the “Monster Mile,” and all deserve recognition. A monumental event for the smallest state in the union.
Without question, the first thing that was the most recognizable difference between this race and any one that preceded it in the 2021 season was the crowd. This is a race that had a much more familiar feel to it from the 2019 season, or early 2020. Media members were in the garage area, mingling with the crew. Fans came walking through the gates, with their unique attire and their signs to show off their drivers. One fan got the attention of everyone, since he seemed to be Kyle Busch’s twin and almost had a uniform to match. If Rowdy actually was running the Pedigree car, it probably would be the ultimate mix.
But to see an actual crowd, not one that is forced to be distant or separated, forced to be covered, and not interact with anyone except in their own bubble.
This weekend, things were different. Of course, it wasn’t going to be a completely “sold out” crowd, which was already anticipated. But, it was a moment that announcers, food vendors, souvenir haulers, and many more were appreciative of seeing an actual crowd make their way back to the stands.
It came nearly one year to the day when NASCAR returned during the pandemic of 2020, the first major sport to do so. Baseball never was in position to come back, neither was hockey, and the NBA was still working on creating their own bubble down in Disney. NASCAR came before all, but did so with no one there except officials, crew, and enough members of the media to barely count on both hands. It wasn’t a “normal” weekend by any stretch, and wasn’t normal for a lot of the entire season.
Normal is not exactly where we are at as a society right now, and probably will never get back to, however what we saw on Sunday was an absolute familiar view, and something many tracks can now look forward to as the season progresses.
What those fans did get on Sunday was a team whoopin’ in a 400-lap event.
One team of four drivers outright put on a dominating performance on the afternoon, something that has not been seen by one organization in 16 years. Hendrick Motorsports could not be topped on this day, not in any fashion. Pit road…dominant. Restarts…dominant. Stage wins…swept. Victory…inevitable.
That said, the sweep of the stages did not mean a clean sweep on the afternoon. As strong as Kyle Larson was, he wasn’t the one that was top of the tier in the end. When it mattered most, here came Alex Bowman, just like in Richmond earlier this season.
It had been years since the No. 48 had seen victory lane, especially at Dover. Jimmie Johnson outright made Miles the Monster eat his words.
Finally, the No. 48 is back in victory lane at the Monster Mile, and the only mask seen in victory lane was the one on the actual trophy.
It is now time to park it for a week, because new ventures await in six days, as another new event gets to be welcomed onto the schedule.