Turn 2 Blog: NASCAR did it right and the racing was excellent in Darlington

*Turn 2 Blog is a regular feature on InsideCircleTrack.com. Here, site operators Michael Moats and Richard Allen take turns offering their thoughts on the NASCAR and pavement short track racing topics of the day.

Richard: It’s often easy to criticize NASCAR and virtually everyone who follows the sport has done so from time to time. However, now is the time to give credit where credit is due after this past weekend. NASCAR became the first major sport(I don’t care what UFC and PBR say) to return to action on Sunday when they contested ‘The Real Heroes 400’ at the Darlington Raceway. And never mind the racing itself, the real accomplishment was the fact they did indeed stage a real race with real race cars.

As I saw it, the most impressive part of the entire process of getting back on track following the shutdown resulting from the coronavirus pandemic was the efficiency and the planning that went into making all this happen. By all appearances, Sunday’s event went off flawlessly with numerous safeguards in place to hopefully keep those involved safe.

Obviously, this was not a plan NASCAR wrote up on Saturday afternoon and attempted to put in place on Sunday morning. It was clear that this entire effort had been meticulously thought out for weeks and seemingly worked exactly as it was supposed to on race day. Everything from crew members and all others involved being checked upon entry to the facility, hauler entry and parking with spacing, pre-race tech being spaced out with as few crew members as possible accompanying each car, and each individual on the property wearing a mask was carefully administered.

There appeared to be nothing haphazard about the way this was all carried out.

As you know, being someone who was afflicted with and recovered from COVID-19, keeping everyone healthy is the primary concern here. And obviously we won’t know for sure if that was truly accomplished for a couple of weeks or more but the fact that so much preparation went into getting this sport back on track was impressive, wasn’t it?

Give a listen to “Props to NASCAR; Just one year for Alex Bowman?; The masked assassin

Michael: I have suspected for a number of weeks NASCAR would be the first major sporting group to get back to action. Seeing that actually become a reality was something else.

I went into the race with no expectations. I thought having no practice and qualifying would be an interesting twist on the weekend. It looks like many fans approve of running more races in this way.

Maybe it was me not paying enough attention or not grasping what they were going to do, but the limited access and the process used getting into the track was very restrictive. Even the TV crews were limited with their people. But I think that was more of a Fox decision than it was a NASCAR decision. Despite some oddities here and there, the race went off without a hitch.

I saw a lot of comments last night and this morning where people said NASCAR gave a road map for the other major sports to get back to their own competition. NASCAR has only one venue at a time, whereas MLB, NBA, or the others have close to 30 all across the country. Thankfully, NASCAR doesn’t have to deal with places like New York City where restrictions will last much longer than in other cities.

Safety was a top priority in NASCAR’s return to racing(Photo: Getty Images)

Richard: Hopefully everything proves to have been as successful in the long run as it seems to have been during the first outing. While it certainly is correct that other sports leagues may have more challenges than NASCAR in terms of the number of facilities and government entities they will have to work with, NASCAR did appear to set the bar for others at least to some degree.

As far as the rest of it, you mentioned the fact that there was no practice or qualifying leading into the Darlington event. We may come to find out that there have been a lot of things taking place over the years that are completely unnecessary. With the reduction and/or elimination of things like practice and qualifying, teams can greatly reduce the number of people they take to the track, and even television and radio networks may reduce their numbers. That, in turn, will help cut costs in a sport that is growing far too expensive with the use of its current model.

Was it time for the NASCAR way of doing things to change? If so, has this shutdown spurred things that should have already been happening?

Please consider reading “The Ingredients are in Place for Really Entertaining Racing in Round 2 at Darlington

Michael: I’m a believer that trying times can bring out some different ways of thinking. These that may be changes for the better. Time will tell if NASCAR permanently implements some of these new practices.

One challenge NASCAR teams are going to face is revenue from sponsorship. With so many businesses hurting because of these government shut downs, money may be harder to come by. Whether it be by choice or forced into those decisions, I think practice times and qualifying formats may be eliminated or altered because of the expenses. The big reason the Darlington race was set up the way it was so teams could take less people to the track and only one car. The justification was because of the health conditions set forth by government officials. But I do believe cutting down on expenses was also a big factor.

There were on-track battles throughout the day in Darlington(Photo: Getty Images)

Richard: All that said, let’s talk about the racing we saw on Sunday. This was a really interesting event in the way it played out as there were different drivers who emerged as potential winners before Kevin Harvick eventually took control of the race as it neared its conclusion.

Jimmie Johnson looked as if he might finally end the longest win-less streak of his career until he crashed on the final lap of the first stage. Alex Bowman, Brad Keselowski and William Byron also spent time at the front of the field. The unique format with no practice or qualifying along with Darlinton’s abrasive pavement created that much coveted situation of comers and goers. That situation always makes for good racing.

And more than that, there were veterans like Harvick, Keselowski and Kurt Busch near the front of the field along with rookies Tyler Reddick and John Hunter Nemechek. And who could ignore the top-10 run turned in by Matt Kenseth who returned to NASCAR after more than a year since his last race in the car once piloted by Kyle Larson?

This race really did have something for everyone, didn’t it?

Michael: Darlington, typically, doesn’t have the best racing because of the layout and narrow grooves. But I do like the driving aspect of any race there. It certainly was an interesting race.

I was just glad we didn’t see a bad pit stop determine the winner or some other fluky thing happen near race’s end to cause a deserving driver to get denied a victory.

One thing I noticed is there weren’t a lot of mentions of the famed Darlington stripe. I don’t know if the drivers did a better job of staying off the wall or the TV crew didn’t really emphasize it. I think that played into some of the rookies having a good day.

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