I can’t remember another Wednesday night that I’ve been excited about NASCAR.
The Cup Series’ 500-kilometer race around Darlington Raceway on Wednesday checked all the boxes though, making the sport’s first midweek points race a definitive success.
The threat of rain ramped up the intensity of the race as soon as the race began, drivers made bold moves after a top-20 invert set the starting lineup, some made unforced errors, tire wear mattered, and the NASCAR’s most popular driver was dumped by the sport’s villain. Oh, and the winner wore a mask of his own face that was equally hilarious and horrifying.
Could the night have gone any better for NASCAR?
Well, yes. Rain washed out the final 20 laps of what had been a phenomenal race, and weather-shortened races always leave fans feeling like the race was incomplete. With Pocono Raceway in our backyard, some of us know this feeling well. (Shout out to their worry-free weather guarantee, though.)
And you can argue that Chase Elliott could have fought Kyle Busch after Busch made one of the most egregious errors a driver can make on the straightaway, misjudging where the back of Elliott’s car and the front of his own would meet, thus sending the No. 9 hard into the inside wall. Instead, Elliott flashing an obscene hand gesture on live television (gloriously, by the way) will have to suffice.
But regardless of what could have been if not for weather or the protocols amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Wednesday night proved NASCAR can not only hold midweek events but can provide immense entertainment throughout them as well.
Denny Hamlin, who won the race and donned the terrifyingly funny face mask, is all ready advocating for more.
“I’m voicing out loud here that this is something I’d like to see for years to come – to have multi races in a week,” Hamlin said Thursday morning. “This is something that can really help our sport, I believe personally. Like I said, there’s so many loops you are going to have to jump through to get it done. This is a good thing for our sport right now.”
This was also the first time that NASCAR held consecutive points races in the same week at the same track, racing at Darlington on Sunday as well. Many teams used the same car Wednesday as they used Sunday. Others took notes of what worked Sunday and applied it to Wednesday’s car and setup.
“I know we came with a little bit different setup because we were kind of off here on Sunday,” Busch said. “But we started the race really far off on the other side of the fence today. We were tight on Sunday, really loose (Wednesday). We had to tighten up and get it back to somewhat of a middle ground I guess from the two races.
“I actually went to the simulator on Tuesday and ran about four hours trying to work on some things. We freed it up on the simulator thinking that's where the rest of our teammates were. When we unloaded here tonight, it was so loose I could barely hang onto it. Obviously I can't quite drive it as loose as my teammates can. That was kind of surprising for what we were able to do on the simulator to how it translated here on the real racetrack.”
The series will have a similar schedule this weekend as the Cup Series race the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte on Sunday and another 500-kilometer race there on Wendesday.
When NASCAR heads to Pocono this summer – assuming Monroe County reaches Gov. Tom Wolf’s criteria to allow races at the triangular track either for its tentative June 27-28 weekend or a later date – teams will likely revert back to these two weeks to see what changes worked over the course of three days. Of course, at Pocono, those changes will need to be made overnight.
NASCAR learned plenty this week though. Midweek races work. And if the sanctioning body can keep this momentum up, it will be in fine shape going forward.