5 things we've learned since NASCAR's return
NASCAR has been back for just over a month, but instead of the usual four races they would have run in that span, they’ve run eight. The demanding schedule has yielded a very different-looking season. Let’s dive into the five major results we’ve noticed so far.
1. Chase Elliott is for real
Chase Elliott has been promoted as “the next big thing” for years, but it took a couple of seasons for him to find his footing. He compiled six wins over the last two campaigns, but three of them were earned at seldom-seen road courses. Elliott hit the Top 5 just 22 times over 72 races from 2018 to 2019 while leading a total of 926 laps.
However, 2020 has been a breakthrough year for the No. 9 Chevy driver (though he has just one win to show for it due to some bad luck). Elliott has six Top 5s over 12 races, five of which were earned in the unofficial second half of the season. He’s led 422 laps this year, putting him on pace to shatter his career-high of 601 (2019).
2. Kyle Busch is struggling
There could be something else to blame for what’s been a sub-par season by Kyle Busch’s standards, but the compressed schedule seems to be taking a toll on the 2019 NASCAR Cup Series champion.
Busch is winless through 12 races this year – he was a three-time winner at this point a year ago. His average finishing position in 2020 is 12.17 – in 2019 it was 8.94 and in 2018 it was 8.31. It’s fair to question if Busch would have made the decision that wrecked Elliott at Darlington on May 20 if there had been a week to rest and recuperate between races.
3. In-race adjustments are key
With the exception of Denny Hamlin’s dominant win at Homestead-Miami in which he won both stages and the race, no driver has won a stage and the race in the eight events since NASCAR returned. This is almost surely due to the lack of pre-race practice and qualifying. Teams have had to make adjustments on the fly in order to get their drivers into victory lane.
4. The environment without fans is weird
"I didn’t think it would be that much different if we won the race, but it’s dead silent here," Kevin Harvick told reporters after his victory at Darlington on May 17. "We miss the fans."
"We obviously miss having fans at the racetrack,” Kyle Busch told beyondtheflag.com, "but it’s great NASCAR got us to a point where we can come out here and put on a show for the fans on television."
5. People are starved for live sports
The Real Heroes 400 at Darlington Raceway, the first NASCAR event since COVID-19 was declared a national emergency on Mar. 13, drew 6.32 million viewers. FOX indicated that the May 17 race was the most watched NASCAR Cup Series race (not counting Daytona 500s) since the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta on Mar. 5, 2017. Ratings were up 38% compared to the Mar. 8 race at Phoenix, the last one before the season was suspended.
It wasn’t a fluke occurrence either, as the Wednesday race at Martinsville was up 104% over last year’s comparable race.