2020 Cup Series preview: Darlington 1 (The Real Heroes 400)

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Breathe a collective sigh of relief, NASCAR fans. 

The wait is finally over. 

After a two-plus month hiatus due to COVID-19, the NASCAR season starts up again this afternoon with a Cup Series date at Darlington Raceway. 

The Cup race at Darlington, usually scheduled for Labor Day, was moved to jump-start the Cup and Xfinity Series back into normalcy this season. Fans will not be allowed into the raceway. The stages end at laps 90, 185 and the finish at lap 293, respectively, for the 400.2 mile race.

With no practice or qualifying, drivers and pit crews alike will be forced to adjust and adapt to racing for the first time since March 8th at Phoenix Raceway. For all drivers, it will be an opportunity to not only become accustomed to the racing grind once more, but to also jockey for a spot in the playoffs. 

Kevin Harvick, the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series leader in points through four races, is still vying for his first win of the season. He is the only driver to finish all four races in the top-10 and his 159 laps led is second among all drivers (Chase Elliott leads all drivers with 186). The 44-year-old for Stewart-Haas racing has one win at Darlington and finished 4th in last year’s bout. His 55 quality passes in the race led the field. 

Erik Jones, the winner of the Darlington race last year, continues to look for an opening to get back into the upper-half of the standings, as the Joe Gibbs Racing product sits 21st in points (77) and has only one top-10 finish so far this season (10th at Auto Club Speedway).

Joey Logano looks to re-ignite the scorching start he was having in the season before the postponement. With two wins already, Logano looks to correct his past issues at Darlington, as the Ford driver was unable to crack the top-15 in last year’s race and was tied for 13th in quality passes at the track last year (28). In 11 races at Darlington, Logano’s average finish sits close to 17th.

The Chevrolet’s will also look to show off. Elliott, Alex Bowman and Jimmie Johnson all sit 3rd, 4th and 5th, respectively, in the point standings. Elliott looks to rebound from last year’s finish in 19th and looks to bring home his first win of the season despite leading the field in stage wins (three). Bowman, who just received a one-year extension with Hendrick Motorsports, looks to find the high-octane dominance and speed to net him his second win of the season (his first win came at Auto Club Speedway). Johnson, meanwhile, looks to continue his retirement tour with another strong finish at Darlington, as the 44-year-old leads all active drivers in wins at the track with three. His nine top-five’s are also first among all active drivers. 

Ryan Newman, who has been out of action since his wreck at Daytona, returns to the track to man the No. 6 Roush Fenway Ford Mustang. Meanwhile, Matt Kenseth takes over the No. 42 for Chip Ganassi Racing after Kyle Larson was dismissed from the team after he said racial slurs over a livestream on iRacing. The return marks Kenseth’s first race since the 2018 Ford EcoBoost 400 on Nov. 18, 2018, where he finished 6th

The race begins at 3:30 p.m. EST on FOX. 

The starting lineup for the race is here: https://www.jayski.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/31/2020/05/14/2020-05cup-lineup.pdf

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