Photo by AP Photo/Brynn Anderson
NASCAR is back and Darlington was the site for its triumphant, but chaotic return.
In the first race since Phoenix, 71 days ago, Kevin Harvick pulled away from Alex Bowman to pick up his 50th career win and his first this season. Harvick continues his strong start to the season as he has finished in the top 10 in each of the first five races. As a result, Harvick is the overall points leader.
Bowman finished second and, overall, had a very strong race. He led a good portion of stage two and was in the top five most of the race. In the final with 34 laps to go in the race, Bowman battled for the lead with Harvick but fell short. Bowman is second in overall points as he picked up a win in early March at Auto Club Speedway.
Kurt Busch had a good race as he finished sixth in stage two and third overall. Chase Elliott finished fourth after spending most of the race in the teens. Denny Hamlin finished fifth and Martin Truex Jr. finished sixth despite having a lot of equipment problems in stage 1, which saw him fall all the way to 30th at one point.
Rookies had a good race as two finished in the top 10. Tyler Reddick took advantage of long runs to wind up in seventh and John Hunter Nemechek climbed up the leaderboard after starting 34th to finish ninth. Previous Darlington winner Erik Jones finished eighth, and the returning Matt Kenseth finished 10th. This was Kenseth’s first race since 2018, and in his first race with his new team, he accumulated a top-10 finish. Also, Ryan Newman, who returned to racing for the first time since his scary Daytona 500 crash, finished 15th.
Outside the top 10, things were messy for Hendrick Motorsports. Jimmie Johnson looked like he was about to win stage one, but he collided with Chris Buescher on the final lap and crashed. He had to withdraw from the race and William Byron won the stage. Byron crashed 20 laps into stage two and finished 35th. While Bowman finished second, Hendrick still had some promise early, but caught bad breaks in stage 2.
The race was a bit sloppy as expected considering there was no practice or qualifying coming into Sunday. A competition caution was called 30 laps in so teams could adjust the cars. 10 cautions were called, and the Blue-Emu banner drew many headlines. The banner came off after Kyle Busch bumped it during the race and caught to the front of Denny Hamlin’s car. Then, Hamlin bumped the debris onto Reddick’s car. Combine that with the race taking place without fans, and you have one of the strangest and most chaotic races we have seen in a long time.
NASCAR is back in full swing and today was the first of three Darlington races. On Tuesday, Darlington will host a Xfinity Series race and on Wednesday, there will be another Cup Series race. The lineup for Wednesday was determined by inverting the order 1-20 from today’s race. That means Ryan Preece will start from the pole followed by Ty Dillon and Joey Logano.
While the race today was chaotic, it was good to see NASCAR back. Buckle up as this is the first race in a stretch that will see seven races in 11 days.