Published On: Sun, May 17th, 2020

Harvick Wins NASCAR’s First Race Since COVID-19 Outbreak

By: Michael Demyan 

As NASCAR led the return to sports, Kevin Harvick led the field to the checkered flag, taking home The Real Heroes 400 trophy at Darlington Raceway Sunday evening.

Photo: Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

NASCAR joined golf and the UFC as the first American sports to return this weekend after the coronavirus pandemic shut down all professional sporting events two months ago. It was a much different picture than the typical race. Drivers and crews wore masks, interviews were conducted with long poles attached to the microphones and most notably — not a single fan was in sight. 

When Harvick climbed out of his car after completing his celebration burnout at the start-finish line, he struggled to remove his helmet as a microphone was pushed in his direction.

“Don’t worry, we’re all figuring this out as we go, Kevin,” NASCAR on Fox reporter Regan Smith said.

He might not have been able to celebrate in victory lane surrounded by his entire crew, but it was still a milestone victory for Harvick, as he became just the 14th driver to reach 50 career wins in the NASCAR Cup Series. What made things extra special was the name above his window — Dr. Josh Hughes. All of the drivers honored medical personnel by displaying their names on the cars.

“This Dr. Josh Hughes is one of my really good friends,” Harvick said as he pointed at the car. “I spend a lot of time with him and have seen how this whole pandemic has affected our front line workers in person on a weekly basis, so thank you, Josh. We’re thinking about you.”

The race also brought some familiar faces back into the fold as Ryan Newman and 2003 champion Matt Kenseth made a return to racing. Newman had missed three races due to his terrifying wreck on the final lap of the Daytona 500 in February, while Matt Kenseth came out of retirement to take over for Kyle Larson. Chip Ganassi Racing fired Larson last month after he used a racial slur during an online iRacing event.

While Brad Keselowski held onto the lead early, Jimmie Johnson took it away and was seemingly about to cross the line first in stage one, but on the final lap, he clipped Chris Buescher coming out of turn two and slammed into the inside wall, ending his day. Johnson has not been to victory lane since June 2017.

Photo: Fox Sports

“What I would do to get that corner back to do it over again,” Johnson said after being checked out at the infield care center. “Coming to the end of the stage and just trying to make sure I got a good run off of turn two and I felt like I was going to be able to exit the corner side by side with him and things just went horribly wrong there.”

His teammate William Byron got the stage win, but he would face a similar fate in stage two as he spun and hit the wall. He finished 35th. Keselowski came back to win the second stage, but it was Harvick who paced the field the rest of the way as he held off Alex Bowman for the win.

“We put a lot of time, a lot of effort, a lot of studying, a lot of meetings and just have to thank everybody at the shop who has built all these cars and just, man, I’m excited,” Harvick said.

About the Author

- Michael Demyan is the associate editor and reporter for The Boca Raton Tribune. He is a graduate of Florida Atlantic University where he received a degree in Multimedia Journalism. Twitter: @michaeldemyan

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