NASCAR made its return to live racing (without fans) at Darlington Raceway yesterday, as Kevin Harvick took the first checkered flag since March 8th. The win, Harvick’s 50th of his career, wasn’t the only headline from the race. Matt Kenseth showed us he could still wheel just about anything on four wheels, Hendrick Motorsports showed us just how dialed in their Camaro ZL1s are, and a few rookies had some of the best runs of their careers at the Lady in Black.
Kevin Harvick was out front for a dominating 159 laps as he cruised to his 50th win. His pit crew made each stop look routine as ever, as they constantly got him in and out with great track position. It seemed the only driver that could foil his day was Alex Bowman, who led for 41 laps but couldn’t keep Harvick’s Busch Light Mustang behind him on the final restart. With the win, which clinched his spot in the playoffs, Harvick became the 14th driver all-time to join the 50-win club. With plenty of season left, it’s quite possible that we could see that number continue to climb.
As Matt Kenseth jumped behind the wheel of the CreditOne Bank Camaro, many questioned the kind of day he was going to have, including myself. Safe to say Matt put any doubt to rest, as he had a solid day and wheeled his Camaro to a stout top-ten finish. Can he improve on this run when NASCAR returns to Darlington on Wednesday night? I’d say it’s a safe bet he can.
One of the biggest moments of the day was when Jimmie Johnson took the lead. Given how strong those Hendrick Chevys looked at this point of the race, it’s safe to assume many people started dreaming about seeing the seven-time champion back in Victory Lane. But those hopes came crashing down (literally) soon after when Johnson made contact with Chris Buescher and slammed the inside wall. Almost immediately after that, Johnson’s teammate, William Byron, who had also shown tremendous speed early on, cut a tire and tagged the wall, basically ruining any chance he had at the win. Chase Elliott had a pretty quiet day but was toward the front with Alex Bowman when it mattered most as the teammates finished fourth and second, respectively.
Finally, even though it’s still early in the year, it’s looking like there’s going to be a great battle for the Rookie of the Year trophy. Tyler Reddick finished seventh and John Hunter Nemechek finished ninth. I’d expect Cole Custer and Christopher Bell to rebound on Wednesday after their lackluster runs yesterday, even though we can’t expect a ton from rookies facing the track Too Tough to Tame for the first time in their Cup Series careers. As the season continues on, it will be interesting to see if any of these drivers take a commanding lead in rookie points.