As sports fans around the world look for some type of live sports, there are only three sports that have begun, granted without fans. UFC fights have taken place and soccer across the pond has begun, but NASCAR is getting underway today and it's generating a buzz with the fans that haven't been big NASCAR watchers in the past:
As you can see, a few of the On Tap guys, including myself, are diving back into NASCAR. That said, we're a bit out of the loop. I called upon resident NASCAR expert, Zach Larson, to provide some storylines for today's race. We're going to break down what each of Zach's five storylines means for today.
"No practice or qualifying. Just fire it up and dive into turn 1."
- Zach Larson's first storyline for today's race
This is important. Normally, drivers have a lot of time to test their cars, get a feel for how the car is driving on that specific track, in specific turns, and whether it's loose or tight. That process allows the drivers to then tweak the car accordingly to be the best possible car for the race. When you can't practice, teams are likely relying on historical experience at Darlington Raceway to adjust their car. Don't be surprised if a veteran wins just because they've raced enough at Darlington to get a feel for the track.
"The return of Matt Kenseth and Ryan Newman. Kenseth coming in to replace Kyle Larson while Newman returns after scary Daytona crash."
- Zach Larson
This could have arguably been two storylines in itself. For the readers that don't know, Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 car, was suspended indefinitely from NASCAR because he said a racial slur on a live mic during one of the iRacing broadcasts. NASCAR wasn't happy, nor were many fans, so the measures were taken. He apologized, but it may be a day late and a dollar short. In his place, Matt Kenseth returns to NASCAR after spending most of 2018 and 2019 as a part-time driver. He is a long-time favorite in NASCAR, spending most of his career driving the #17 and #20 cars. Now, he returns in the #42, and fans everywhere are excited.
Ryan Newman's return is absolutely incredible, not only for the sport but for him personally. For those that didn't see his Daytona crash back in February, check this out:
As shown above, the wreck was terrifying -- one of the worst wrecks NASCAR has seen in quite some time. That said, Newman walked away from it, with a picture of him and his children as he left the hospital surfacing later.
It's still incredible that he is already back in a car. Considering Newman has been a staple in NASCAR for two decades, having him back is a lift for the sport.
"Kyle Busch will run 7 races in 11 days throughout the top 3 series."
- Zach Larson
For those confused, there are some drivers that race at each of the levels. The three major levels are the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoor Truck Series, the NASCAR Xfinity Series, and the NASCAR Cup Series. They sort of work in a way like levels of Double-A, Triple-A, and MLB baseball, respectively. That said, some drivers run in each of the series and Kyle Busch is one of the bigger names that does just that. With the crazy condensed schedule of NASCAR after the COVID-19 stoppage, he'll be doing a lot of racing in a very short amount of time.
"Field invert! Top 1-20 finishers on Sunday will be inverted for the start of Wednesday's race."
- Zach Larson
This one is interesting. Historically in NASCAR, qualifying is done where cars run laps at the speedway and based on the best times, you're slotted into your starting position. However, for Sunday's race, the starting spots were done by random draw, making today's starting positions a total crapshoot for bettors and fans. After today's race, NASCAR is running a second race at Darlington Raceway on Wednesday night and heading to Charlotte after for two races at the Cup Series level as well. This is an effort to keep the races close to the shops in the Carolinas and make up for lost time after the COVID-19 stoppage.
Long story short, after today's race, whoever finishes first will start 20th on Wednesday and whoever finishes 20th today will start on the pole Wednesday night. This only applies to the top-20 however, as 21-40 finishers today will start in that same position Wednesday night.
"Team are traveling LIGHT. Limited number of crew at the track with teams having the option of who comes with and who stays behind."
- Zach Larson
This final point is important. Pit crews are some of the most important parts of the race, as one bad pit stop can mess up a strong race for any driver. Not having the same number of crew will be tough for drivers. Less crew means less work on the car pre-race and fewer chances for tweaks during the race, leaving the driver to have to potentially deal with a car that's giving them issues. There is a decent chance that a few drivers will leave today's race frustrated because they can't adjust their car with a limited number of crew members.
Finally, for you gamblers out there, Zach gave some "guys to watch for" in today's race. One of the obvious ones is Brad Keselowski, who is not only a good veteran driver, but he's also starting on the pole. Another name to watch today as a sleeper is Erik Jones. Jones is starting in 20th today but has never finished lower than 12th at Darlington and won in 2019 at Darlington Raceway.
See you on the track NASCAR fans, and welcome to On Tap Sports Net!