It’s been the question that has raged across the landscape of major professional and college sports in the United States since the COVID-19 global pandemic put a stop to all live action in mid-March. What major sporting entity in the country would win the race to get back in action? Sunday in Darlington, NASCAR will cross the finish line first in that contest.
Green Flag For Darlington NASCAR
NASCAR’s top level Cup Series takes the green flag on a 2020 restart with the running of a 292-lap event at the historic Darlington Raceway (TV: Fox, 3:30 p.m. ET)
NASCAR put a halt to its season following the running of the FanShield 500 on March 8 at Phoenix Raceway.
No fans will be allowed at Sunday’s NASCAR event at Darlington and major restrictions and guidelines will be in place for all competitors, crew members, series officials, track personnel and media on site.
The event will also offer a unique format that will see the series show up and race without any practice or qualifying. NASCAR typically holds multiple hours of practice sessions before events.
It would seem to be a format that would put an emphasis on driver skill and comfort at Darlington over equipment level. The oddly shaped 1.3-mile Darlington typically gives drivers fits, earning the facility its moniker as the “The Track Too Tough To Tame.”
Who’s Among The Favorites?
With that in mind it’s hard not to put Denny Hamlin (13-2) at the top of the sports betting heap when it comes to Sunday’s race.
In the last 14 Cup Series events at Darlington dating back to 2006, Hamlin is the only repeat winner at the track. Hamlin has wins at Darlington in 2010 and 2017. His average finish of 7.8 over 14 career Cup starts at Darlington is a gaudy number in comparison to his NASCAR competition.
For much of his career Kevin Harvick (13-2) struggled to find his way around Darlington, but over the last seven years he’s been consistently up front at the finish at the track. Harvick has top-five finishes in six of the last seven Cup Series events at Darlington and his other finish during that span was a ninth-place run. His only career victory at the track came in 2014.
For his reputation as one of NASCAR’s most talented pure drivers, Kyle Busch (5-1) sits among the favorites heading into the weekend. Busch has one career Cup Series victory at Darlington (2008) and four career top-five finishes over 15 career starts at the track dating back to 2005. Overall Busch has an average finish of 11.1 in Darlington Cup Series events.
Brad Keselowski (9-1) has shown a knack for finding the fast lane around the tricky Darlington layout. Keselowski has one Cup Series win there (2018), four top-five’s and an average finish of 10.7 over 11 series starts.
Martin Truex Jr. (8.5-1) has a Cup Series win in 2016 at Darlington, but has struggled in the last two years to find his groove at the track. Over 14 career events at Darlington Truex has an average finish of 11.6, but he’s finished outside of the top-10 in four of the last seven events at the track.
Despite having only three career Cup Series starts at Darlington, Erik Jones (19-1) can’t be discounted if only because he’s shown the ability to stay out of trouble there. Jones got the second of his two career Cup Series victories at Darlington in 2019. In his three career starts he also has a fifth place and a eighth place finish.
Seven-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson (23-1) is the only driver in the field with more than two victories at Darlington. Johnson had a pair of wins in 2004 – back when Darlington still ran two events annually –and also won at the track in 2012. In 21 career starts at Darlington Johnson has an average finish of 12.1 and has finished in the top-10 in 12 events.