DARLINGTON (South Carolina) • Kevin Harvick and Nascar both celebrated victories on Sunday as the stock car series returned to live racing from a two-month coronavirus-forced hiatus at an empty Darlington Raceway.
While the day unfolded with none of the bells and whistles that have made Nascar North America's most popular motor sport, the Real Heroes 400 race delivered as promised with plenty of bumper-to-bumper action.
Harvick, 44, produced a masterful drive to pull away after a late restart to cross 2.15 seconds clear of Alex Bowman and Kurt Busch to collect his 50th career Cup win.
He celebrated his victory in what has become typical Nascar fashion with some tyre-burning doughnuts that would normally spark a roar of approval from the stands. But in this race there was no one to witness the show. Not even the growl from 40 V8 stock car engines could make up for the silence as drivers exited the track to muffled applause from pit crews and officials.
"I didn't think it was going to be that much different and then we won the race and it is dead silent out here, so we miss the fans," said a bewildered Harvick, standing alone on the track. "It is weird just because there is nobody up there.
"Usually you get out of the car and the crowd is screaming and yelling... today it was like, well, I don't know really what to do here."
Nascar will be back at the same track tomorrow for the second Cup race in four days. Sunday's race was the first of 20 taking place across seven Southern states over 36 days.
While the action on the track was familiar, everything else was uncharted. Teams, each allowed 16 members, arrived in the morning at designated times and temperatures were screened before entry. Only 900 essential personnel were approved to be inside the gates. With limited crew members, drivers were left to do some of the chores, such as filling water bottles and making lunch.
When called to the track, drivers, crews and officials wore face masks. With no practice or qualifying, places on the starting grid were set by a random draw.
"I have been around this deal for a long time and this is not like anything I have experienced," said Harvick. "It is very similar to coming back after 9/11 but that day had 100,000 fans in the stands and now you have no fans."