Harvick Captures 50th Career Win as NASCAR Returns

It had been 71 days since the checkered flag flew at Phoenix raceway – the host of the last NASCAR Cup Series race prior to the COVID-19 pandemic that forced the sport to postpone 7 weeks of races.

During those 71 days, NASCAR drivers compensated for the lack of real-world racing with iRacing simulation events, and the drama that arose was the same as if they were competing for actual trophies. For example, Bubba Wallace came under fire when he rage-quit during the virtual race at Bristol and made headline news across the sport when Blue-Emu pulled their sponsorship of him. Then, Kyle Larson, driver of the #42, found himself caught up in controversy after he uttered a racial slur during a simulated dirt race. Larson’s ride and sponsors at Chip Ganassi Racing were pulled and given to the veteran driver, Matt Kenseth. Larson was also suspended indefinitely by NASCAR and was mandated to complete sensitivity training. Meanwhile, Ryan Newman, who suffered a concussion as a result of a wild wreck at Daytona, was medically cleared to resume racing.

On Sunday – with strict physical distancing protocols, a ban on fans-in-attendance, and revised practice and qualifying procedures, NASCAR became the first American sport to return to competition. The race, aptly named The Real Heroes 500, was dedicated to frontline workers with each driver carrying the name of a medical worker on their car.

CAUTION – LAP 1: Starting position was determined by a blind draw instead of regular qualifying. This was done to limit the time teams and drivers spent at the track and restrict interaction with each other. Team Penske driver Brad Keselowski got pole position and led the field to green. Before the first lap was even completed, the yellow flag flew for Ricky Stenhouse Jr in the #47, who snapped left and into the inside wall coming off Turn 2. Stenhouse’s day came to an incredibly quick end as he retired from the race.

LAP 12: When the race restarted, Keselowski pulled away with 1st place, leaving Kevin Harvick and Alex Bowman to battle it out for second place. The position was eventually claimed by Bowman after several laps.

COMPETITION CAUTION – LAP 30: The yellow waved once again for a competition caution to check tire wear. Usually, this is treated as a normal pitstop under yellow, meaning drivers can ‘race’ off pit road to gain the lead. However, NASCAR changed the rules for this event, allowing drivers to maintain the position in which they entered pit road, regardless of the length of their stop. This allowed Brad Keselowski to remain in the lead.

LAP 45: Alex Bowman passed Keselowski on the outside to take the top spot. Bowman’s teammate, Jimmie Johnson, followed on the outside lane to take P2.

LAP 81: Johnson made the pass on Bowman for the top spot and pulled away to a 1.2-second lead.

CAUTION/STAGE 1 CONCLUSION – LAP 89: While coming to the green-and-white checkered flag to claim his 1st stage win of 2020, Johnson slid up the track in Turn 4 and clipped the left rear of Chris Buescher in the #17. The contact sent Johnson spinning into the inside SAFER wall where his day came to an early end.

The stage concluded under caution and the segment victory went to Johnson’s teammate, William Byron. Denny Hamlin, Alex Bowman, Kevin Harvick, and Brad Keselowski rounded out the Top 5. Kevin Harvick won the race off pit road and pulled ahead on the restart to a comfortable lead.

CAUTION – LAP 109: Shortly after winning the stage, the #24 of William Byron got loose as the right rear tire went down in Turn 4. The #24 sustained damage on the rear quarter panel and made several pit stops for repairs that put Byron 14 laps down.

CAUTION – LAP 123: The caution flag waved for the #96 Toyota of Daniel Suarez who spun by himself in Turn 2. Minimal damage was done to the car and Suarez was able to continue racing, though a few laps down.

CAUTION – LAP 154: The yellow flag came out for the 4th time when a sponsor banner became unattached from the SAFER barrier in Turn 1. A large piece of banner ripped off and stuck to the grill of Clint Bowyer in the #14 Ford. With the grill covered, Bowyer’s oil and water temperatures began to skyrocket and forced him to maneuver behind another car to divert air and remove the obstruction. The move went according to plan; though, unfortunately, the banner immediately stuck to the grill of the car behind Bowyer in what looked like a high-speed game of Hot Potato. The caution finally displayed so track officials could remove the banner from the track to avoid it causing further issues.

CAUTION – LAP 172: Rookie Christopher Bell in the #95, hit the inner wall in Turn 4 and brought out a caution with only 12 laps remaining in the stage. The yellow allowed Keselowski to pick up the lead during the restart.

STAGE 2 CONCLUSION – LAP 185:  The stage came to a close with Keselowski in first. Alex Bowman, Martin Truex Jr, Kevin Harvick, and Clint Bowyer rounded out the top 5. Keselowski held onto the lead on pit road and looked to be a favourite heading into the final stage of the race.

CAUTION – LAP 211: While racing on the front stretch, the #17 of Chris Buescher was turned by the #95 of Christopher Bell which brought out yet another caution. On pit road, Harvick took the lead from Keselowski and hung onto the position during the restart.

CAUTION – LAP 252: The final caution of the race came for the #6 of Ryan Newman scraped the wall in Turn 2 and cut the right rear tire. Newman pulled to the bottom of the track and tried to limp to the pits, but spun just before getting there.

CHECKERED FLAG – LAP 293: Kevin Harvick crossed the line a little over 2 seconds ahead of Alex Bowman to take his 1st win of 2020 and the 50th victory of his career.

RACE RESULTS:

  1. Kevin Harvick
  2. Alex Bowman
  3. Kurt Busch
  4. Chase Elliott
  5. Denny Hamlin
  6. Martin Truex Jr
  7. Tyler Reddick
  8. Erik Jones
  9. John Hunter Nemechek
  10. Matt Kenseth
  11. Austin Dillon
  12. Aric Almirola
  13. Brad Keselowski
  14. Matt DiBenedetto
  15. Ryan Newman
  16. Ryan Blaney
  17. Clint Bowyer
  18. Joey Logano
  19. Ty Dillon
  20. Ryan Preece
  21. Bubba Wallace
  22. Cole Custer
  23. Michael McDowell
  24. Christopher Bell
  25. Daniel Suarez
  26. Kyle Busch
  27. Brennan Poole
  28. JJ Yeley
  29. Reed Sorenson
  30. Joey Gase
  31. Corey LaJoie
  32. Chris Buescher
  33. Timmy Hill
  34. Josh Bilicki
  35. William Byron
  36. Quin Houff
  37. Garrett Smithley
  38. Jimmie Johnson
  39. BJ McLeod
  40. Ricky Stenhouse Jr

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