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NASCAR Returns on May 17 At Darlington

James Murphy
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  • NASCAR will become the first major North American sports league back to work when they resume racing on May 17 at Darlington.
  • NASCAR will run 7 races in 11 days over their three series (Cup, Xfinity, Trucks).
  • NASCAR ran four races this year before being forced to suspend their schedule due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

NASCAR will become the first major North American sports league to return to action when they run a Cup series race at Darlington on May 17. This will begin a 7 races in 11 days stretch across the three NASCAR racing series which will include four Cup series events. All of the races will be run at two tracks–Darlington and Charlotte. Among other reasons, the close proximity of the two tracks to each other and to the various team locations (mostly in North Carolina) likely contributed to this decision. Darlington and Charlotte are right around two hours apart. All races will be broadcast on FOX and FS1 and will all no doubt be available for NASCAR betting at your favorite sportsbook. I’ve always loved handicapping NASCAR so I’ll bring you my analysis and selection on all races here at SPORTSINSIDER.COM.

The first three races will take place at the iconic Darlington Raceway in Darlington, SC aka ‘The Track Too Tough To Tame’. The egg shaped oval track has a reputation for being unforgiving to over-aggressive drivers. No one in NASCAR history has dominated Darlington like the late, great ‘Silver Fox’ David Pearson. The silky smooth Spartanburg, SC native ran 47 times at Darlington during his hall of fame career winning 10 times with 24 top five finishes and 30 top ten finishes. Dale Earnhart, Sr. won 9 times at Darlington and Jeff Gordon had 7 wins at the track. No one else in NASCAR history has more than 5 wins at Darlington and only two active drivers–Jimmie Johnson (3 wins) and Denny Hamlin (2 wins)– have won there more than once.

A few ‘honorable mentions’ are in order as well: ‘The King’ Richard Petty only won 3 times in 65 races at Darlington but has more top five finishes than anyone at 25. In his prime, there wasn’t a better race car driver on the planet than Bill Elliott who also excelled at Darlington with 5 wins, 22 top fives and an all time best 35 top tens in 52 races. The legendary Bobby Allison was also a pretty fair hand at Darlington, racing there 45 times with 5 wins, 13 top 5 finishes and 26 top 10. We’ll have more history and handicapping information about the Darlington track in our betting previews.

The Cup Series will run at Darlington on May 17 starting at 3:30 PM Eastern on FOX. On Tuesday, May 19 they’ll have an Xfinity Series under the lights starting at 8 PM Eastern on FS1. The following night, the Cup cars will run under the lights starting at 7:30 PM Eastern on FS1.


The action will then move to Charlotte Motor Speedway for four races starting with the Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday, May 24. This will make it 60 straight years that the Coca-Cola 600 has been run on Memorial Day Weekend and the race will be broadcast on FOX. There will be prime time races from Charlotte on Monday and Tuesday in the Xfinity and Gander Trucks series respectively. Monday’s Xfinity race begins at 7:30 PM Eastern with the trucks race going Tuesday at 8 PM Eastern. Both will be broadcast on FSI as well Wednesday’s prime time Cup Race which will also get underway at 8 PM Eastern.

NASCAR executive VP and chief racing development officer Steve O’Donnell is clearly happy to be returning to racing:

“NASCAR and its teams are eager and excited to return to racing, and have great respect for the responsibility that comes with a return to competition. NASCAR will return in an environment that will ensure the safety of our competitors, officials and all those in the local community. We thank local, state and federal officials and medical experts, as well as everyone in the industry, for the unprecedented support in our return to racing, and we look forward to joining our passionate fans in watching cars return to the track.”

There has been some concern that NASCAR’s quick ‘reboot’ was too ambitious. There aren’t many NASCAR writers better than Dave Caldwell and he brought up some serious reservations in a Forbes.com article a couple of weeks ago. NASCAR has made a lot of modifications in how the events are conducted and the races are run in an effort to make them as safe as possible. The close proximity of both tracks to the teams’ NC race shops is by design to minimize travel time. There will be no practice sessions for any event and no qualifying for any race except the Coca-Cola 600. Obviously, the races will be run without fans with only ‘essential personnel’ and face masks will be mandatory.

The NASCAR press release made no mention of how starting spots will be assigned in lieu of qualifying. Typically, it’s done based on points but if it becomes ‘standard operating procedure’ to forgo qualifying they might try to randomize it a bit. Worth noting here that the format changes will add a degree of difficulty to handicapping and betting these races–for most NASCAR betting enthusiasts practice is an important component of their handicapping ‘toolbox’.


As far as the schedule beyond these 7 races, nothing has been announced. There are already some interesting storylines in play for the resumption of racing. Kyle Larson got fired by Chip Ganassi Racing for dropping a ‘N-bomb’ during a live broadcast of a virtual race. Larson will (and should) get another shot, but Ganassi had no choice after the #42 Chevy’s sponsors all cut bait including McDonalds, CreditOne Bank and Fisserv.

So Ganassi will have to slide by with a substandard driver for the rest of the year, right? Guess again….ever hear of a guy named ‘Matt Kenseth’? Yep, Matt Kenseth is coming out of retirement to drive the #42 Chevy for the rest of the year. The 48 year old Kenseth won what was then the Winston Cup in 2003 and during his career was one of the most ridiculously smooth and consistent drivers in the sport. Other than not being much of a road course driver (somewhat surprising given his smooth style) he’s solid on every type of track. Kenseth hasn’t raced full time since 2017 but he’ll definitely be worth keeping an eye on in the two Cup races at Charlotte. Kenseth is one of only 13 drivers in NASCAR history to have 20 or more top ten finishes at the track and won two races there including the 2000 Coca-Cola 600.

Finally, some really good news. We all know that Ryan Newman is one of the toughest SOB’s on the planet. Everyone feared the worst after the horrific crash on the final lap of the 2020 Daytona 500. If you haven’t seen it click on the link above and watch it which I can now recommend you do because of how everything played out. It was as nasty of a crash as I’ve seen in NASCAR and 20 years ago Newman would have likely left the track in a bag. Initially, there was serious concern that he might not survive but later that night it was reported that his injuries weren’t ‘life threatening’.

At that point, the concern turned to his ability to lead a normal life and be a dad for his two daughters. There was speculation of head injuries which are definitely no joke and have a wide range of bad outcomes. There was some brief rumors of full or partial paralysis. The vibe was that Newman would have a long road to recovery just to have a basic existence and even that wasn’t a given. No one said it at the time, but most people–myself included–assumed that his racing career was over.

Or else Newman would walk out of the hospital two days later with his daughters by his side. Race car drivers are legit badasses. It takes balls the size of grapefruits to strap yourself into a NASCAR racing car week after week to drive bumper to bumper with 40 other cars at 200 MPH. This is why it’s not surprising that Newman is returning to racing. Earlier this week, he was medically cleared to return to Cup Series competition.

Newman has always been one of my favorite drivers and he’s one of the most solid guys in a sport full of them. A native of South Bend, Indiana he graduated with an Engineering degree from Purdue. He has an animal rescue charity and is a dog lover. Every time you see a picture of Newman and his family they’re usually surrounded by a half dozen or so dogs of various breeds and sizes. Then again, he’s a sucker for all animals. I remember a profile I read of him early in his career that said he spends most of his spare time ‘rescuing goats and snakes’. The concept of a ‘happy ending’ didn’t look like an option immediately after the Daytona 500 crash but Newman is definitely deserving of one. Complete class act and here’s hoping for the best as he returns to racing.

This is a great opportunity for NASCAR. The sport has suffered from declining TV ratings in recent years but it’s hard not to watch a NASCAR race and not become a fan. There’s every reason to expect that the Cup races in particular to draw a large viewership giving NASCAR a perfect chance to reconnect with old fans that might have fallen away and to attract new ones.

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