They did it. NASCAR, has successfully completed a 36 race season with 32 of the events taking place during a pandemic. After being the first major sport to return during the coronavirus, NASCAR had adapted, adjusted and maneuvered their ways through the 2020 season and crowned a champion at the Phoenix Raceway.
The 2020 year was full of memorable moments, good and bad. Here are the top five that we will look back and remember the most of 2020.
5. Ryan Newman’s Crash In The Daytona 500
Ryan Newman was one turn away from a win in the season opening Daytona 500. Instead, he ended up hospitalized following a frightening lap lap crash in the Great American Race. Newman, found himself in the lead on the final lap and moved from the high line to the low line to block Ryan Blaney’s momentum and pick up Blaney’s push to the finish. Unfortunately, Blaney’s closing rate was too strong and he spun Newman back up across the track heading into the tri-oval. Newman’s car rammed into the outside SAFER barrier and turning it on it’s side. He was then hit in the door area by Corey LaJoie as LaJoie was traveling at speeds near 200 mph. Newman’s car got airborne and upside down before landing and sliding down towards pit exit. He miraculously walked out of the hospital less than 48 hours later and returned to action following the COVID break.
4. NASCAR’s Return To Action At Darlington
Speaking of the COVID return, NASCAR made history on May 17 when they became the first major sport to return to action during the pandemic. Their plan was met with high expectations as executives from all over the sporting world watched as NASCAR resumed their season at Darlington in Mid-May. It paid off. Their plan allowed them to race the rest of the season in a moment we will never forget. No fans were on hand to witness, but this race was as highly anticipated as any race we’ve had in a while.
3. Larson’s Easter Comment
During the COVID break, one of NASCAR’s budding superstars made a comment that changed his future. Remember, I said this was a memorable list and not everything would be good. Kyle Larson was a free agent at seasons end and was heading towards a huge next contract. He unfortunately used a racial slur during an online video game race on Easter Night which instantly altered his world. He lost sponsors. He lost manufacturers support. He then lost his ride. It was a huge mistake that he owned and has since paid his dues. Larson, got a ride with Hendrick Motorsports for 2021 after getting NASCAR’s approval to be reinstated for next year. But, this moment was talked about a lot this past year.
2. Noose Situation in Talladega Led To NASCAR’s Support Of Wallace And Propelled NASCAR For the Future
With racial tensions here in the US high this year, the drama surrounding it didn’t escape NASCAR. With Larson’s comment on Easter night and NASCAR always being labeled as a predominantly white southern sport, racial tension was high on a humid day in Alabama this past June. On race day morning, NASCAR was altered to Bubba Wallace’s garage stall to find a rope tied in a noose. Wallace, is the lone African American driver in the series and racism was front and center in the sport now. Just a week prior, NASCAR banished the Confederate Flag from all race tracks starting immediately. It was a move to get NASCAR to the future and to shed a past racist moniker. But, a day like Talladega could have sent them back again. Luckily, NASCAR rallied together and behind Wallace and showed a brilliant display of solidarity and pride on the Monday rain delayed race. NASCAR, even though the noose incident was found by the FBI not to be tied towards a crime directed at Wallace, formed a bond that everyone is included at their races no matter your skin color. It was a shining response by the NASCAR community after a dark day 24 hours prior.
Elliott’s Win/Harvick Missing The Championship 4
It all came down to Martinsville. The Round of 8 race was one of the best all season. Chase Elliott, Martin Truex Jr., Alex Bowman and Kurt Busch had to win to get to the Championship 4 the next week. Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski had to do all that they could do to prevent one of those four from winning as well as score enough stage points to not put themselves on the cutline in case one of them does.
Harvick had issues. Elliott had a slow stop on pit road and a potential devastating penalty that was later rescinded. Truex, had a loose wheel. Keselowski was speeding late and Hamlin had to pit again to tighten lug nuts. That all set up a wild second half of the race that saw Elliott win and Harvick miss out on the final round despite having the best car all year. Harvick, had won nine times during the season, had a 42 point lead on the cutline and 69 playoff points accumulated to that point of the year. He still missed out due to not scoring any stage points and finishing 17th in a wild finish.
NASCAR’s most popular driver finally making the Championship 4 in walk-off fashion while the best driver of the year getting knocked out of the playoffs will be the moment we remember about 2020.
Elliott turned that into a championship a week later.