Drivers will have no practice, no qualifying and will not have been in a car for more than 70 days when the green flag waves at Darlington. What do you think Lap 1 will be like?
Dustin Long: I’ve gotten mixed responses from drivers I’ve talked with on this subject. Some believe the start will be calm. Some acknowledge how difficult it is to pass and that the start is a good time to gain positions. I would expect the field to be nice to each other for a few seconds after the green waves and that’s it. Wouldn’t be surprised to see a caution in the first five laps.
Daniel McFadin: Tense and exhilarating. A field full of drivers who haven’t gotten to do much over the last two months, let alone race, are about to unleashed at 180 mph on one of the hardest tracks on the circuit. I can imagine a wild scramble to be able to lead the first lap back. Even if it’s pretty tame, it’ll be a cathartic moment.
Jerry Bonkowski: While some fans are likely expecting there to be a wild, frantic free-for-all, particularly going into Turn 1, I think it will be just the opposite. I believe drivers will be tentative and methodical and wait at least 25 or more laps before they start taking risks or making dicey moves.
Nate Ryan: Some very awkward driving and a crash. It’s easy to say, “Oh, everyone will be conservative!” There will be 40 separate views of what constitutes “conservative” and 40 separate reactions to those definitions.
What are you most intrigued about with Sunday’s Cup race at Darlington Raceway?
Dustin Long: I want to see what happens on pit road. Pit crews also will have to shake off the rust from this long break. Will their timing be off and they enter the pit stall too soon? More importantly, with fewer people behind pit wall — and some people likely in unfamiliar roles — will there be a spate of pit road penalties because tires get away from team members reaching over the wall? Pit road penalties could cost a team a win and the playoff berth that comes with it.
Daniel McFadin: Matt Kenseth. The whirlwind of how he became the driver of the No. 42 after more than a year out of NASCAR is just hard to comprehend. With the field being set by owner points, Kenseth will start seventh, so we won’t have to wait long to see how he stacks up against fellow competitors who haven’t raced in more than 70 days.
Jerry Bonkowski: How NASCAR will handle the logistics of keeping everyone safe, including taking participants’ temperatures both entering and leaving the racetrack and what happens if anyone tests positive for COVID-19.
Nate Ryan: How much the rust will affect drivers and teams. If it’s like last week’s World of Outlaws return at Knoxville Raceway, there will be many errors, and they will have a siginificant impact on results.
What are up to three key issues you’re are interested in seeing how they develop with the season resuming?
Dustin Long: I’m intrigued to see how free agency develops as the season progresses and if there might be as many changes as some expected before the season, or if the best deal for many drivers is to remain with the same team. It will be interesting to see how the schedule progresses and how teams are able to respond to multiple races in a week. I also want to see how fans embrace midweek races and if that’s something that can be done in the coming years to end the season well before early November.
Daniel McFadin: I’m interested to see how NASCAR’s plan of one-day shows evolves as it get more races under its belt and how long that format will stay in place this season. If it unfortunately occurs, I’m curious to see how NASCAR and race teams will handle it should just one person on a team test positive for COVID-19. That has the potential to derail NASCAR’s triumphant return.
Jerry Bonkowski: 1. Will the return to live racing draw high numbers of viewers to watch on TV? 2. Will drivers who had success in iRacing, such as William Byron, Timmy Hill and Garrett Smithley, be able to transfer their prowess behind a computer screen to behind the wheel of a Cup car? 3. How will Matt Kenseth and Ryan Newman fare in their return to Cup racing?
Nate Ryan: I won’t have a good answer until after this race (and probably the next three). There are too many variables and unknowns.
Was the Pro Invitational Series a success?
Dustin Long: It was in providing a distraction and some entertainment, but the longer the series went, the more it seemed to wane. Those behind the scenes who made this series happen cannot be given enough credit. Still, the dichotomy between those competitors who took this seriously and those wanting to have fun created a tug of war that, quite frankly, seemed to take away from the experience.
Daniel McFadin: For the most part I think it was successful. It allowed NASCAR to stay relevant in some form in a world without sports, which means NASCAR won’t be appearing out of the blue on Sunday with the Darlington race. While I wish the Invitational had visited more unique tracks rather than staying faithful to the NASCAR schedule, Saturday’s event on a virtual North Wilkesboro more than made up for that.
Jerry Bonkowski: Without question, it was a huge success in my mind. It filled a major entertainment void when fans needed some excitement and to keep themselves engaged. Frankly, I’m saddened to see the Pro Invitational Series go away. However, I think NASCAR would be very smart to bring the virtual series back in some fashion, particularly during the offseason. Why let all the momentum and attention fall by the wayside now that we’re going back to real-life racing?
Nate Ryan: Yes, it filled a void for content and kept NASCAR on the radar.