No family at track will make for lonely experience for drivers

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Matt DiBenedetto could experience one of the greatest moments of his life today.

And he would celebrate it alone.

With NASCAR allowing only essential personnel at Darlington Raceway in its first race since March because of the COVID-19 pandemic, drivers will not be allowed to have family or friends with them.

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Should DiBenedetto earn his first Cup victory, doing so without his parents and his wife at the track with him, would be bittersweet.

“We’ve actually been talking about that quite a bit,” DiBenedetto told NBC Sports.

Since his parents moved from California to North Carolina to further DiBenedetto’s racing career when he was a teen, they have been with him on a journey that saw climb the sport’s ranks one small team at a time.

They celebrated with him as if he won when he finished sixth at Bristol in 2016, and they consoled him when he finished second there in 2019.

They’ve almost always been with him at the track.

Until today. And for the foreseeable future.

“It’s out of our control,” DiBenedetto said. “I think it is tough on them to know that I’ll be not too far down the road chasing that first win.

“I just want that first win no matter what, no matter who is there, but, obviously, it’s better with your family there.”

It’s not just DiBenedetto who will have to adjust to not having family or friends at the track. Every driver will in some way.

Instead of sharing the final moments before they head to the grid with family or friends, drivers will be secluded in motorhomes. While there are many ways to communicate with family and friends, it’s not the same as being there.

Tyler Reddick won’t have girlfriend Alexa De Leon and infant son Beau with him at the track.

“It’s just totally different,” Reddick told NBC Sports. “I can’t remember a time where I haven’t had some friend or family at  the racetrack alongside me.”

And drivers will be alone as they head to the car. There will be no family awaiting them. No wife or girlfriend to hug and kiss before climbing into the car. No children standing with them during the pre-race ceremonies.

I don’t know that I’ve ever just went to the race track by myself to race without either family, friends or even motorhome drivers,” said Erik Jones, who won last year’s Southern 500 at Darlington. “They’re normally there if nobody else is there.

“That’s going to be really unique just walking out to the grid and hopping in the car. There’s not going to be anybody by the car other than us and maybe the interior guy to help us get the window net up. So, yeah, it’s going to be odd and it’s going to be unprecedented in what we’ve always done. It’s a weird feeling. A new normal for right now.”