Photo Gallery: NASCAR’s return makes for a memorable week

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The silence was stark. The separation of teams in the garage area was noticeable. Even drivers were alone as part of the social distancing mandated with NASCAR’s return from a 10-week break because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But when engines fired, even though it took place in front of empty grandstands at Darlington Raceway, racing was back. The passing. The crashing. Even a middle finger displayed by the sport’s most popular driver toward a two-time champion.

Then followed the conversation between Chase Elliott and Kyle Busch. And what Elliott had to say to the media about the incident and how he had “no regrets” for his salute to Busch at the time.

The winners each had their own stories. Kevin Harvick scored his 50th career Cup victory, winning last Sunday. Denny Hamlin won for the second time this season. Chase Briscoe scored an emotional Xfinity Series win two days after he and his wife found out she had a miscarriage.

As NASCAR heads to Charlotte Motor Speedway for four consecutive nights of racing – starting with Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 (6 p.m. ET on Fox) – here’s a look back at a week unlike any other for the sport.

Everyone, including drivers, had to pass a health screening before entering the infield. John Hunter Nemechek has his temperature taken at Darlington on May 17. No driver failed the health screening during the week. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

 

Reminders were posted throughout the garage for crew members on the new health regulations. Among the many rules was that everyone at the track had to wear a mask. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

Tyler Reddick‘s crew pushes his car to inspection while following health guidelines that included wearing a mask. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

Instead of standing shoulder to shoulder, as they did before the COVID-19 pandemic, crew members stand with space between them during the national anthem before the May 17 Cup race. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

Leading on the final lap of stage 1 during the May 17 Cup race, Jimmie Johnson made contact with Chris Buescher‘s car and crashed, ending Johnson’s race. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

With the return of racing, came the return of pit stops. Joey Logano‘s team services his car. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

 

Getty Images photographer Chris Graythen told NBC Sports that this photo is the one that resonated the most to him after a week of shooting the action at Darlington. Graythen said: “To me, that (moment) kind of boiled everything down into one picture because it shows, yeah, it’s good and it’s great, NASCAR is back, we have a winner, Harvick has got his 50th win, this is all very exciting for the industry. But it also has that mask, that starkness, that quietness that shows the time that we’re in.” . (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

For the first time since 1984, the Cup Series raced on a Wednesday night. Ty Dillon‘s sponsor, GEICO, took advantage of the rare event with a special paint scheme. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

Matt DiBenedetto continues to search for his first NASCAR win, but he showed he’s prepared for that moment with his special mask. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

Chris Buescher spins during the May 20 Cup race at Darlington Raceway. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

 

Denny Hamlin with his unique mask after winning the May 20 Cup race at Darlington. Said Hamlin of the mask: “I basically had the idea right after Sunday and to get it all done by Wednesday took a feat. We wanted to actually create different types of emotions.” He only needed the smiling version on this night. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

BJ McLeod displays his unique mask before the May 21 Xfinity Series race at Darlington Raceway. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

To abide by social distancing guidelines, spotters were spread among the top rows of the empty stands for each event instead of being packed on the spotters stand. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

After rain postponed the May 19 Xfinity race and delayed it on May 21, the series finally got to run this week. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

 

Chase Briscoe prays after his emotional win in the May 21 Xfinity Series race. The victory came two days after he and his wife found out she had a miscarriage. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

NASCAR viewer’s guide for Charlotte Roval

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Sunday provides a final chance for drivers to advance to the Round of 8 and keep their Cup championship hopes alive.

Talladega winner Chase Elliott is the only driver who has advanced to the next round. That leaves seven spots available going into Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Roval (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Chase Briscoe holds the final transfer spot by a tiebreaker over Austin Cindric. At least for now.

William Byron is 11 points behind both drivers, but Hendrick Motorsports will appeal Byron’s 25-point penalty from Texas on Thursday. Should Hendrick win and Byron get those points back, he would move into a transfer spot.

There’s just part of what to watch for in Sunday’s race.

Favorites to be No. 20

This season remains tied for the most different winners in series history at 19, but there are a few candidates who could become the 20th different winner this year on Sunday.

Among the favorites to do so:

Ryan Blaney, who came close to winning last week at Talladega, won the inaugural Cup race at the Roval in 2018.

Martin Truex Jr., who has four career Cup wins on road courses, still seeks his first victory of the season.

Michael McDowell, who is coming off a third-place finish at Talladega, has had a career-high 12 top-10 finishes this season, including top 10s in each of the last four road course events this year.

Will history repeat?

Last year, the four drivers eliminated after the Roval were Kevin Harvick, Alex Bowman, Christopher Bell and William Byron.

Harvick was eliminated in the first round this year, but Byron (-11 to the cutline) and Bell (-33) are in jeopardy of being eliminated in this round again. Bowman stated Tuesday that he will miss his second consecutive race because of continued concussion symptoms. He will be among the four eliminated from title contention.

Bowman missed last weekend’s race because of concussion-like symptoms suffered at Texas. A decision on if he’ll be able to race at the Roval will come later this week.

Will chaos continue?

Consider what some of the former Roval winners have endured on their way to the checkered flag:

In 2019, Chase Elliott drove into the Turn 1 wall on a restart while the leader. He recovered to win.

In 2020, Elliott overcame a loose wheel to win for the second year in a row.

In 2021, Kyle Larson won after his team changed batteries and put the alternator belt back on.

Could a similar fate be in store for this year’s winner? Or will they have a cleaner day?

Entry lists

Thirty-nine drivers are entered including IndyCar driver Conor Daly, former Formula 1 driver Daniil Kvyat, former 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Mike Rockenfeller and former 24 Hours of Daytona winner Joey Hand. JJ Yeley will drive the No. 51 for Cody Ware, who stated that he would skip this event because of his ankle injury at Texas the footwork needed on a road course.

Charlotte Roval Cup entry list

The Xfinity entry list includes 41 drivers for 38 spots. Among those joining the series regulars are IndyCar driver Marco Andretti and former F1 driver Daniil Kvyat.

Charlotte Roval Xfinity entry list

This week’s schedule and forecast

(All times Eastern)

Saturday, Oct. 8

Forecast: Partly cloudy with a high of 66 degrees. No chance of rain during the Xfinity race.

  • 10 – 10:30 a.m. — Xfinity practice (NBC Sports App)
  • 10:30 – 11:30 a.m. — Xfinity qualifying (NBC Sports App)
  • 12 – 1 p.m. — Cup practice (NBC Sports App, USA Network coverage begins at 12:30 p.m.)
  • 1 – 2 p.m. — Cup qualifying (USA Network, NBC Sports App)
  • 3 p.m. — Xfinity race (67 laps, 155.44 miles; NBC, Peacock, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, Oct. 9

Forecast: Sunny with a high of 64 degrees. No chance of rain during the race.

  • 2 p.m. — Cup race (109 laps, 252.88 miles; NBC, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

 

Hailie Deegan to make Xfinity debut at Las Vegas

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Hailie Deegan announced Tuesday that she will make her Xfinity Series debut Oct. 15 Las Vegas Motor Speedway on NBC and Peacock.

The 21-year-old Deegan is in her second full-time season in the Camping World Truck Series. She finished a career-high sixth in that series last weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.

She will drive the No. 07 car for SS Green Light Racing with Jeff Lefcourt.

 

 

Alex Bowman to miss Charlotte Roval race

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Alex Bowman announced Tuesday night on social media that he will sit out this weekend’s Cup playoff race at the Charlotte Roval.

Bowman said on social media: “I am continuing to make strides in my recovery to make sure I can return to competition at 100%.”

This will be the second consecutive race he will have missed because of concussion-like symptoms after his crash at Texas Motor Speedway.

Noah Gragson will drive the No. 48 car this weekend for Bowman.

“Alex’s health is our first priority,” said Jeff Andrews, president and general manager of Hendrick Motorsports, in a statement. “We’re focused on supporting his recovery and seeing him back in his race car when the time is right. Alex has a long career ahead of him, so we will invest the necessary time and take our guidance from medical experts. We’re putting no pressure on him to return before he’s 100% ready.”

Bowman will be one of the four drivers eliminated from title contention Sunday.

Also Tuesday, Cody Ware announced that he will sit out this weekend’s Cup race at the Charlotte Roval, as he continues to recover from the ankle injury he suffered at Texas.

NASCAR Power Rankings: Chase Elliott leaps to the front

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A slick late-race move by Chase Elliott carried him to Victory Lane Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway — and back to the top of the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings.

Elliott is the only driver with five victories this season. No one else in the playoffs has more than two (Tyler Reddick, eliminated from the championship hunt, has won three times).

Elliott, already qualified for the Round of 8 with his Talladega win, will be among the favorites in Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (2 p.m. ET, NBC).

Here’s how the rankings look approaching the end of the Round of 12:

NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

1. Chase Elliott (No. 3 last week) — Elliott’s power move to win at Talladega was quite impressive and gave him four top-five finishes in the past 10 races. Clearly, he has re-established himself as the championship favorite.

2. Denny Hamlin (No. 1 last week) — Hamlin drops a spot despite a strong run (20 laps led and finishing fifth) at Talladega. Count him in the hunt for an elusive first championship.

3. Ryan Blaney (No. 8 last week) — Blaney simply will not go away despite continuing as the playoffs’ only winless driver (not including the Texas All-Star Race). He was victimized by Chase Elliott on Sunday at Talladega, finishing .046 seconds short of victory and a push into the next round.

4. Kyle Larson (No. 2 last week) — Superspeedway racing generally is not Larson’s strong point. He finished 18th Sunday despite leading eight laps and being in the front group much of the day.

5. Joey Logano (No. 4 last week) — Logano had an unusually poor performance at Talladega. He was involved in an early-race accident and struggled much of the rest of the day, finishing 27th.

MORE: Elliott celebrates, Logano laments

6. Ross Chastain (No. 7 last week) — Chastain tied Aric Almirola for most laps led (36) at Talladega and has been consistent as of late with three finishes of seventh or better in the past four races.

7. William Byron (No. 5 last week) — Byron’s worst news last week came off the track as he was penalized by NASCAR for dumping Denny Hamlin under caution at Texas. He finished 12th at Talladega.

8. Chase Briscoe (No. 9 last week) — Briscoe is quietly making the case that he could make the Round of 8 and challenge for the title.

MORE: Winners and losers at Talladega

9. Daniel Suarez (unranked last week) — Suarez maneuvered through the Talladega draft with style and came home eighth. He has three top 10s in the past seven races.

10. Christopher Bell (No. 6 last week) — Bell had a rough day at Talladega and will be looking to Sunday’s race at the Roval for redemption.

Dropped out: Tyler Reddick (No. 10 last week).