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)

Sunday Cup race at Las Vegas: Start time, TV channel

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The second round of the Cup playoffs begins with the Sunday Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The 1.5-mile track kicks off the Round of 12. Winning the race and stage points are a premium for playoff drivers before the races at Talladega and the Charlotte Roval.

Kevin Harvick, who won at Bristol, starts from the pole.

Here is all the info for the Sunday Cup race at Las Vegas:

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given by Las Vegas Raiders owner Mark Davis at 7:07 p.m. The green flag waves at 7:17 p.m.

PRERACE: Cup garage opens at Noon. Drivers report to their cars at 6:50 p.m. The invocation will be given at 7 p.m. by Motor Racing Outreach Chaplain, Billy Mauldin. The national anthem will be performed by Sierra Black at 7:01 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 267 laps (400.5 miles) around the 1.5-mile track.

COMPETITION CAUTION: Lap 25

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 80. Stage 2 ends on Lap 160

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will televise the race. Coverage begins at 6 p.m with NASCAR America, followed by Countdown to Green at 6:30 p.m. Race coverage begins at 7 p.m. Performance Racing Network’s radio coverage will begin at 6 p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the broadcast.

STREAMING: Watch the race on the NBC Sports App

FORECAST: The wunderground.com forecast calls for sunny skies with a high of 96 degrees and no chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST RACE: Kevin Harvick beat Kyle Busch to win at Bristol and claim his ninth win of the season.

LAST POINTS RACE AT LAS VEGAS: Joey Logano beat Matt DiBenedetto and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in February.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the lineup.

CATCH UP ON NBC SPORTS’ COVERAGE:

Kurt Busch seeks first Las Vegas win but without hometown fans

Michael Jordan excited for NASCAR future with Denny Hamlin

Carolina Blue: Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan bonded by NASCAR

Germain Racing sells charter, will exit sport at end of season

Charlotte Roval to host limited number of fans

Friday 5: Team’s departure adds to ‘extremely stressful’ time

NASCAR fines Hendrick Motorsports $100,000

NTSB releases final report on Dale Jr. plane crash

Bubba Wallace to receive Stan Musial award for extraordinary character

Long: 100 days left in 2020, what else can happen?

Kurt Busch seeks first Las Vegas win, but without hometown fans

Kurt Busch
Getty Images
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A win by Kurt Busch in tonight’s Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET on NBCSN) couldn’t come under more bittersweet circumstances for the Chip Ganassi Racing driver.

Should Busch claim the victory on the 1.5-mile track, he’d go from being the last driver on the playoff grid (3,001 points entering the race) to the first driver to advance to the Round of 8.

While it would be his first victory of the year, it would also be his first NASCAR win at his home track in 23 starts across the Cup and Xfinity Series.

More: Stage points critical at Vegas

“The Vegas track has definitely been one of the tough ones for me over the years with results and finishes not where I would have expected them to be,” Busch said this week. “And the teams that I’ve raced for just have never quite found that right magic set-up or combination. And then for me, it’s a track that I just have that trouble with.

“There are a few tracks like Indianapolis and Martinsville; those are a few places where I struggle. And so with Vegas, I always put that little extra hometown pressure on myself and I would love to win there.”

The 42-year-old Las Vegas-native rolls off ninth on the 1.5-mile track. It’s his fourth while driving for Ganassi.

In his 21 Cup starts in Las Vegas, Busch’s best result is third in 2005 when he competed for Roush Fenway Racing. He has just one other top five. That came in last year’s spring race when he drove a throwback paint scheme to his 1999 NASCAR Southwest Series championship.

That day he led 23 laps. It was only the seventh time he’d led laps there and just the third time he’d totaled more than six laps led.

In February, Busch finished 25th.

If Busch were to finally make it to Vegas’ Victory Lane, the celebration would be somewhat muted.

It was announced last weekend that fans would not be allowed to attend the races at Las Vegas due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I would love to win through the spirit of the camera and everything on NBC Sports; and I know the fans there, local, will be watching and cheering on the Busch brothers,” Busch said. “So, that’s where I would connect. And hopefully do it through the TV side of it. We’ll get fans back one day and we’ll come back and race.”

Busch enters the Round of 12 having earned just one top 10 in the first round, an eighth-place finish at Darlington. He finished 13th at Richmond and 15th at Bristol.

“What I like is we have had better lap times at all three races so far compared to maybe the five or six races leading into the playoffs,” Busch said. “We know that our cushion is gone. We ended Bristol with 33 points to the good. And now we start Vegas minus four (points behind Austin Dillon in the cutoff spot). So that’s just part of the system and now we have to be perfect. We have to get every point possible that we’re able to get on our own at Vegas, Talladega, and the Roval. And, that should help us advance.”

Carolina Blue: Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan bonded by NASCAR

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Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan were teammates from 1982-84 at the University of North Carolina and Eastern Conference rivals throughout the 1980s and ’90s in the NBA.

But their friendship was about more than just hoops. While growing up on opposite ends of the Tar Heel State, Daugherty and Jordan both developed a passion for following NASCAR.

Tobacco Road meant fast cars and hard-driving heroes for these two North Carolina natives.

LIFELONG FAN: Michael Jordan explains why he’s partnering with Denny Hamlin

In a NASCAR on NBC feature, Daugherty recalls how NASCAR impacted his life and Jordan’s and led both into team ownership. Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin announced they will form a team to field cars for Bubba Wallace next season.

Daughterty notes in the feature that Wallace “has led a dynamic transformation as NASCAR banned Confederate flags and recommitted to inclusion amidst times of great unrest. This is a huge moment for NASCAR, a cultural momentum shift. This is people of all colors coming together to create an all-American race team already with championship lineage.

“With proper funding, equipment and crewmembers, this will be the best chance ever for a Black driver to win – and while driving for a Black owner. An opportunity to shock the world like Muhammad Ali once did.”

Watch the feature above on Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan or by clicking this link.

Las Vegas Xfinity results, driver points

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Chase Briscoe‘s victory Saturday night at Las Vegas Motor Speedway sends him into the next round of the Xfinity playoffs.

Noah Gragson led a 2-3-4 finish for JR Motorsports. Gragson was second and followed by Daniel Hemric and Justin Allgaier. Ryan Sieg finished fifth.

Briscoe dominated the race, leading 164 of the 200 laps.

Click here for Xfinity race results

POINTS

Ross Chastain finished 16th, last among the playoff drivers, and fell out of a transfer spot to the second round. He’s two points behind Harrison Burton for the final transfer spot. Michael Annett is 10 points behind Burton. Riley Herbst is 14 points behind Burton. Brandon Brown is 20 points behind Burton.

Click here for driver points report