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One Month Back: Key moments from NASCAR’s return

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It may be hard to believe, but NASCAR’s return to racing is now one month old.

On May 17, NASCAR became one of the first major sport leagues to come out of hibernation amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, ending a 71-day hiatus.

Since then, 17 races have been held across NASCAR’s three national series: Eight Cupn races, six Xfinity and three Truck Series events.

Here’s a look back at some of the highlights from a whirlwind month.

‘Dead Silent’

It would become the norm quickly, but Kevin Harvick‘s frontstretch celebration after winning the May 17 race at Darlington Raceway was surreal.

Denny Hamlin with his unique face covering. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

He emerged from his No. 4 Ford to the sound of … nothing. As would be the case for the next 15 races before Sunday’s Cup visit to Homestead-Miami Speedway, Harvick was greeted by empty grandstands.

“We won the race and it’s dead silent out here,” Harvick said. “It is weird because there’s nobody up there (in the stands). … I’m speechless.”

Then, in another first, Harvick went to an empty Victory Lane to have his picture taken while wearing a mask.

Three days later, in the first Wednesday Cup race since 1984, Denny Hamlin won and wore a very unique mask: one with his own smiling face.

Birds and Bounties

Kyle Busch made a mistake. Chase Elliott wrecked.

The May 20 race at Darlington saw this happen late as Busch failed to clear Elliott on the frontstretch as they raced for second place.

Afterward, an upset Elliott displayed the middle digit on his right hand to Busch as he drove by the incident scene.

A new rivalry was born and it continued on May 26 in the Truck Series race at Charlotte. The first race back for the series was also the “Bounty Race” that was originally set to be run at Atlanta in March. Elliott, John Hunter Nemechek and Brennan Poole were attempting to beat Busch to claim a $100,000 prize posted by Harvick and Gander RV & Outdoors CEO Marcus Lemonis (which would be donated to charity).

Elliott won the race and the bounty and afterward performed Busch’s trademark bow on the frontsretch.

Briscoe’s Emotional Win

It was one of the more dramatic finishes in recent memory and easily the most emotional.

A day after revealing his wife had suffered a miscarriage, Chase Briscoe participated in the Xfinity Series race at Darlington on May 21.

The race ended in a duel between Briscoe and Busch, the all-time Xfinity wins leader. After making contact multiple time in the last two laps, Briscoe beat Busch to the checkered flag. 

“This is more than a race win, it’s the biggest day of my life after the toughest day of my life,” an overwhelmed Briscoe said afterward.

‘Childish’

Over an 11-day period Chase Elliott was either winning or losing in a controversial manner.

On May 31, the latter occurred at Bristol Motor Speedway. Elliott was racing Joey Logano for the lead with three laps to go when he drove deep into Turn 3. He wasn’t able to complete the pass and slid up into Logano, damaging both their cars. After finishing 21st and 22nd respectively, Logano was upset that Elliott was slow in apologizing on pit road and confronted Elliott himself.

“The part that’s frustrating is that afterwards a simple apology, like be a man and come up to someone and say, ‘Hey, my bad,'” Logano said. “I had to force an apology, which, to me, is childish.”

Logano hadn’t forgotten the Bristol incident when he raced Elliott hard late in Sunday’s race at Miami.

Finally an Oval Winner

After competing in 401 NASCAR races and 46 open-wheel races, one thing was missing from AJ Allmendinger‘s resume: a win on an oval track.

That drought ended in the June 6 Xfinity race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Driving Kaulig Racing’s No. 16 Chevrolet, the road-course ace started 30th and led the final 37 laps to win over Noah Gragson.

“Oh my God, oh my God, I won on an oval. Do you like that? Whoo!” Allmendinger yelled after winning. A week later he claimed the $100,000 Dash 4 Cash bonus at Miami.

Turn on the Lights

After years of hype and one postponement, the Cup Series finally held a night race at Martinsville Speedway.

The historic race was held June 10 without fans, as the sun set on empty grandstands and gave way to a dark sky.

While Joey Logano was the dominating force, leading 234 laps, and Jimmie Johnson earned a stage win, Martin Truex Jr. claimed the victory.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver led 132 laps and bounced back from a commitment line violation penalty on Lap 133 to earn his second straight win on NASCAR’s oldest track.

Martinsville Speedway held its first Cup night race. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Messages Against Racism

While Kevin Harvick won the June 7 Cup race at Atlanta, that’s merely a historical footnote compared to what happened before the green flag dropped.

In the wake of two weeks of social unrest and protests against police brutality following the death of George Floyd in police custody, NASCAR drivers issued a video condemning racial inequality and racism. Bubba Wallace, the only Black driver in the Cup Series, wore a Black Lives Matter shirt on pit road. A Black NASCAR official saluted the American flag from his knee during the national anthem.

Bubba Wallace wore a Black Lives Matter shirt before the Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

On the final pace lap, the field was stopped near the start/finish line and NASCAR President Steve Phelps delivered a message, saying “Our sport must do better. Our country must do better” in addressing racism.

Over the next three days, Wallace called for the banning of Confederate flag at NASCAR tracks, NASCAR began permitting peaceful protests during the national anthem and on Wednesday announced its Confederate flag ban hours before the first night race at Martinsville Speedway.

The Martinsville race saw Wallace and his No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet sporting a #BlackLivesMatter paint scheme, which he drove to a 11th-place finish.

 

Chase Elliott announces recipients of $100K bounty money

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Almost two weeks after he beat Kyle Busch in the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series race at Charlotte, Chase Elliott has announced which charities he’ll donate his $100,000 bounty reward to.

In two tweets Friday morning, Elliott said he’ll be giving the money – put up by Kevin Harvick and Gander RV & Outdoors CEO Marcus Lemonis – to three different groups.

The $50,000 from Harvick will go to Feed the Children’s COVID-19 response.

The $50,000 from Lemonis will go to the Red Cross and  Kyle Busch’s foundation.

“Y’all should definitely recognize this wouldn’t have happened or been any fun without (Kevin Harvick) tweeting what he did,” Elliott said in one of the tweets. “So thanks to him for making it all happen and Marcus for adding to the fun.”

While the bounty challenge is over, Elliott’s not done in the Truck Series. He’s entered in Saturday’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway (1 p.m. ET on FS1) in GMS Racing’s No. 24 Chevrolet.

The bounty reward isn’t the only charitable event Elliott is part of.

For the fourth consecutive year Elliott and Hendrick Motorsports are taking part in the “DESI9N TO DRIVE” art design collaboration with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (Children’s), the largest healthcare provider for children in Georgia.

It involves an auction of signed racing shoes from all four of Hendrick’s drivers. The shoes were designed by patients at Children’s who submitted color sketches of racing shoes depicting their “big dreams.” Four drawings were selected, replicated on Alpinestars racing shoes to be worn by the drivers during Sunday’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway (3 p.m. ET on Fox).

The auction will end at 9 p.m. ET June 14. Proceeds go to the Chase Elliott Foundation to benefit the summer camp program that Children’s runs for its large patient network and the Children’s Covid-19 fund that helps provide needed support, supplies and equipment for their most fragile patients and frontline employees.

MORE: Chase Elliott on pole for Cup Series race at Atlanta

Preliminary entry lists for NASCAR at Atlanta

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After three weekends on the West Coast, NASCAR returns to the Southeast this weekend to race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

All three national series will be in action, with the Gander RV & Outdoors Series racing for the first time since Las Vegas.

Here are the preliminary entry lists for all three series.

Cup – Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 (2 p.m. ET Sunday on Fox)

Thirty-eight cars are entered in the race.

Ross Chastain is entered in his fourth race in Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 6 Ford as Ryan Newman continues to recover from a head injury.

Brad Keselowski won this race last year over Martin Truex Jr. and Kurt Busch.

Click here for the entry list.

Xfinity – EchoPark 250 (4 p.m. ET Saturday on FS1)

Thirty-six cars are entered for the race.

Myatt Snider is entered in Richard Childress Racing’s No. 21 Chevrolet.

Jeffrey Earnhardt is entered in JD Motorsports’ No. 15 Chevrolet for his first start of the year.

Christopher Bell won this race last year over Cole Custer and Justin Allgaier.

Click here for the entry list.

Trucks – Vet Tix Camping World 200 (1:30 p.m. ET Saturday on FS1)

It’s officially bounty week in Truck Series.

Among the 38 trucks entered into the event (only 32 will qualify for it) are three full-time Cup Series drivers who will attempt to earn the $100,000 bounty placed against Kyle Busch by Kevin Harvick and Marcus Lemonis, the CEO of the series sponsor.

The trio of bounty hunters include:

Chase Elliott, who is entered in GMS Racing’s No. 24 Chevrolet.

John Hunter Nemechek, entered in NEMCO Motorsports’ No. 8 Chevrolet

Brennan Poole, entered in On Point Motorsports’ No. 29 Toyota.

If any of the drivers are able to finish ahead of Busch in the race, he will claim the bounty. If none of them do, Kyle Larson and Erik Jones will get a shot a Busch and the $100,000 next weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Also entered in the race is Ryan Truex in Niece Motorsports’ No. 40 Chevrolet.

Busch won this race last year over Johnny Sauter and Grant Enfinger.

Click here for the entry list.

Kyle Busch on Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson chasing bounty: ‘Bring it on’

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Twenty-four hours made quite a difference for Kyle Busch‘s tune regarding the $100,000 bounty placed against him in the Truck Series.

Thursday had the Joe Gibbs Racing driver outright dismissing the idea any full-time Cup driver would pursue the bounty, citing the $140,000 cost to rent a truck.

Then Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson dropped the hammer Thursday night, courtesy of a deal with GMS Racing. Elliott will have two shots at it, on March 14 at Atlanta Motor Speedway and May 30 at Kansas Speedway. Larson steps to the plate March 20 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Busch’s response?

“Bring it on.”

Busch addressed Elliott and Larson entering the bounty ring Friday during his media session at Auto Club Speedway.

“It’s all good,” Busch said. “I think it’s going to be interesting, exciting, whatever you want to term it.  I guess Cup drivers in the truck series do sell tickets. You know, take that for what it’s worth. I think it’s a unique opportunity for more attention on the series, which is good. Maybe if more drivers had more teams than had rides, there would be something else there besides just myself.”

The bounty is a joint effort by Kevin Harvick and Gander RV & Outdoors CEO Marcus Lemonis in the wake of Busch winning the last seven truck series races he’s entered, dating back to 2018.

If no Cup driver beats Busch in his remaining four Truck Series starts, the $100,000 will go to the Bundle of Joy Fund, the organization founded by Kyle and Samantha Busch that helps couples who require fertility treatments to conceive.

Atlanta Motor Speedway

“It’s brought a whole new chatter to (the truck series,” Busch said. “Whether that’s excitement or just chatter, I’m not sure which. I think we’ll see when we get to Atlanta what the grandstands look like and how the race goes.”

Even before the announcement by the drivers Thursday night, Busch had already given thought to the Cup competitors he could potentially square off against for the bounty and who his biggest threat was.

“I don’t remember who I told, but once Harvick kind of put the idea out there, I was like, ‘The guy who is really, really, really, gonna have a shot is Larson at Homestead,” Busch said.

The 1.5-mile track in Florida is widely viewed as Larson’s best track. He’s made three starts there in the truck series. He has two top fives, including placing fourth there in 2016 with GMS Racing.

“I’d like to beat him and think that I could have $100,000 in my pocket, but yeah; it’s really not about the money to me,” Larson said. “I think it’s a cool fun kind of challenge, and I look forward to trying to beat him, and if the money is still out there when I do get that chance, it’ll be a lot of fun. But, Kyle Busch is the best. It doesn’t matter what type of car he’s in. It’s not going to be easy. It never is, no matter what car or truck you’re in. But, it’ll be fun and I feel like Homestead is my best track and my best opportunity to do it.”

But the first stop in the bounty challenge is Chase Elliott and his home track of Atlanta.

Harrison Burton, who raced for Busch last year in the truck series, shared his experience competing against Busch at Atlanta last year, a race Busch won.

“It’s going to be hard to beat Kyle, I know that much,” Burton said Friday. “I ran trucks last year and ran second to him for a lot of laps at Atlanta especially. I remember thinking, ‘Well, I’m about a tenth better than the field and he’s about three-tenths better than me so this is pretty impressive.’ Ran second most of that day. Didn’t finish second, but Chase is going to have his work cut out for him there and (Kyle) Larson is going to have his work cut out for him at Miami. Kyle hasn’t raced Miami in a truck in a long time because of the playoff schedule so that might be — Chase has a steeper hill to climb than Larson.”

But a second bounty was issued Friday. Chris Larsen, principal owner of Halmar Friesen Racing, said his construction company would offer $50,000 to a regular Truck series driver if they beat Busch and win the Atlanta race, provided Busch is running at the end of the race. Larsen said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “Dialed In” that if Busch won at Atlanta, the bounty would remain at Homestead, Busch’s next Truck race.

“I hope it’s great for everybody,” Larsen said Friday night on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “I hope it’s great for the fans, great for the truck drivers. We all owe Kyle a big thank you for making us all better chasing him.

Atlanta and its owner, Speedway Motorsports, also are getting involved in the show.

SMI and the track announced Friday a way for fans to contribute $5 to the charities of Elliott, Busch or Harvick through ticket purchases.

Fans who purchase a ticket to the March 14 NASCAR doubleheader – which includes the truck series race (1:30 p.m. on FS1) and a Xfinity Series race (4:00 p.m. on FS1) – can choose the driver and driver foundations that will benefit.

If additional challengers emerge, the drivers and their respective charities will also become eligible.

Fans can ensure their ticket purchase helps the driver charity of their choice by purchasing through the AMS ticket office (877-9-AMS-TIX) and stating the driver and foundation of choice or by going to https://www.atlantamotorspeedway.com/bounty/ and choosing their preferred driver. Tickets for the Saturday NASCAR Doubleheader – which includes the Georgia 200 bounty challenge race – are free for children 12 and under.

“The anticipation for this race and the buzz around this bounty is growing every day,” said SMI CEO Marcus Smith in a press release. “Where the drivers saw a chance to inject more fun and excitement into this race, we see a chance to step it up even more and help some people in need through some very worthy driver charities.”