After a 10-week break because of the COVID-19 pandemic, NASCAR returns with the Real Heroes 400 at Darlington Raceway.
There will be no fans. Teams will be limited to essential personnel and must adhere to NASCAR’s guidelines, which includes wearing a mask.
But racing is back today.
Here’s all the info for today’s race.
(All times are Eastern)
START: Healthcare workers across the country will give the command to start engines at 3:42. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 3:53 p.m.
PRERACE: Garage access health screening begins at 7:30 a.m. (teams are assigned specific times). Engine prime and final adjustments at 1:30 p.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is at 2 p.m. and can be seen on NASCAR.com. Drivers report to their cars at 3:20 p.m. The invocation will be given at 3:35 p.m. by Rev. Sam Turbeville from McLeod Regional Medical Center. The National Anthem will be performed at 3:36 p.m. by three-time Grammy winner Darius Rucker.
DISTANCE: The race is 293 laps (400 miles) around the 1.366-mile oval.
PACE LAPS: At the direction of race control, drivers will have the opportunity to run one pace lap down pit road before the green flag for a pit road speed check. If you stop in your box for any reason, pull over or slow down, you will start at the rear of the field.
STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 90. Stage 2 ends on Lap 185.
COMPETITION CAUTION: Lap 30. The field will be frozen at the caution. When pit road is open, only the top 20 cars will be allowed to pit. Each car that pits must beat the pace car off pit road to retain its position. On the next lap, the other 20 cars will pit. Each car that pits must beat the pace car off pit road to retain its position. Then, the top 20 cars will be allowed to pit a second time. On the next lap, the other 20 cars will be allowed to pit again. After the second cycle for each team is completed, the lineup will be set and the race will resume.
TV/RADIO: Fox will televise the race. Coverage begins at 3. Motor Racing Network’s coverage will begin at 2:30 p.m. and can also be heard at mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry MRN’s broadcast.
FORECAST: The wunderground.com forecast calls for mostly cloudy skies with a high of 85 degrees and 15% chance of rain at the race’s start.
LAST RACE:Joey Logano won at Phoenix on March 8 in the last Cup race before the season was suspended by the COVID-19 pandemic. It was Logano’s second win in the season’s first four races. Kevin Harvick was second. Kyle Busch placed third.
LAST RACE AT DARLINGTON: Erik Jones won last September’s Southern 500. Kyle Larson was second. Kyle Busch placed third.
Darlington Raceway on Wednesday announced the theme for its annual throwback weekend, Sept. 4-6, 2020.
The “Track Too Tough To Tame” will be “Celebrating NASCAR’s Champions … Past, Present and Future” and will recognize NASCAR champions in both the Cup and Xfinity Series during the weekend.
The three days will culminate in the opening race of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, the legendary Southern 500, on Sept. 6.
“When you look back at the history of the sport and all the champions that have won our great championship and all those drivers that have won at Darlington, there’s almost 20 drivers that were champions in the same year that they won one or more races at Darlington,” track president Kerry Tharp said Wednesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive.”
Tharp continued, “I think this gives teams a real opportunity to honor champions, whether it’s paint schemes or something on their car that honors champions of our sport. … We really thought this was the way to go and allows us to celebrate the past, celebrate the present and oh by the way, that first race in the playoffs at Darlington will be the first step towards the 2020 champion.”
This will be the sixth consecutive year that Darlington has held its award-winning throwback weekend, and also marks the 71st running of the Southern 500. The Xfinity Series will also host the Sport Clips Haircuts VFW 200.
“There is so much history and correlation between NASCAR champions and Darlington race winners that this Throwback theme makes our 2020 event that much more special for our fans, teams, partners and stakeholders,” Tharp said.
The NASCAR Cup Series has seen 33 different drivers capture 71 total championships since the series began in 1949. Drivers with multiple championships include Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt and Jimmie Johnson (all with seven championships apiece); Jeff Gordon (4); Lee Petty, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip and Tony Stewart (all with three championships apiece); Buck Baker, Joe Weatherly, Ned Jarrett, Terry Labonte and Kyle Busch (all with two championships apiece), and 17 other drivers have won one championship each.
The fast food chain Bojangles’ will no longer sponsor the Southern 500.
Bojangles’ has sponsored the event at Darlington Raceway since 2012.
Since 2015, the Southern 500 has been the site of NASCAR’s Throwback Weekend, with Cup and Xfinity Series teams fielding retro paint schemes celebrating the sport’s history.
“We’ve enjoyed a terrific relationship with Bojangles’ since 2012 and we look forward to their continued involvement in NASCAR for many years to come,” track president Kerry Tharp said in a statement. “Like Darlington, they are truly an authentic Southern brand.”
A logo for the race on Darlington’s website does not include a sponsor.
“Bojangles’ has enjoyed a long and successful partnership with the team at Darlington Raceway,” Bojangles’ said in a statement provided to NBC’s Myrtle Beach-affiliate WMBF. “While we will no longer be the title sponsor for the Southern 500, NASCAR remains an important part of our sports marketing strategy, and we look forward to announcing our plans for 2020 in the near future.”
The 2020 Southern 500 is scheduled for Sept. 6 on NBCSN.
The end of each NASCAR season provides a chance for reflection … and a time to go back and look at the many photos taken at the track. Here are some photos I took in 2019 and what made them stand out to me.
If you’ve been to a race, you’ve likely seen pit crews stand in their pit box and wave to their driver as they pass by on pit road before heading to the track to begin the race (at least at races where cars are staged on pit road).
“If you don’t wave at them, you actually feel bad because they’ll like make sad faces,” Martin Truex Jr. said. Above was the scene at Charlotte in May on All-Star weekend.
After each event, one of the biggest races is for the spotter of the winning team to make it down from atop the press box to Victory Lane to celebrate with the team. Sometimes the spotter can’t make it down in time before photos begin to be taken.
Spotter Chris Lambert makes sure to get a picture with his driver, Denny Hamlin, after each win because Lambert often misses the group pictures. This photo is of them after Hamlin’s win at ISM Raceway put the No. 11 driver in the championship race.
But there is more to Lambert than being the voice that tells Hamlin “clear” or “inside” or “outside.” His first wife and infant son were killed in a car crash 20 years ago. After the tragedy, a series of seemingly unrelated events over the next few years led him to marry one of his wife’s best friends. Before each race, Lambert honors the family he has and the one had.
The intensity on Cole Custer‘s face is striking in the moments after he finished second for the Xfinity Series championship for the second year in a row in Miami.
Custer moves up to the Cup Series in 2020, joining a talented rookie class that includes two-time Xfinity Series champion Tyler Reddick and Christopher Bell. This could be one of the best rookie of the year races in recent years.
This photo is of artwork in the Talladega Superspeedway media center celebrating 50 years of NASCAR racing at the track.
After I tweeted the photo, I was a bit surprised by the reaction from fans and their comments about the artwork. That’s one of the things I’ll remember most about this picture.
Of course, seeing some of the sport’s most famous cars on track together also was memorable.
Smith’s last event of the 2018 season was the Bristol night race before he was treated for testicular cancer. His treatment included four rounds of chemotherapy, which consisted of one week in a hospital and two weeks of recovery each time. Still, he continued to work out in the hospital.
Nothing else needs to be said as Mike Wheeler, crew chief for Matt DiBenedetto, stares at the damaged left front corner of the car after DiBenedetto finished second in the Bristol night race. Photo: Dustin Long