DARLINGTON, S.C. — The tires’ squeal from Kevin Harvick’s victory spin could be heard for miles, from the fans at Raceway Grill to the fish in Ramsey Pond.
But as Sunday’s winner of The Real Heroes 400 looked around Darlington Raceway after climbing out of his No. 4 Ford, he was left to enjoy the moment.
No fans to cheer him on. No infield campers to carry the race’s party through the next morning.
No teammates to hug and give high-fives. All there stood was a TV reporter, socially distancing himself while pointing a boom microphone in Harvick’s direction.
Nobody was around anybody, but everybody who was there wore masks and had to have their temperature checked before even entering the track.
Such are the surreal times we live in while searching for some kind of normalcy while battling this coronavirus pandemic
“The weirdest part of the day for me was getting out of the car and not hearing anybody cheering,” Harvick said. “When the engines are running, you're kind of in your own little world in the car. … The practice and in-the-car part are something we can figure out. The not having any fans in the infield, for me, that took some of the enthusiasm of the win away just because of the fact you weren't able to celebrate with the crowd.
“For me, that was really awkward because I feed off of that stuff, enjoy those types of moments,” he added. “For me, didn't really know what to say after the race because it's such a unique situation that we're in."
One step in that search for normalcy is bringing back sports, like the UFC and Professional Bull Riding already have.
On Sunday, it was NASCAR’s turn at the track “Too Tough to Tame.”
Teamwork made Sunday’s event come together within a month, with Darlington Raceway leaders and NASCAR officials frantically hustling to make things work, and that same ethic was what pushed Harvick to his second career Cup win at the track. His first was the Southern 500 in 2014, during which he went on to capture the points championship.
But in NASCAR, teamwork can make or break a driver’s hopes.
In the 2016 Southern 500, Harvick also was in command late in that race before pit-crew problems relegated him to second behind the winner, Martin Truex Jr.
On Sunday, teamwork was not a problem as Harvick’s pit crew clicked on all cylinders, helping him win his fifth race off pit row during Sunday’s race to edge then-leader Brad Keselowski. After that, Harvick never look back for his 50th career Cup victory.
Harvick, however, sounded like his work is far from finished.
“Look, I just want to have a good impact on the sport,” Harvick said. “I may not have thought about that in the first 25 wins. … Look, I've been on a number of different sides of this sport. I've been on the ownership side of it, I've been in trouble, been the good guy, the bad guy. I've driven for (Richard Childress Racing), now Stewart-Haas Racing. I've got to experience a lot of things.
“I mean, it's really hard to define 'legacy' until it's over, right? I think you're still writing the book of what you want to do, how you want things to go going forward,” he added. “I know for me, it's super focused on competition and doing exactly what we did today. That's winning races and putting yourself in a position to win a championship.”
Harvick, the current Cup points leader this season, started sixth Sunday after a random draw. But it was pole-setter Brad Keselowski’s race for most of the first half as he went on to lead for 80 laps.
But Harvick stayed in the mix, and his pit crew was right there waiting to help push him as far as they could.
Even with no practice since March or qualifying for Sunday’s race, that didn’t matter in Harvick’s case because of his team.
“When you look at a win like this today, this is an organizational win because you have to have your car dialed in when you get here in order to win a race like this,” Harvick said. “Our guys have just done a great job of putting all the pieces together. Today, we were able to capitalize on that and win a race.”
Alex Bowman finished second Sunday, followed by Kurt Busch, Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin.
Harvick’s crew chief, Rodney Childers, even thinks it’s possible that same car can be used in Wednesday’s Cup race at Darlington.
“I definitely think it's realistic,” Childers said. “We were fortunate enough not to tear it up. We rolled through the OSS (inspection) a minute ago. Honestly it looks really good. The center of the back bumper at the bottom is pushed in a little bit from the restarts, getting the bump-drafts. Other than that, it's not real bad.”
In another salute to the teamwork that embodied Sunday’s race, each of the Cup Series’ drivers featured the name of a medical professional who is on the front line to treat COVID-19.
Harvick’s car honored a Charlotte emergency physician, Dr. Joshua Hughes.
“Josh is one of my really good friends. I spend a lot of time talking to him through this pandemic and really have heard how those doctors are affected with everything they have going on with their personal life and whether they’re sick, not sick, how they should treat people,” Harvick said. "I’m just really honored and really thankful for all of our frontline workers, not only our doctors, but grocery stores, truck drivers, fire fighters, police departments — you name it.
"All of you frontline workers are the reason that we’re here today and our country is actually still running.”
Dr. Marwan Elya, medical director of McLeod Intensivists, was another one of the heroes honored in Sunday’s race as his name was on the car belonging to Ryan Blaney, who finished 16th.
In a Sunday full of other grand feats, Ryan Newman was back racing at Darlington for the first time since suffering a brain bruise in a horrific crash at the end of February’s Daytona 500. He finished Sunday’s race in 15th place.
And it also marked the return of 48-year-old Matt Kenseth to NASCAR after a retirement of more than a year. Competing for Chip Ganassi Racing after that organization fired Kyle Larson for a racial slur during an IRacing event, Kenseth ran well and finished 10th.
Meanwhile, the teamwork involved in pushing this herculean NASCAR feat, six races (Cup, Xfinity and truck combined) in the next 10 days will continue with Tuesday’s 8 p.m. Xfinity race back at Darlington.
And after Wednesday’s Darlington Cup race, that teamwork carries on to Charlotte
“The first thing I want to do is thank everybody from NASCAR, all the teams, the whole industry, for getting us back on the racetrack,” Harvick said.