DARLINGTON, S.C. — For all the misery Kyle Petty endured while driving Darlington Raceway, he did get one thing right while talking about the Lady in Black.
He predicted its greatness this week.
“We’ll look back on the year 2020 and say, ‘Man, Darlington! That got us going again,’” he said. “That got us going in 1950, and that got us going again, now.”
It sure did.
This was not only a huge week for NASCAR, bringing back the sport after a hiatus of more than two months because of a pandemic, but it was also an exciting one at the track Too Tough to Tame.
On Sunday, Kevin Harvick won his second Darlington Cup race. On Wednesday, Denny Hamlin won his third. And in Thursday’s Xfinity race, we saw the triumph of the spirit when Chase Briscoe — he and his wife devastated from Tuesday’s news their expected daughter had no fetal heartbeat — took the checkered flag.
Sure, we watch NASCAR for the fast cars. But what makes the sport compelling are the drivers and their stories. Briscoe’s decision to go ahead and compete Thursday despite what happened to his family was something amazing to watch.
And to see him win it? The waterworks were in the eyes just as there had been around the track.
But also to our delight, there was drama. What are the ramifications from Kyle Busch spinning Chase Elliott out late in Wednesday’s race while both were contending? Busch said it was an accident.
Does Elliott believe him? Does Elliott truly believe him?
Just as it is in baseball, there’s a code of retaliation in NASCAR. In Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, we’re sure to find out whether Elliott accepted Busch’s apology or not.
Elliott has his passionate fans — he’s the two-time reigning honoree as the Cup Series’ most popular driver. Busch, meanwhile, has his Rowdy Nation. If their cars do tangle at Charlotte, that’s only a good thing for the sport because NASCAR NEEDS these types of big-time driver rivalries to further elevate this league.
And so what if there were no fans inside Darlington Raceway? NASCAR wasn’t originally supposed to be camped out at Darlington this week, anyway. We’ll count on fans packing those stands for this Labor Day Weekend’s Southern 500.
This week has been about more than the fans. This has been about more than just NASCAR — and even sports.
While UFC and the Professional Bull Riders had already resumed their leagues, this was time for NASCAR to step in with its first Cup race Sunday in seemingly like forever while other stalled major professional sports leagues were looking on.
Sunday’s race was a step, and it was a strong, solid step forward — with more 6.32 million viewers on television, for good measure, as the Real Heroes 400 also put the spotlight on Sunday’s true celebrities: Those medical frontline workers risking their lives to try to put an end to this pandemic.
Meanwhile, on the track, history was made as Darlington became the first to host two NASCAR Cup points-paying races in one week.
One week? How about in four days?
Darlington served as a gracious host when NASCAR needed it most. Leave it to the raceway’s staff to not think about the small time window to make this happen.
As nerve-racking as it has to have been, track President Kerry Tharp and his staff simply made it happen.
Of course, for those who live around here, we’re by no means surprised.