NASCAR is back – and there’s nothing subtle about its return

Gentlemen, get in your cars. Start your engines. Go race.

NASCAR is back.

And not in subtle fashion.

We’re talking Darlington with no practice and no qualifying. Grip that wheel and hammer that gas for the first time in 72 days and hope that your tires stick going into Turn 1. And that you don’t tear off the right side of your car by Lap 10.

Once drivers start their engines May 17, much of the race itself could be just like any other race. But it won’t just be any other race.

For two months, most of the crews have remained at home. Cars hibernated untouched in team shops. The offices of crew chiefs stayed dark for weeks on end. Drivers home-schooled their children.

It took a pandemic to temporarily shut down one of the fastest sports on earth. It tested the financial fabric of the sport, and the need to race in order to keep teams afloat has encouraged the industry to find a way to race if at all possible.

“I’ve been going crazy waiting around, so it’s time to go have some fun,” Clint Bowyer said.

It will be different for sure. No fans in the grandstands. No popcorn. No beer. No loud cheers nor passionate boos for Kyle Busch when he is introduced.

Take that back. No driver introductions. No pre-race meet-and-greets with fans or corporate bigwigs. A driver’s day even won’t include mingling with the crews prior to the race, as drivers will be told to avoid the garage and head straight to their cars, strap in and go.

“It won’t take too long to get acclimated again,” Busch said.

And when they do strap in, a couple of comebacks stories will begin. Ryan Newman will race just three months after suffering a head injury in a violent accident at the end of the Daytona 500.

“I’m so excited and thankful to be healthy [enough] to get back into the race car,” Newman said.

There will be one new face behind the wheel. Well, an old face who is new again. Matt Kenseth, taking over the ride that used to be that of Kyle Larson, who was fired for using a racist slur in what he thought was a chat on his private internet streaming channel.

Kenseth, who hasn’t been in a Cup car since November 2018 and at age 48 is four years older than any full-time Cup driver, was the last driver to win a May race at Darlington back in 2013.

“I kind of looked at it and realized I might not have that good of an opportunity again, a chance to get in some pretty good equipment and go out and see if I can still do it,” Kenseth said.

Talk about throwbacks. Or maybe not. This isn’t a race about throwbacks. There is no throwback paint scheme program for these two trips to Darlington in the coming week. Labor Day and its traditional celebration of the past will come at the appropriate time. Hopefully on Labor Day weekend. Hopefully to open the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.

But that seems so far away. If anything, the last couple of months have taught us that nothing is for certain. Plans can change. The word “fluid” certainly has meant more the last two months than just a term for something on the track that will cause one to spin.

A lot has changed since March 8. But come May 17, a green flag will wave and a few dozen stock cars will roar. A checkered flag will drop and someone will bring home a trophy – after it is disinfected, of course.

And NASCAR will be back. Maybe not exactly how it was when everyone left Phoenix in March. But close enough that many will relish the view.