There are plenty of stories to follow during Sunday’s The Real Heroes 400 at Darlington Raceway, which can be heard live on the Motor Racing Network starting at 2:30 p.m. ET.
First Race Back
The Real Heroes 400 will mark the first NASCAR race in over two months since the COVID-19 outbreak shut down the sports world. The sanctioning body has put together a comprehensive health and safety plan for its return to the track. It will be a busy next 35 days as Cup teams have nine races scheduled in that time frame that includes a 228-lap race at Darlington on Wednesday night. With no fans in attendance, all eyes and ears will tuned in for Sunday’s race on TV and radio. Motor Racing Network has picked up 98 new stations for the race with a number of new markets, including Boston and Honolulu.
Kenseth, Newman Return
Matt Kenseth and Ryan Newman each will be making their return to NASCAR. Kenseth, who replaces Kyle Larson in the No. 42 Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing, will be making his first start since 2018. Newman will be back in the No. 6 Ford for Roush Fenway Racing for the first time since recovering from injuries sustained in a last-lap accident in the season-opening Daytona 500.
"I feel very blessed and fortunate," Newman said. "Get the opportunity to return to my race car seat – not just any seat but my race car seat and Darlington of all places, being my favorite race track."
Keselowski to Lead the Field
The starting lineup was determined by a random draw this past Thursday evening and Brad Keselowski will start from the pole. The finishing order of Sunday’s race will help determine the starting lineup for Wednesday night’s race at Darlington that will see an inversion of the top 20.
The first two races at Darlington will have no practice sessions and will see drivers hit the track at speed for the first time when the green flag is displayed. The same Goodyear tire setup that teams used last season at Darlington will be utilized this weekend. The track has one of the highest tire wear track surfaces on the circuit and the track will be green at the start. Due to no practice, a modified competition caution will occur at or around Lap 30.
"It will be different not having any practice or qualifying before we race, but everyone is in the same position," said Byron, who won the Southern 500 pole last season and will start 18th Sunday. "Darlington is a track that relies on car setup and tire management. You’re constantly on the wheel it feels like, so you try to work the grip limit while not over taxing it."
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There are eight drivers in the field that have won at Darlington Raceway. Jimmie Johnson leads the group with three wins. Johnson won in 2012 and was the last to sweep a season in the last year the track had two events in 2004. After more time to reflect during the shutdown, Johnson told NASCAR.com he’s still on track to make 2020 his last full-time season. Denny Hamlin is the only other multiple Darlington winner with victories in 2017 and 2010. Erik Jones won last season and leads all drivers with a 4.7 average finish. Other previous winners are Brad Keselowski (2018), Martin Truex Jr. (2016), Kevin Harvick (2014), Matt Kenseth (2013) and Kyle Busch (2008).
Joey Logano was the last driver to visit Victory Lane in NASCAR’s last race back on March 8 at Phoenix Raceway and is the only two-time winner in the four races so far this season. Alex Bowman, who just announced an extension with Hendrick Motorsports, won at Auto Club Speedway and Denny Hamlin took home the win in the season-opening Daytona 500. There are a handful of drivers that had a great start to the season despite not winning. Among them are Kevin Harvick, who is the only driver to record top-10 finishes in each of the four races. Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Chase Elliott and Aric Almirola each finished in the top 10 in the last two races before the halt in action. Elliott also leads the series in laps led in 2020 with 186.
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Honoring Frontline Workers
NASCAR, drivers and teams will be honoring the frontline workers during this pandemic at Darlington. In conjunction with The Real Heroes Project that recognizes medical professionals serving on the frontlines, drivers will carry the name of healthcare worker on their respective cars. The tribute extends to everyone who are helping to keep moving our country forward during this time with many cars carrying special decals and thank you messages.
"Look, we wouldn’t be here without the doctors and nurses on the frontlines doing what they are doing," Clint Bowyer said. "That goes the same for the farmers growing our food, the auto workers making safety equipment and everybody doing their jobs. They are the real heroes and I hope these races can give those folks a few hours of fun. They deserve it."
See Also: NASCAR Honors Healthcare Workers