NASCAR Darlington 400: Harvick wins on racing's return from coronavirus hiatus

Stewart Haas Racing's Kevin Harvick eased to victory at Darlington as the NASCAR Cup series returned to action for the first time since March

NASCAR Darlington 400: Harvick wins on racing's return from coronavirus hiatus

NASCAR had suspended its season following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic following the race at Phoenix in early March, before a calendar re-jig ended with the first spring race at Darlington for the since 2004 resuming the season.

Brad Keselowski was drawn on pole position, with Harvick starting in fifth place in his Ford Mustang.

Keselowski led the first 39 laps of the 283-lap encounter, including through a scheduled competition caution on lap 30, to allow teams the ability to make adjustments to their cars - as there were not any practice sessions heading into the race - without the penalty of losing positions.

Shortly after the race resumed, the Hendrick Motorsport fleet, headed by Alex Bowman and seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson, began to reel in leader Keselowski's Penske machine, with Bowman assuming control of the race.

Johnson zipped past his fellow Chevrolet Camaro exponent Bowman on lap 81, as the leaders hit traffic - although Johnson would not go on to scoop just his third ever stage win, crashing on the final lap of the segment after contact with Chris Buescher.

His winless stretch in the Cup series now stands at 100 races.

William Byron spared Hendrick's blushes, scooping the stage win as with Denny Hamlin, Bowman and Harvick all in close attendance.

Harvick, curtesy of quick pit-work by his SHR crew won the race off pit-road and thereafter began to assert control over the race, as Keselowski kept him honest in second position.

A spin for rookie Christopher Bell on lap 175 brought out the seventh caution of the afternoon, but this time SHR could not service Harvick as quickly, the #4 losing seven places with a slow left tyre change.

This handed Keselowski the stage win, although Harvick did climb back to fourth, Bowman and Martin Truex Jr filling second and third places, respectively.

The race then settled down with green-flag running until lap 253, when the returning Ryan Newman spun, and Harvick leading the charge to the pit-lane.

On the restart, Bowman briefly nipped past Harvick, but the 2014 champion held firm to record his first victory of the season, and the 50th of his Cup career.

Bowman took second, with Kurt Busch and Chase Elliott making it three Camaros in the top four. The lead Toyota Camry finisher was that of Hamlin in fifth place as Truex recovered from a difficult first half of the race to finish sixth.

Tyler Reddick scored the best result of his fledging Cup series career with an assured seventh ahead of Erik Jones (Joe Gibbs Racing) and John-Hunter Nemechek - emulating Reddick's achievement with ninth.

On his return to full-time racing, replacing the sacked Kyle Larson at Chip Ganassi Racing, Matt Kenseth drove a sensible race on his way to 10th, with Keselowski 13th and Newman, racing for the first time since his violent Daytona 500 accident, 15th following a pit infringement penalty.

Joey Logano and Kyle Busch had quiet afternoon's for Team Penske and JGR, respectively, neither really featuring in the race and coming home 18th and 26th.

Ryan Preece finished in 20th position, and will start Wednesday's second Darlington race from pole position, as the top 20 finishers will be reversed for that event.

Result - 293 laps

Pos Driver Team Car Gap
1 Kevin Harvick Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 3h27m21.s
2 Alex Bowman Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 2.154s
3 Kurt Busch Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet 3.355s
4 Chase Elliott Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 4.361s
5 Denny Hamlin Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 4.671s
6 Martin Truex Jr. Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 4.882s
7 Tyler Reddick Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet 10.734s
8 Erik Jones Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 10.738s
9 John Hunter Nemechek Front Row Motorsports Ford 10.912s
10 Matt Kenseth Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet 14.180s
11 Austin Dillon Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet 14.444s
12 Aric Almirola Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 18.064s
13 Brad Keselowski Team Penske Ford 19.306s
14 Matt DiBenedetto Wood Brothers Racing Ford 19.737s
15 Ryan Newman Roush Fenway Racing Ford 20.084s
16 Ryan Blaney Team Penske Ford 22.312s
17 Clint Bowyer Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 23.107s
18 Joey Logano Team Penske Ford 23.773s
19 Ty Dillon Germain Racing Chevrolet 23.970s
20 Ryan Preece JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet 24.465s
21 Darrell Wallace Jr. Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet 25.935s
22 Cole Custer Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 26.152s
23 Michael McDowell Front Row Motorsports Ford 27.866s
24 Christopher Bell Leavine Family Racing Toyota 29.186s
25 Daniel Suarez Gaunt Brothers Racing Toyota 1 Lap
26 Kyle Busch Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 1 Lap
27 Brennan Poole Premium Motorsports Chevrolet 1 Lap
28 J.J. Yeley Rick Ware Racing Ford 2 Laps
29 Reed Sorenson Spire Motorsports Chevrolet 2 Laps
30 Joey Gase Petty Ware Racing Ford 4 Laps
31 Corey LaJoie Go FAS Racing Ford 4 Laps
32 Chris Buescher Roush Fenway Racing Ford 6 Laps
33 Timmy Hill MBM Motorsports Toyota 7 Laps
34 Josh Bilicki Tommy Baldwin Racing Chevrolet 7 Laps
35 William Byron Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 14 Laps
36 Quin Houff StarCom Racing Chevrolet Electrical
37 Garrett Smithley Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet Mechanical
38 Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Accident
39 B.J. McLeod BJ McLeod Motorsports Chevrolet Engine
40 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet Accident

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