Home Sports Kevin Harvick in typical form in win at atypical, fanless Darlington Raceway

Kevin Harvick in typical form in win at atypical, fanless Darlington Raceway

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When Kevin Harvick emerged from his car following his victory Sunday at Darlington Raceway, it was the most quiet celebration of his 50 career victories.

He didn’t know what to do with no fans in the stands.

“Awkward,” Harvick said Sunday night. “Usually you get out of the car, and the crowd is screaming and yelling and react to your emotions, and today I get out of the car, and well, I really don’t know what to do here.”

NASCAR returned to the race track Sunday for its first race in 10 weeks in what will be the first of at least nine Cup races without fans because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Harvick led the final 78 laps on his way to the win, and while in the car, there wasn’t much different in this win than others.

But outside of it, it seemed Harvick still had a hard time comprehending it all. The grandstands were empty except for the spotters who were leaving their posts from atop the first few rows.

“I didn’t know what to do,” Harvick said. “You’ve got [FOX’s] Regan [Smith] over there six feet away, a masked man and I didn’t know if I was supposed to put a mask on to talk to him. I knew they had a 6-foot boom mic.

“There was that sense of awkwardness. … And then when we got done and everybody left.”

About a month ago, NASCAR had not planned on going to Darlington until its scheduled Labor Day weekend spot. But with it being a 2-hour drive from where most of the shops are based in North Carolina, and with South Carolina officials among the first to approve NASCAR’s plan to race without fans, NASCAR opted to resume its season with races Sunday and Wednesday at Darlington.

The format for both events: No practice, no qualifying. Just race.

And no fans.

“There were those times, and you look in the grandstands and you see an empty seat, you feel a set of eyeballs coming through the camera lens,” said Chip Ganassi Racing driver Kurt Busch.

Instead of talking with their crews for an entire weekend, drivers left their motor homes about 15 minutes before the race and went to their cars. Typically, they have to leave about 45 minutes prior, and their helmets are already in their cars. The walk to the driver introduction stage is filled with signing autographs and taking photos with fans.

“It’s kind of funny because, about 10 minutes before we’re supposed to be there, all of a sudden you see drivers popping out of their motorhomes carrying their helmets and walking to the grid,” said Penske driver Joey Logano.

“That was funny. I have never seen anything like it.”

And while the race itself wasn’t different, the preparation was, because drivers haven’t had their usual face-to-face contact with their teams.

“There was tension because of everything going on and trying to make sure you do everything right,” said Logano teammate Brad Keselowski.

“It’s a huge feeling of, ‘I hope I didn’t miss something,’ because we haven’t really been in contact with our team other than video calls, and that is so much different than a normal week for us. … That just plays with your head.”

Harvick obviously has the most confidence that he did everything right. But he will have to wonder what the reaction was to his victory.

“I don’t know what the ratings [will be] but I’m sure it was really good and might have been the biggest crowd he has ever won in front of,” Logano said. “It’s kind of a weird feeling not knowing that at the time, I’m sure, for him.”

It was certainly weird. Even the typical postrace victory lane wasn’t full with a champagne spray nor a celebration with the team and sponsors and their guests.

“I drove to victory lane and there were two photographers there,” Harvick said. “I was able to give my team guys a nice, little elbow bump there as I left victory lane and tell them, ‘Great job’ and those guys didn’t get to chance to take a picture with their car.”