Live NASCAR racing returns on Sunday at The Real Heroes 400 at Darlington Raceway, and drivers are admitting emotions ranging from eagerness to nervousness. The last time drivers were in a competition was March 8 at the FanShield 500 at Phoenix Raceway. The season was suspended the following week because of the COVID-19 global pandemic.
Some of the drivers filled the two-months without live racing by competing in iRacing events. While the virtual racing was entertaining, it was no substitute for the real thing.
The Real Heroes 400 Race Odds
Kyle Busch 5-1
Kevin Harvick 13-2
Denny Hamlin 13-2
Martin Truex Jr. 15-2
Brad Keselowski 8-1
Joey Logano 8-1
Chase Elliott 10-1
Alex Bowman 14-1
Erik Jones 14-1
Kurt Busch 22-1
Jimmie Johnson 28-1
William Byron 28-1
Ryan Blaney 28-1
Matt Kenseth 28-1
Aric Almirola 50-1
Matt DiBenedetto 50-1
Clint Bowyer 50-1
Source: William Hill
Drivers will have to adjust to racing without practice sessions or qualifying runs. The drivers’ starting positions were determined by a random draw. There will also be a modified competition caution in the early portions of each race. Those longer stoppages will allow for longer pit stops.
Expect the Unexpected at Real Heroes 400
Now that the Real Heroes 400 is just two days away, drivers are ready to get back on the track. Ford driver Ryan Blaney told reporters it will be interesting to see how the race plays out.
“I think it’s going to be a little tough jumping back into the swing of things after, I think I counted, 62 days off it will be and jumping in at probably the most difficult track that we go to and just lining up and racing, so that will be tough. But I feel like everyone will be pretty responsible getting going, being smart.”
Erik Jones said he’ll be a little nervous, but told reporters this is a big opportunity for NASCAR.
“We haven’t been to the track yet to see what the protocols are like,” Jones said. “I know NASCAR has worked – not to sound like a PR guy for NASCAR, but – day in and day out the last couple of months trying to just get us back to the race track. Trying to rework on the schedule and trying to work with dates and what they’ve got opened up to get us to the race track on these dates. From my opinion, we’re doing everything we can.”
Even Longer Layoff For Kenseth
While most drivers have had a little more than two months rest before Sunday’s Real Heroes 400, Matt Kenseth has had much more time off than that. The last time Kenseth raced was December 2018.
The 48-year-old was coaxed out of retirement to take over for Kyle Larson who was fired by Chip Ganassi Racing for uttering a racial slur while competing in an iRacing event. Kenseth told reporters he knows he has a learning curve.
“Nobody has been in a car in a while, certainly, it’s been longer for me,” Kenseth said. “I think the biggest difference for me, also, is that I haven’t driven these race cars or for this team. So, there are a few more unknowns. I’m not sure how exactly everything is going to feel and all that kind of stuff. There is certainly a little bit of anxiety for those first few corners to kind of get rolling and get used to things.”