By: Tyler Head
Photo: Jared C. Tilton|Getty Images
Denny Hamlin took the checkered flag in Wednesday night’s rain shortened Toyota 500 at Darlington Raceway. It was Hamlin’s second trip to victory lane in the 2020 season, but similar to his Daytona 500 victory, the top story was behind him.
Kyle Busch is not a popular man in the world of NASCAR, never has and likely never will be. Busch’s villain status went through the roof on Wednesday as with 28 laps to go while running third, he got into the right rear of fan-favorite Chase Elliott going down the front straightaway sending him straight into the inside wall to bring out the yellow that would ultimately end the race.
Elliott proved to have a very fast car and was in a good position to attempt to wrestle the lead from Hamlin when they got down into turns one and two. The damage from the wreck was severe enough that Elliott wouldn’t have been able to complete the remaining laps had the rain held off. Elliott quickly hopped from his car and when Busch came by the wreck site under yellow, the Dawsonville, Georgia native gave him the one finger salute which likely summed up the sentiments of his entire fan base.
Busch, who would finish second, claimed to have misjudged his proximity to Elliott and was simply trying to get in line behind him when the contact was made. While no altercation between the two drivers occurred, Busch had a heated discussion with Elliott’s crew chief Alan Gustafson (who was the crew chief for Busch at Hendrick) and tried his best to plead his case. Despite his best efforts, Busch said to Matt Yocum on FS1 that there would likely be repercussions coming his way.
Busch is rarely the type to quickly apologize so perhaps it was just a misjudgment on his part, but just like his infamous run-in with Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Richmond in 2008, he won’t be getting the benefit of the doubt from the court of public opinion.
Wednesday Night NASCAR
Midweek races have been a topic of discussion for many years in NASCAR and the executives have been hesitant to pull the trigger. I think Wednesday night’s race was the perfect litmus test to the gold mine that weeknight races can be.
First off, I went through my entire day with an extra sense of excitement that I was going to get to watch the top starts of NASCAR compete that evening. I was almost sure the day would be a washout and have to be further postponed, despite this I still was thrilled at even the small possibility of seeing a race. It gave me the same vibes as knowing my favorite NFL team was playing on Monday or Thursday night football.
Secondly, the race was shorter and that was awesome. A 311-mile (284 completed due to rain) race at a fast track like Darlington sent the intensity through the roof. Drivers weren’t waiting around to let the race play out, instead they were up on the wheel the whole time. Short races are sprinkled throughout the Cup schedule, but have been reserved for short tracks and road courses. I think there are many larger and faster tracks that would benefit greatly from having a few miles shaved off their race lengths. Some fans took to Twitter after the race to say that only crown jewel events should be in the 500 mile and up category, not a terrible idea at all if you ask me.
Lastly, it fit perfectly into a primetime television window. The race clocked in at two hours and forty-two minutes and had the final 20 laps been run it would’ve likely still been under three hours. A weeknight race that can provide lots of action and still allow people to get to bed at a decent time is exactly what it needs to be. I understand there are a lot of logistics that would factor into putting weeknight races on future schedules, but Wednesday night at Darlington was too good to not run with.
Ryan Newman made his return from his scary crash at the Daytona 500 in Sunday’s race at Darlington where he put together a solid run and finished 15th, but it was Wednesday when he REALLY made his return felt by everyone. Newman and teammate Chris Buescher stayed out after stage two to take over the top two spots in hopes of lucking into a rain storm that would give them a win. The rain didn’t come and the Roush-Fenway Fords restarted in front of a pack of cars on fresh tires. The green came out to start stage three and Buescher dropped like a rock, but Newman was a different story.
While he lost the lead in a lap when Erik Jones made a daring three-wide pass on the frontstretch to get by he and Clint Bowyer, Newman upheld his reputation of being harder to pass than a kidney stone. Jones scooted away as Newman raced Elliott and Harvick as hard as he could to try and hold on to second and third, but it was when he slid back to fourth and battled Bowyer that he really made his statement. Bowyer had dominated the race to that point and won both stages, but he had to fight Newman tooth and nail for fourth and eventually used up his tires in the process and wasn’t a factor for the rest of the race.
Welcome back Rocketman.
After Sunday’s race, I offered praise to John Hunter Nemechek for placing ninth in his Front Row Motorsports Ford. It was truly an impressive run given the quality of the equipment he was in, but NASCAR can be a humbling sport. Wednesday night Nemechek wrecked twice and finished 35th. Welcome to the big leagues kid.