And so, it is done.
NASCAR not only completed a full season, but did so on time and as scheduled over the weekend at Phoenix Raceway. A tremendous feat, no doubt. NASCAR President Steve Phelps said on Saturday afternoon that 2020 was “the single most difficult year that we’ve faced as a sport.”
Racing ceased to exist for two months during the spring, taking away revenue from teams, forcing a complete shift in operation for all because of COVID-19 safety protocols, and leaving officials to go through nearly 90 versions of a schedule.
The industry was forced to adapt this year, not just NASCAR and its teams, but the media and how we cover the sport. Access disappeared, and so too did face-to-face interaction and the ability to add color to stories and columns.
But the NASCAR industry persevered. In the end, the season certainly did not look as expected back when haulers rolled into Daytona in February, but it was run. It is finished, and it happened without any significant hurdles once racing resumed in May.
“If you can get through a year like this and you’re NASCAR, certainly it bodes well,” said Brad Keselowski. “The only thing left was an asteroid strike.
“I thought it was really amazing what the sport was able to achieve, that we were able to get all the races in. To be here today and have a great race for a championship, I think that’s really impressive. And NASCAR maybe doesn’t get enough credit for being able to pull all that off, considering the landscape. I think there’s no shortage of us, including myself, that are quick to criticize. But I think we should also be quick to applaud for everything that’s happened this year and then to be able to pull this all off, run all the races and do it at a high level.”
Late Sunday night, after the final press conference was over and the television coverage concluded, when there was nothing left to do but to digest it all and file the last story, the exhaustion set in. Many around the sport had to have felt the same once the adrenaline wore off. As the saying goes, it was all left on the playing field – or in this case, the track or the keyboard, the microphone, or camera lens.
Between May 17 and the November 8 finale, NASCAR ran 83 races. There were weeks when four races ran in five days, four races ran in four days, or four races ran in three days. At Pocono in late June, NASCAR ran all three national series in one day. By now, it is well documented where and when NASCAR squeezed events in, but it’s always worth reflecting on how much racing took place.
Then, there were the headlines the sport faced this season in addition to navigating through a global pandemic: the fall of Kyle Larson, and the rise of speaking out on social justice issues. Officials banned the Confederate flag and then days later dealt with a noose in Darrell Wallace Jr.’s garage stall. Thankfully, the latter was determined not to have been a targeted act.
Driver free agency became frenzied, while some teams decided they would scale back (Go Fas Racing) or close their doors outright (Bob Leavine and Bob Germain). Some plan to expand (Spire Motorsports) as others join the garage (23XI Racing, Justin Marks, and BJ McLeod and Matt Tifft).
Didn’t it start to feel like it was one thing after another? Every day seemed to bring a new talking point.
“I think when you look at what the sport was able to do together, working together, the guys that are out there trying to win every week, do anything for a win, was able to all come together as one,” said Joey Logano. “I think everyone should be very proud of that. The sport should be proud of that, that every partner that’s involved had some kind of idea of how to go back racing.
“I think Steve O’Donnell and NASCAR and everybody at NASCAR should be very proud and deserves a lot of credit for getting everyone to work together, putting working groups together during the pandemic when we were not racing, and being able to come together. In a year where everyone feels so separated, in ways, I feel like we were united more than ever. I think there’s a lot to be proud of there.”
Something else unique happened in 2020 – we watched racing. Like, we really watched races. With media access to the infield taken away, reporters were confined to the press box. Those that might typically take up residence in the infield media center were now really getting a birds-eye view of the action, and press boxes never previously visited were taken in for the first time.
It sounds ridiculous, but it was a change of pace and made one realize that you were absorbing more live racing than all the previous times you’d been at the track. On the other hand, being forced to stay home more than usual resulted in everyone setting up remote media centers in home offices or on coffee tables.
We tested out how many internet tabs we could keep open with scoring monitors, alternate camera angles, and more, before it drove us crazy. Plus, we even became virtual racing reporters for a few weeks.
“It’s been a crazy year,” said championship-winning car owner Rick Hendrick. “We’ve been telling our sports, hey, we’re going to race. They can’t come to the track, and thankfully, all our sponsors hung in there and supported us. You didn’t know if you were going to run all the races.
“NASCAR did a heck of a job dealing with all these states and governors and rules changing daily and telling them they could and they couldn’t and all that. And then to come through it. … If you think about it, it’s been an awesome year of good racing, and I think our sport has probably done better or as well as or better than any of the other sports. We got them all in. Hopefully, we’ll get a vaccine and have fans back. It’s good to see the fans that were here, and you see how excited they are.
“I think our sport is really healthy. It’s very competitive. It’s just super competitive. I think we’ve got a bright future ahead of us and a lot of young talent.”
There may never be another season like this one. It also likely forever changed the sport and everyone’s way of thinking. No longer are there are excuses for not being able to do something, for not being open to change, or thinking teams and competitors can’t adapt on the fly.
It has been quite a journey, and now it is done. NASCAR and all involved did it, made it happen. Now we all can release that breath we’ve been holding onto since everyone departed Atlanta Motor Speedway in March without a car ever making it on track.