NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing) is an American motorsport institution, and boasts a loyal and fervent following around the world. The 2020 NASCAR Cup Series is also the first major motorsport competition to get back on the track after the coronavirus forced all NASCAR drivers and crews to the sidelines.
The first four rounds of 2020 NASCAR races – including the iconic season-opening Daytona 500 – went ahead as scheduled, before NASCAR announced the postponement of all races due to the COVID-19 pandemic on 13 March. But the bastion of stock car racing is up and running again from Monday 18 May (AEST).
Kevin Harvick went into the break atop the NASCAR standings, but Joey Logano is just one point adrift. The legendary Jimmie Johnson is also determined to bag an unprecedented eighth title in his final NASCAR season.
We’ve looked into our crystal ball to see how next chunk of the NASCAR schedule shapes up – and which drivers might be worth a NASCAR bet.
Darlington 400 race overview: 18 May
The 2020 NASCAR Cup Series restarts with the Darlington 400 on 18 May (AEST). Held at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina since 1952, the Darlington 400 has played host to some of NASCAR’s most memorable races… and fieriest crashes.
The race was discontinued in 2005 as part of a NASCAR schedule realignment, but the coronavirus suspension sees the race back on the schedule this year, with the Darlington 500k to be held at the same venue three days later.
Driving his Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing, ‘Happy Harvick’ took an early lead in the 2020 Drivers’ Championship with top-10 results in each of the first four rounds. Harvick came second at the FanShield 500 in Phoenix – the last race before the NASCAR season went on hiatus in March – and at the time of writing was the equal favourite in outright Darling betting. The Californian is chasing his first Drivers’ Championship since 2014, coming third in each of the past three seasons.
Joining Harvick on the first line of Darlington betting is Kyle Busch, who took out his second Drivers’ Championship in 2019. The Joe Gibbs Racing spearhead started the season slow but managed podium finishes in rounds 3 and 4 to move up to 12th in the NASCAR standings.
Another member of the Joe Gibbs Racing stable, 39-year-old Hamlin got off to a flyer this season by driving his Toyota Camry to victory at the Daytona 500 – his second straight win in the race and third in five years. Modest subsequent results have seen the 39-year-old slip to 11th in the standings, but he has nevertheless been backed in outright Darlington betting.
Darlington 500k race overview: 21 May
The NASCAR rivals back up at Darlington Raceway just three days later for the Darlington 500k (known stateside as the Darlington 310). The race consists of 229 laps of the egg-shaped course dubbed ‘The Track Too Tough To Tame’ by fans.
NASCAR luminary Johnson’s ‘farewell tour’ is arguably the biggest storyline of the 2020 season. The 44-year-old has won a record-equalling seven Drivers’ Championships – most recently in 2016. Johnson finished 18th overall last year, his worst performance since his 2002 rookie season, but he currently sits fifth in the standings after a fifth in Las Vegas, seventh in Fontana and 12th in Phoenix. He was the last winner of the Darlington 400 in 2004 and is juicy value in outright Darlington betting for those having a NASCAR bet.
The 2018 Drivers’ Championship winner, Team Penske’s Logano came fifth last season. The 29-year-old is just one point off the pace after four rounds thanks to victories in Las Vegas and Phoenix. He’s sitting towards the top in outright Darlington betting.
Logano’s stablemate Keselowski is a consistent performer on the NASCAR Cup Series circuit. He won his only Drivers’ Championship back in 2012 but has finished eighth in the past two seasons – with three victories in each – after coming fourth in 2017. An outright Darlington betting chance, Keselowski saluted at the Southern 500 at this track in 2018. He finished 11th or better in the last three events before the 2020 season’s suspension to move to 10th in the standings.
Coca-Cola 600 race overview: 25 May
The 61st running of the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway is set down for 25 May (AEST). A 400-lap endurance test, the Coca-Cola 600 usually takes more than four hours to complete and has been won by Jimmie Johnson four times.
The 2018 Coca-Cola 600 winner, Busch was the favourite to take out the 2020 event at the time of writing. He has an extraordinary record in the race, landing on the podium six times in the past 12 years – including in each of the last three.
The older brother of Kyle, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kurt Busch was the 2010 Coca-Cola 600 winner. The 41-year-old won his only Drivers’ Championship back in 2004 but remains one of NASCAR’s most respected competitors, finishing no worse than 14th overall in the past seven seasons. After a third in round 3 and a sixth in round 4, the veteran is one to watch in the Coca-Cola 600.
Martin Truex Jr
Another stalwart for Joe Gibbs Racing, Truex Jr collected his second Coca-Cola 600 victory in 2019 – and is aiming to become the race’s first back-to-back winner since Johnson (2003–05). The Drivers’ Championship winner in 2017 and runner-up in 2018 and 2019, Truex Jr has made an underwhelming start to his 2020 campaign but is up there to take the honours in Charlotte.
Charlotte 500k race overview: 28 May
It’s a mere 208 times around the Charlotte Motor Speedway when NASCAR’s finest return three days later for the Charlotte 500k on 28 May (AEST).
A midway chance to win the Coca-Cola 600, Hendrick Motorsports’ Bowman shapes as a dark horse to take out the second Charlotte event. After a career-best 12th-place finish in the 2019 Drivers’ Championship, the 27-year-old is currently fourth – largely thanks to his win in the Auto Club 400 at Fontana in round 3.
Stewart-Hass Racing’s Almirola has made a solid start to 2020, moving to eighth in the Drivers’ Championship after four rounds. He was fifth overall in 2018 and 14th last season.
Still only 24, Elliott is in his sixth NASCAR Cup series season and has finished top 10 in the 2016–19 Drivers’ Championships. The Hendricks Motorsports young gun is looming as a genuine threat again, with some impressive results in the opening four rounds lifting him to third.
Kansas 400 race overview: 1 June
NASCAR converges on Kansas City on 1 June (AEST) for round 9 of the Cup Series and the Kansas 400. First held in 2011, the race sends drivers around the Kansas Speedway 267 times.
Keselowski was the inaugural Kansas 400 winner in 2011 and became the first driver to take the race out twice when he triumphed in an overtime finish last year.
Harvick was the 2018 Kansas 400 victor – a deserved result after coming second in 2014–16 and third in 2017. Another strong showing in Kansas City could help the current Cup Series leader to his second Drivers’ Championship.
Kenseth has been granted a waiver to compete in the rest of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season, despite missing the start of the campaign. He has been picked as a replacement driver by Chip Ganassi Racing. The 2003 Drivers’ Championship winner, and runner-up in 2006 and 2013, Kenseth claimed the Kansas 400 in the latter season.
Michigan International Speedway: race overview: 8 June
The 10th round of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series is in Michigan on 8 June (AEST). The Michigan International Speedway has been held annually since 1969, but Denny Hamlin (2010 and 2011) is the only back-to-back winner of the 200-lap event in the past 28 years. This venue holds another 400 mile race in August.
NASCAR hot shot Logano shapes as a red-hot chance of emulating Hamlin’s feat. ‘Sliced Bread’ won this 400 mile race in Michigan in 2016 and 2019, and he also came third in 2017.
Evergreen Bowyer has produced some strong performances so far in 2020 – including a sixth in the Daytona 500 – to sit 13th in the Drivers’ Championship. One of the best drivers without a win in the overall title (he came third in 2007 and second in 2012), the 40-year-old remains a force and won this race in 2018.
Johnson won this race in 2014, but the Michigan International Speedway has otherwise not been a fruitful stomping ground for the driver. His best finish since was 10th – but the retiring great will be eager to atone for his past NASCAR results in the city.