By Paul Newberry | The Associated Press
Finally, a reason to cheer.
We’ll take it.
Even from afar.
No doubt, it was downright eerie when Fox came on the air Sunday afternoon for NASCAR’s return to racing, a camera hovering over tens of thousands of empty seats at the enormous, iconic speedway in the backwoods of Darlington, S.C.
This is the way it has to be until we get to a place — still difficult to see in the age of coronavirus — when it will again be safe to pack our stadiums and arenas and racetracks.
The broadcast team of Mike Joy and Jeff Gordon wasn’t even at NASCAR’s oldest superspeedway. They were watching the network-televised restart of American sports from the haven of a Fox studio, about 100 miles up the road in Charlotte.
They were essentially like the rest of us, settling into our recliners, remote controls in hand.
“All other sports are watching NASCAR,” said Regan Smith, the lone Fox reporter who was actually at the track, sending dispatches from pit road with his face covered like a Wild West bandit. “They’ve all been in contact with NASCAR to see how they’re making it work.”
Then, the green flag waved.
And something strange happened.
Yep, it was just another day at the races. The incessant roar of the engines. The squeal of the tires. The crunch of metal when a car slammed into the wall.
In a rather anti-climatic finish, Kevin Harvick took the checkered flag with no one else in sight for the 50th Cup victory of his career. Harvick celebrated with a customary spin of his tires at the start-finish line, smoking up the track before he climbed out his No. 4 car.
It was a routine he’d done many times before.
Until Harvick realized it wasn’t routine at all.
“I just want to thank everybody from NASCAR and all the teams for letting us do what we do,” Harvick told Smith. “I didn’t think it was gonna be that much different. Then we won the race and it’s dead silent out there. We miss the fans.”
These guys who like to go fast are setting the pace for everyone else in the U.S. to get back in the game.
For now, we’ll have to settle for these made-for-TV spectacles.
The PGA Tour is set to return next month (and gave us a preview Sunday with a charity skins game televised by NBC). IndyCar hopes to hold its first race of the season at Texas Motor Speedway in a few weeks. Major League Baseball is pushing a plan to get started on an abbreviated season around the Fourth of July. The NBA, NHL and Major League Soccer are sorting through various scenarios that would allow their safe return.
NASCAR is making its return at warp speed, with Sunday’s race the first of four Cup events to be held over 11 days at Darlington and Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Assuming they don’t have a wave of positive tests, this will undoubtedly be the template that others will look to follow in the days and weeks and months to come.
Hopefully, we’ll have more to cheer about.
Even if no one can hear us.