DARLINGTON, South Carolina (May 18, 2020) — With the conclusion of the Real Heroes 400 at Darlington Raceway on Sunday evening, NASCAR is officially back in action after a ten week pause due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. NASCAR became the first major league sport to hold a live event after last competing at Phoenix Raceway in March. Kevin Harvick picked up his 50th career victory in a crowdless event, while in the middle of the pack, Ryan Preece put himself in a promising position for the next event thanks to extraordinary qualifying conditions.
A full field of 40 cars took the green flag meaning that the target spot for this race’s Midfielder was actually 20th. Throughout the event, Bubba Wallace, Ty Dillon, John Hunter Nemechek, and Cole Custer all hovered around this mid-point of the pack… and most finished not far from there. One exception, John Hunter Nemechek, found a bit of speed in the latter part of the contest, and worked his way up to a solid ninth place result, driving for the often underpowered Front Row Motorsports.
With 34 laps to go, Ryan Preece restarted in 19th after the race’s tenth and final caution period for half-spin by Ryan Newman. Preece dropped back to 20th after the restart, and stayed there to the finish, gaining five positions on his 25th place starting position. With that result, Preece moved three spots in the season points standings, up to 30th.
“Overall, it was a solid day for our Cottonelle Chevy,” said Preece following the race. “We’ve been in a little bit of a hole to start out the season for reasons we weren’t able to control, but this is a positive step forward. We were able to get some stage points and run towards the front, just had a few pit stops that didn’t go our way. We’re a team and we’re moving forward together. We know we have the speed, just need to put everything together.”
Preece’s 20th place finish has an added benefit this week, as NASCAR will invert the top 20 finishers from Sunday’s event to make up the starting lineup for the top 20 in Wednesday’s return to Darlignton. This will put Ryan Preece on the pole and is an advantage not lost on the sophomore Cup Series driver who is ready to put his car in the center of a huge stage, even if the venue remains empty for the time being.
“Starting on the pole this Wednesday is going to be really fun,” he said. “I’m very grateful for all of our frontline workers, everyone at the shop, and our NASCAR industry as a whole for rallying together to be able to safely get us back on the racetrack. We definitely miss the fans but hope that having our sport live on TV fills the gap until we can safely have everyone back at the racetrack.”
Darlington was chosen in part because the state was open to this type of entertainment event and also because of the venue’s proximity to the team’s homebase in Charlotte, North Carolina. As a result, NASCAR will return to the “Lady in Black” on Wednesday night for a 500k contest where again, fans will have to watch from the comfort of their homes until the social restrictions that are keeping the grandstands void of fans are lifted.
Wednesday’s race will air on FS1, May 20th at 7:30 PM EST.
– Daniel Vining, Twitter: @danielvining
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