The NASCAR season was just four races in when the COVID-19 crisis shut down the circuit along with the rest of the American sports landscape. NASCAR returns this weekend, and legend Jeff Gordon has narrated an emotional opening intro for Sunday’s Auto Club 400 race.
2020 NASCAR season gets underway
The Daytona 500 kicked off the 2020 NASCAR season with Denny Hamlin making a trip to the winner’s circle, his third victory (2016, 2019, 2020) in The Great American Race. Following Hamlin’s victory, NASCAR headed out west to Las Vegas.
In the Pennzoil 400, Joey Logano managed to hold off runner-up Matt DiBenedetto to the finish under caution and win the race a second time in as many years. Week 3 Alex Bowman took home the checkered flag with a victory at the Auto Club 400 in Fontana, California securing his second career Cup Series victory.
A week later, Logano returned to the winner’s circle in Phoenix at the Fan Shield 500, holding off a late charge from Kevin Harvick in the final lap. In the first four weeks of action, Logano had established he was the front runner to earn his second NASCAR Cup Series title, his first coming in 2018.
Then, like every other sport, it stopped.
NASCAR is back
UFC was the first sport to return to action last Saturday, and NASCAR is next to take center stage with the first race in two months happening on Sunday, the Real Heroes 400 at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina. This weekend’s race will air on Fox and NASCAR has released its opening intro for the race narrated by four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon.
The almost-two minute video begins with opening shots of race tracks and different cities across the nation, and Gordon’s voice opening with, “A world forever changed. A challenge unlike any other. A nation stronger than ever.”
Gordon then describes how “through the worst, we’ve seen our best and bravest,” as the video displays images of people talking on Zoom calls, as well as mail carriers and sanitization workers doing their jobs to keep us up and running.
The video blends in a mixture of old NASCAR footage with new, and concludes with various shots of victorious drivers celebrating in the winner’s circle. Gordon closes with a statement.
“And while the checkered flag is the prize for a day, the victory is for all of us. NASCAR is back. Together, we’re back.”
As Gordon concludes and declares racing back, there’s a surprise ending with a close-up of driver Ryan Newman for a split-second, who then closes the shield on his helmet.
Ryan Newman returns two months after horrific accident at Daytona
The final image of Ryan Newman in the NASCAR intro is uplifting and chilling at the same time. The last time race fans saw Newman was in one of the scarier moments in recent NASCAR action. At the season-opening race in Daytona, Newman went airborne in a terrible accident on the final lap that left fans in shock and evoked frightening memories of Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s tragic death 19 years earlier at the same track on the final lap.
Amazingly, the 18-time NASCAR Cup Series race winner walked out of Halifax Health Medical Center just two days later with no broken bones, and was captured in a photo holding the hands of his two young daughters. Interviewed this week for the first time since the accident, Newman said his only memories from the hospitalization were of that moment he and his children left the hospital.
Newman’s return is just one intriguing storyline that is part of a much bigger picture of the country returning to normal and NASCAR doing its part to help in that healing and recovery. Newman and the other drivers will face a whole new set of challenges this weekend in a venue absent of fans, the most significant challenge being no practice sessions for the drivers before the green flag drops on Sunday.
That single development should make for an exciting race that could potentially be viewed by a large number of new sports fans trying to get their fix of live sports action for the first time in months. New fans. Old fans. All sports fans are united in trying to overcome this deadly disease while attempting to return to a sense of normalcy in the most efficient and safest way possible, and as Jeff Gordon declares, “Together, we’re back.”