Kurt Busch, who finished third in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup series race at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina — the first race after the sport shut down for 10 weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic — told “Bill Hemmer Reports” Monday that he felt great to be back racing, even with no fans in the stands.
“What a day it was yesterday for NASCAR,” Busch said. “NASCAR has done a tremendous job working with everybody from the states to the local counties. And for the race to happen yesterday, the biggest disappointment was, yes, the fans were not at the track. It was silent in many ways that I had never felt before — pre-race, post-race, even during the race.
“But you could feel everybody with their spirit through the television cameras, and for us at NASCAR, we are trying to create that normalcy, and that feel of people tuning into a live sport on Sunday, and I think we pulled it off really well.”
Busch, who finished behind winner Kevin Harvick and second-place Alex Bowman, told Hemmer that he was driving back to North Carolina after the race when he thought about the importance of the race to fans around the country.
“I had a moment where it’s like people, our race fans, are stuck at home with bigger problems and tougher decisions to make right now,” he said. “So I feel privileged to have been able to go back out on the track and to get to do what I love to do.
“I am hopeful that all of us will begin to be able to do that and to have jobs and to have the excitement; the family trips; and to do things again,” he added.
In recent years, racing at Darlington has been reserved for Labor Day weekend, with thousands of fans descending on “The Lady in Black” for the Bojangles Southern 500 — a special Sunday night race “under the lights.”
But due to state-based shelter-in-place restrictions and federal social distancing guidelines, the team at NASCAR had to improvise and — in keeping with their stated hope to run a full 36-race schedule this season — worked with officials in North and South Carolina to schedule two fan-less Cup races this week at Darlington.
The second race at the “Lady in Black” will be run Wednesday night before the circuit decamps to Charlotte for the Coca-Cola 600 which will be run as scheduled — but without fans — on the Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend.
As part of the unusual setup, Fox Sports commentators Mike Joy and Jeff Gordon called the race from a studio in Charlotte.
NASCAR officials say they still hope to return to Darlington as planned for the Southern 500 and are working through resetting the rest of the season schedule.