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By Dillon O’Toole

We are nearing two months of quarantine and, more importantly, two months without sports to keep us entertained. There is a light at the end of the tunnel however, and it is approaching fast. UFC is returning on May 9th and NASCAR is returning on May 17th. I am here to try and convince you to give NASCAR a try now that they are returning. In fact, now is a perfect time to try watching it as there will really be nothing else on.

The NASCAR season only got through 4 of its 36-race schedule before the series was put on hold as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, you may be asking, “How can NASCAR return so early, wouldn’t it be a health risk?” Thats a good question, and there is an answer to that. Firstly, the races announced are not going to have any fans in attendance which greatly reduces the amount of people present, and therefore greatly reduces the chance of infection.  Additionally, according to the statement released by NASCAR, all individuals must wear protective clothing and have their health screened before entering the facility. NASCAR also announced that the event procedures are going to be modified to be in compliance with CDC, OSHA, and state and local government recommendations in order to further reduce risk of infection.

Since NASCAR only completed the first four races on the schedule, the race for the championship will not be the biggest storyline with the season returning. There are plenty of other exciting storylines to follow, though. Jimmie Johnson, the seven-time champion driver of the number 48 Chevy, announced last year that 2020 will be his final full-time season. As of right now, this is still the case. (He did mention that he may reconsider if the season is cut short, but no developments in this regard have been announced.) Johnson has been winless since 2017, and the focus for him this season is to prove that he is still capable of being competitive. So far, he seems to be proving that he does still have it, as he is currently listed as being fifth in the points standings. It remains to be seen, however, if he will be able to keep this competitive level up and if he will be able to get one more win before the season is finished.

Another veteran driver who is part of a major storyline is Ryan Newman. Back in February, Ryan Newman was involved in a serious crash on the last lap of the Daytona 500 (the first, and biggest race of the season) that resulted in Newman experiencing an unknown head injury. After sitting out the next three races, Newman will be able to return to racing on the 17th as he was recently medically cleared. It will be interesting to follow Newman over the course of the season to see if he can return to the success he experienced last season.

The final verteran that needs to be discussed is 2003 champion Matt Kenseth. Kenseth is returning to the NASCAR Cup Series for the first time since 2018 to compete in the remaining 32 races. Unfortunately, his return is the result of the scandal involving driver Kyle Larson’s use of a racial slur. NASCAR does not tolerate this behavior and suspended Larson immediately. Larson was eventually fired by his team after his sponsors severed their contracts with him.. While marked by controversy, Kenseth’s return is a welcomed one and it will be great to see him competing for a championship once again.

Finally, let’s discuss how the season has already gone and what may come over the next 32 races. The 2020 season has seen a resurgence among the Chevy teams. In recent years, Chevy has struggled for speed relative to Ford and Toyota. Three Chevy teams are in the top five in points currently, while Toyota has had some early struggles as their top driver in the standings is in 11th place. Ford is appearing strong as they currently occupy six of the top ten, including the top two positions in the points standings. The outcome of the manufactures remains unclear, but it will be interesting to see whether Chevy can maintain their newly found speed and if Toyota can make a comeback. Current drivers to keep an eye on include veterans Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, and Joey Logano, as well as the younger drivers like Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman, and Ryan Blaney.

Another interesting storyline to keep an eye on is the fight for Rookie of the Year.  The current battle is being contested by the drivers Cole Custer, Tyler Reddick, John Hunter Nemechek, Brennan Poole, Christopher Bell, and Quin Houff. The favorites prior to the season were Cole Custer, Tyler Reddick, and Christopher Bell, but John Hunter Nemechk has proven so far that he is in contention for the Rookie of the Year, while Christopher Bell has struggled much more than expected. The battle among the rookies to be the best will be a great development to accompany the main championship battle across the entirety of the season, and it will be interesting to see who comes out on top.

NASCAR is helping bring sports back to the television. If you’re suffering from sports withdrawals,, give NASCAR a shot. I, and millions of other fans, have enjoyed the sport for years. You never know, you may actually like it. If the sport ends up intriguing you and you want to know more, I suggest going on YouTube and watching either NASCAR YouTubers or highlights of old races. Some good places to start among NASCAR YouTubers would be S1apSh0es, The Iceberg, Black Flags Matter, and Eric Estepp. In the meantime, stay safe and healthy so we can put a checkered flag to this quarantine.

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