NASCAR grabs much-needed momentum in return to live racing

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Kyle Busch sits on the wall as Chase Briscoe celebrates behind him after Briscoe edged out Busch to win the NASCAR Xfinity series auto race Thursday, May 21, 2020, in Darlington, S.C. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – NASCAR had been planning sweeping changes for 2021 in hopes of finding new fans and adding some energy to a staid, stale schedule.

The coronavirus pandemic put those plans on hold and NASCAR is frantically trying to recover from a 10-week layoff.

So far, the stock car series is succeeding.

NASCAR came up with a health plan that allowed it to resume racing last Sunday at Darlington Raceway, the first of 20 events scheduled in seven Southern states through June 21. Although spectators are not permitted, making for eerie, empty venues, the racing itself has delivered.

Kevin Harvick scored his 50th career victory in NASCAR's first race back with seemingly everyone watching to see if the safety protocols would work. The next event was the first Cup Series race on a Wednesday in 36 years and it was about as good as it gets for a series dependent on miles upon miles of left turns.

Reigning champion and resident villain Kyle Busch angered fan favorite Chase Elliott, who flipped off his competitor after he was wrecked. A fox scampered across the track during a lull in what was a flat-out entertaining race.

Then came Thursday's emotional Xfinity Series race, won on the final lap by Chase Briscoe two days after he sat in the infield at Darlington and FaceTimed his wife as the two learned their unborn child did not have a fetal heartbeat. Reeling from the loss, Briscoe was able to hold off Busch, the best driver in Xfinity Series history, for his second win of the season. He collapsed in tears after the race in a moment shown across the country.

NASCAR, with all its personalities, conflicts and raw feelings, was back.