Five moments that defined the 2020 NASCAR season

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November 9th, 2020

A marathon NASCAR season felt 10 times longer than usual, because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the sheer volume of significant happenings that took place during the year.

Here are the top five events that occurred during the 2020 Cup Series season, some of which will have long-lasting impact.

Ryan Newman’s Daytona 500 wreck

NASCAR’s Super Bowl — the Daytona 500 — was marred by a scary wreck that involved Ryan Newman, who went airborne, landed hard, and did not immediately get out of his car. Updates on his condition were not readily available that evening, which led many to fear the worst.

But, miraculously, Newman walked out of Halifax Medical Center just three days later, hand-in-hand with his two young daughters.

The incredibly inspirational Newman returned to racing May 17, NASCAR’s first day back following a COVID-19 necessitated pause.

NASCAR’s perseverance during a pandemic

NASCAR was forced to postpone its season after the March 8 race at Phoenix, because of COVID-19, and went on hiatus until May 17. iRacing was held in the interim, but it just wasn’t the same.

NASCAR was one of the first American sports to return to action, which laid the groundwork for other leagues to follow. Drivers and fans quickly adapted to the new schedule and rules, and there were no major coronavirus outbreaks (Jimmie Johnson and Austin Dillon each missed one race because of a positive test).

Bubba Wallace and NASCAR combat racism

The Cup Series made plenty of off-track headlines in 2020, beginning when Kyle Larson uttered a racial slur during an iRacing event in April. He earned a season-long suspension and was released by Chip Ganassi Racing, before he was reinstated for the 2021 campaign.

Weeks later, in the wake of the George Floyd protests, Bubba Wallace went on CNN and called on NASCAR to ban the confederate flag at all future races. The sport followed through just days later.

Later in June, Wallace appeared to be the victim of a sickening hate crime, when a rope fashioned like a noose was discovered in his Talladega garage. An FBI investigation revealed no wrongdoing, but the drivers’ gesture of solidarity did not ring hollow.

Kevin Harvick’s domination and elimination

Kevin Harvick had one of the most dominant seasons in recent memory. He won nine races, hit the top 10 in 27 of the 36 events, and led a Cup Series-best 1,531 laps.

But Harvick found himself behind the eight-ball late at Martinsville, the race before the Championship 4 cutoff, and spun himself out trying to make a last-lap pass. It just goes to show how unpredictable NASCAR can be.

Chase Elliott’s championship and Jimmie Johnson’s retirement

In what felt like a “passing of the torch,” Chase Elliott took home the win at Phoenix and the 2020 NASCAR Championship during Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson’s final Cup Series race. Elliott even sported a yellow No. 9 on his NAPA Chevrolet, a tribute to Johnson’s longtime yellow No. 48.

Elliott, 24, became the third-youngest driver to win the Bill France Cup. Could this be the start of a run of dominance, like Johnson had, which saw him win seven championships?