Kevin Harvick Recalls Winning The First NASCAR Race Back After The COVID Shutdown & It’s A Reminder Of How Weird Things Were During That Time

Kevin Harvick

Remember what a strange time this was 4 years ago?

I still remember getting an email from my former employer that there had been a case of COVID (though everybody was still calling it coronavirus at the time) in our office building, so we would be working from home for the next two days.

Well those two days quickly turned into two years. And not long after we started working remotely, the rest of the world shut down too. Sports leagues shut down their seasons, bars and restaurants closed, concerts were cancelled only to come back in a weird socially-distance format a few months later, we were all just sitting at home watching Tiger King and doing TikTok dances…it was a weird time.

It’s also weird to me that it seems like so long ago now, but also feels like just yesterday. I mean, people were wiping down their grocery deliveries not long ago and now most of us don’t even give COVID a second thought. At one point people were predicting that live music would never return in the same way that it was before, but just two weeks ago 80,000 people packed in to watch Morgan Wallen at Stagecoach (in California, of all states).

I dunno, it was a weird time.

Of course everybody remembers what a weird time it was, but Kevin Harvick discussing his win in the first NASCAR race after the season was suspended due to the pandemic is an interesting look back at how things were going not all that long ago.

The NASCAR season was initially suspended on March 16, 2020, after the Cup Series race at Phoenix Raceway the prior weekend and just four weeks into the new season.

All other sports leagues obviously shut down too, but NASCAR was in a unique spot to return for obvious reasons: Drivers aren’t in contact with each other when they’re competing like football or basketball players are.

The sport was determined to get the full 36-race schedule in, but that would require some major adjustments. Not only did they miss several weeks while they were shut down, but many states weren’t willing to let NASCAR hold events in any capacity due to social distancing requirements and limits on the number of people allowed at gatherings.

But with the help of states that were ready to welcome sports back as they reopened, NASCAR was able to come up with a new schedule and become the first sport to return after the shutdown.

And the first race back was at one of NASCAR’s most historic tracks, Darlington Raceway in South Carolina.

NASCAR actually held two races at Darlington within three days in order to make up one of the events that they missed. And 2014 Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick took home the first win in any sport after the world had been shut down.

With the sport returning to Darlington this weekend, Harvick took some time on his podcast, Happy Hour, to reflect on that historic win:

“I left my house, it felt really strange, there was nobody on the road, you drive to the racetrack, you go to the racetrack, they take your temperature, and then we’re going to go race.

All the drivers had their motorhome. You had to stay in your car or sit in your motorhome until they called you out to the grid.

And you had to bring your own helmet and HANS and everything with you, all your gloves, nobody else could touch it and undo all your stuff and get in the car.”

But Harvick says even with all that, one of the strangest things about the whole day was when they played the National Anthem:

“They had this recording, but with nobody in the racetrack it just kind of echoed around and it was loud, and you’re standing at your car by yourself, and the spotters are spread out in the grandstands.”

Yeah, that would be wild when you’re used to hearing a crowd of 50,000+ people.

Well the #4 Stewart-Haas Racing team went out and took the checkered flag, and obviously Harvick is just as excited to win that one as he is to win a “normal race.” But when he got out of the car, he was quickly reminded that things weren’t exactly normal:

“I’ve got that same emotion, right Like you’re jacked up, ready to just rip somebody’s head off, happy and excited, whatever those emotions are. And so you pop out of the car and you’re like, ‘Yeah!’ And all you hear is, ‘Yeah!’ echo across the racetrack.

And you’re like, ‘Man, I bet I look stupid on TV.'”

Harvick says that he even heard one of the spotters yell at him from the grandstands – because that’s how quiet and empty the track was.

After the race, he had to do his “Victory Lane” obligations – although those looked a lot different too. In what’s usually a scene packed with hundreds of people and endless photos as drivers swap hats bearing the logos of all their sponsors, Harvick says when he finally got his car to Victory Lane, there were three hats, a photographer, and the trophy.

So he took the three photos – and then he was told to take his trophy and go home.

But as he was on his way home, Harvick says that he got calls from some high-profile individuals: Then-House Minority Leader (and future Speaker of the House) Kevin McCarthy, and then-Philadelphia Phillies manager Joe Girardi. Harvick says both men thanked him and NASCAR for leading the way to getting sports – and the country – back to normal.

And it wasn’t all bad: Harvick says that the changes that NASCAR implemented due to COVID, including eliminating practice and qualifying, probably ended up extending his career because it meant he had more time with his family and his young son Keelan, who is a racer himself.

It’s strange to look back on those times now, but Harvick recalling that win is a good reminder of just how weird things were back in those days.

@harvickhappypod He won the first race back in 2020. Kevin Harvick remembers a very strange day at Darlington. #NASCAR ♬ original sound – Kevin Harvick’s Happy Hour

A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock