Don't Call It a Comeback -- Strong Showing for Kenseth and Newman at Darlington

NASCAR returned to racing on Sunday.
Credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs

In its first race since the season was suspended 71 days ago due to the COVID-19 crisis, the NASCAR Cup Series proved it can still put on a heck of a show. And they did it even without fans, while following strict guidelines for distancing and facial coverings. Kevin Harvick won the race, but there was a lot more to talk about.

Ryan Newman and Matt Kenseth both returned to the track after time away from the car. Newman was injured in what appeared to be a devastating accident on the last lap of February's Daytona 500 and was forced to step away to recover. Kenseth last drove a Cup car in November of 2018, when he officially retired after the season ended.

Had you not known the backstories of the two drivers, you might have thought it was just a normal day. A top 10 for Kenseth and a top 15 for Newman is nothing to scoff at, but the return to racing for both men has been anything but normal.

Matt Kenseth piloted the No. 42 car to a top-10 finish in his first Cup race since November 2018.
Credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
Kenseth, who has been largely out of the public eye since retiring, was tapped by Chip Ganassi Racing to pilot the No. 42 car, filling the seat of Kyle Larson, who was terminated in mid-April for an a comment he made during a live iRacing broadcast.

Kenseth said he was largely attracted to the offer due to the condensed schedule, allowing him to spend more time at home and less time sitting alone in his motorhome when he wasn't on track or at sponsor/media obligations. When the green flag dropped on Sunday afternoon, he hadn't logged one lap in his new ride, because specifications for the race allowed no practice and no qualifying.

Ryan Newman was back behind the wheel of the No. 6 car for the first time since his crash at the 2020 Daytona 500.
Credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
After a frightening crash on the last lap of February's Daytona 500, Newman was lucky to be alive, let alone get back behind the wheel of a race car. He awoke from a medically-induced coma less than 24 hours after the crash, then walked out of a Daytona Beach hospital less than 24 hours later, hand in hand with his daughters. He vowed to return to racing, but there was no specific timetable given.

Newman posted pictures of what he called his therapy -- fishing and spending time with his daughters -- before ultimately announcing that he had been medically cleared to race on April 28, confirming that he would be behind the wheel of the No. 6 Roush Fenway Ford when NASCAR resumed.

Ultimately, Kenseth fared better with his top-10 finish, while Newman ended up 15th after a late-race spin dropped him back in the field. Solid days, most would say, but knowing everything that went into getting these two men into the race car, those finishes are top notch, and (should be) indicative of successful seasons for both. Should they meet the qualifications set forth by NASCAR, both are eligible to run for the 2020 series championship when the playoffs begin.

After the race, Kenseth thanked everyone who was involved in putting the event together, acknowledging that is was no small feat. He also praised his team for the hard work they had done to prepare the car for him, and said he felt he had room to improve.

Newman was also thankful to all involved, and said he was happy to be part of "breaking the ice on getting the world back in motion." He also knows he has work ahead of him as he re-acclimates to racing, but looks to be in a great position.

In its new condensed-schedule format, NASCAR will run its second race of the week at Darlington on Wednesday evening, with the action airing on Fox Sports 1. If today's showing was any glimpse at what both Kenseth and Newman have in the tank, be ready for some exciting races from both drivers.
Don't Call It a Comeback -- Strong Showing for Kenseth and Newman at Darlington Don't Call It a Comeback -- Strong Showing for Kenseth and Newman at Darlington Reviewed by Stephanie Stuart-Landrey on Monday, May 18, 2020 Rating: 5