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|What||Toyota 500 NASCAR Cup Series race|
|When||Wednesday, May 20, 6:00 p.m. EST|
|How to watch||FS1|
Without fans in the grandstands, NASCAR accomplished an otherwise seamless re-opening of its 2020 Cup Series season on Sunday with the running of The Real Heroes 400 at Darlington Raceway. Kevin Harvick won the race in dominating fashion, taking control in Stage 2 and leading 159 of the 293 laps to establish himself as the favorite to go back-to-back on Wednesday at the Track Too Tough to Tame.
The 500k (311.2-mile) 238-lap race won’t be a cakewalk for the 2014 series champion. To establish the starting positions for the midweek Darlington race, NASCAR has inverted the top 20 finishers from Sunday, placing Harvick 20th on the grid and 20th-place finisher Ryan Preece on the pole.
Furthermore, Wednesday’s race starts at 7:30 p.m. and will finish under the lights. With temperatures forecast to be roughly 20 degrees cooler than they were on Sunday when the race was run in the afternoon, track conditions will be vastly different for the Toyota 500. Thunderstorms are also a threat to delay, shorten or perhaps even postpone the race until the following day.
The odds for The Real Heroes 400 are provided by bet365 NJ
|Martin Truex Jr.||+800|
Odds taken from bet365 NJ, May 19
In races with no practice or qualifying, Kevin Harvick thinks he has an edge, and crew chief Rodney Childers is the embodiment of that advantage. That certainly was the case on Sunday, when Harvick led 159 of 293 laps in cruising to a 2.154-second victory over Alex Bowman in The Real Heroes 400 at Darlington Raceway.
“As you look at the things that happened this weekend, I really thought that it would definitely play into our hands, just because our guys are so good at hitting the car off the truck for the most part,” said Harvick, who won for the 50th time in his Cup career, tying NASCAR Hall of Famers Junior Johnson and Ned Jarrett for 12th all-time.
“We put a lot of time, a lot of effort, a lot of studying, a lot of meetings and just have to thank everybody at the shop who has built all these cars and just, man, I’m excited. It is weird just because there’s nobody up there (in the grandstands).”
Harvick (+350) was an important part of the equation. On the final restart on Lap 259, he held off a determined charge from Bowman and pulled away to win. As one might expect, Harvick’s No. 4 Ford was superior out front in clean air. On Wednesday night, he’ll have to deal with dirty air as he tries to work his way through the field from the 20th starting position.
Alex Bowman’s dirt-track background in midget racing shines through on rough, abrasive speedways where a stock car tends to slide through the corners. The 27-year-old driver of the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet picked up both career Cup victories on two such tracks—Chicagoland last year and Auto Club Speedway in March, before the coronavirus pandemic brought the season to a halt.
Bowman (+700) came close on Sunday at Darlington, where he ran door-to-door with race winner Kevin Harvick for two laps after the final restart. Harvick pulled away to win, but Bowman’s confidence is sky-high entering Wednesday’s rematch at the Lady in Black. Bowman just agreed to a one-year extension that will keep him in the No. 88 Chevy through 2021.
Bowman wasn’t the only Hendrick driver who showed speed on Sunday. Chase Elliott ran fourth, improving steadily throughout the race. Jimmie Johnson looked to have a potential race-winning car, only to be eliminated in a freak accident while leading on the final lap of Stage 1. William Byron inherited the stage win but wrecked 19 laps later because of a loose wheel. Those inclined to bet on Johnson (+1800) or Byron (+2000) should temper their enthusiasm with the knowledge that the two drivers will start 37th and 34th, respectively, on Wednesday based on their finishing positions on Sunday.
Ford drivers Harvick and Brad Keselowski (+700) combined to lead 239 of 293 laps in Sunday’s The Real Heroes 400. Runner-up Alex Bowman led 41 laps in a Chevrolet. Toyota drivers, on the other hand, failed to lead a lap on Sunday, with Denny Hamlin pacing the contingent with a fifth-place finish, followed by Martin Truex Jr. in sixth and defending Southern 500 winner Erik Jones in the eighth.
Pre-race favorite Kyle Busch was relegated to the rear of the field for the start of the race after his car failed inspection twice. Busch worked his way up to fifth before a late unscheduled pit stop dropped him to 26th at the finish. That’s the same position from which he’ll start Wednesday’s race.
Hamlin never had the speed to contend for the win in NASCAR’s re-opening event. Truex fought early handling problems but improved dramatically after adjustments to his car. Jones’ performance likewise got better as the day went on, but not enough to race with the leaders. The bad news? Jones will start 13th on Wednesday as the Toyota driver closest to the front of the grid. The good news? All the drivers and crew chiefs in the Toyota camp will have three days to figure out why they were slower than expected and can work to change their cars accordingly.
Alex Bowman (+700)—It’s hard to argue against Harvick, but Bowman comes in at a much more favorable price, and he’s racing on the same tire combination that gave him a victory at Chicagoland last year. And Darlington is one of the tracks in Bowman’s wheelhouse.
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Award-winning motorsports writer Reid Spencer has served as lead writer for the NASCAR Wire Service for 16 years, having also spent a four-year stint as NASCAR columnist and beat writer for Sporting News. He is currently serving as president of the National Motorsports Press Association. Email: [email protected]More info on Reid Spencer
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