It certainly wasn't business as usual in 2020, but even with the coronavirus pandemic playing havoc with its schedule, NASCAR still managed to fit all 36 races in. A two-month-plus break starting in March not only shuffled events from their traditional spots on the calendar, but also relocated races to different tracks because of COVID-19 regulations.
Even with all of the disruptions and changes, and a couple of highly publicized incidents not related to what was happening on the track, the 2020 Cup Series provided more than its fair share of fantastic finishes, although there was more than one dud as well. Here's a rundown of the three best and three worst races from the 2020 season.
3 Best NASCAR Races of 2020
GEICO 500 (Talladega)
Most people will remember this event for that noose that caused an FBI investigation, initially thought to be aimed at Bubba Wallace. The photos of driver solidarity pushing Wallace's car to the grid kept NASCAR in the national spotlight for positive reasons just two weeks after a controversial Confederate flag ban. But all that off-track commotion overshadowed what many felt was the best pack race this century. Fifty-seven lead changes included three in the final three laps as Ryan Blaney literally won by a nose (.007 seconds). Most importantly, there were no Big Ones, showing that drivers could put on an exciting race for 500 miles under this package without turning half the field into mangled sheet metal.
Bass Pro Shops/NRA Night Race (Bristol)
Many people would say the first Bristol race of the year, where Chase Elliott and Joey Logano crashed while battling for the lead (Brad Keselowski won), was much better overall. But the fall race provided one of the best mano a mano battles of the season between two future NASCAR Hall of Famers. Kyle Busch, winless at the time, was desperate for momentum, while Kevin Harvick won a series-high nine races. The two went at it, tooth and nail, for most of the final 82-lap green-flag segment, swapping the top spot and using lapped cars as picks. In the end, a former feud between Busch and Logano swung Harvick's way as Logano's No. 22 cost Busch clean air, track position and ultimately the win in Thunder Valley.
Fan Shield 500 (Phoenix)
A rather tame Phoenix championship finale was made worse by expectations set during the final pre-COVID race in early March. After tweaking their package for shorter tracks, NASCAR debuted the changes to fanfare and nonstop competition on this one-mile oval. It felt like cars were side-by-side the whole race, using all portions of the track as the dogleg-style finish line provides plenty of options. Four drivers led 60 laps or more, producing 20 lead changes, and in the end, each stage produced a different winner: Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and then Joey Logano, who pulled ahead in the final 25 laps to win it.
3 Worst NASCAR Races of 2020
Manufacturing executives love this race because of its proximity to the American headquarters for Ford and Chevrolet. It's hard to find anybody else who does, a big reason why this track is down to one date for 2021. Two dominant performances by Kevin Harvick produced 22 lead changes total on a doubleheader weekend, easily the lowest totals of the year. In each event, the outcome of the race was rarely in doubt, as Harvick sped away in clean air. Spirited efforts by Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin came up short and were brief sugar highs in races that showcased the problems with NASCAR's current intermediate package. After the first few green-flag laps, cars would run in place, and it became almost impossible to improve track position.
Federated Auto Parts 400 (Richmond)
Brad Keselowski led 192 laps in an event that went caution-free aside from stage breaks or competition yellows. By the end of it, he had a comfortable 1.568-second victory over second-place Martin Truex Jr. while lapping all the way up to 11th place. It just doesn't feel right at Richmond these days, as the short track has grooves so wide that there's rarely any contact between cars. Isn't contact what makes smaller tracks so fun? 2020 marked the second playoff race here in three years to have three cautions or fewer.
Hollywood Casino 400 (Kansas)
Joey Logano has to be given credit for his only post-COVID win, a Kansas Speedway race where he wasn't the fastest car. Instead, pit strategy during the final stage got the No. 22 in clean air and out front ahead of a much-faster Kevin Harvick. Lap after lap, Harvick's in-car camera was shown as the ugliness of the “wide open” NASCAR package was there for all to see. The No. 4 car was helpless to close in on the No. 22, both cars never hitting the brakes and running the exact same speed for 45 laps. At no point could Harvick really gain an edge, costing him a Championship 4 bid in a year when he was the regular-season champion by a country mile.
(Top photo courtesy of ASP, Inc.)