NASCAR returned on Sunday afternoon with The Real Heroes 400 at Darlington Raceway. Fans were fired up when the green flag waved, but they were stunned to see the race pause during the first lap. The reason is that driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. wrecked on an early turn and knocked himself out of the race.
The incident occurred when Stenhouse Jr. came out a turn in a packed group. He went higher on the curve and collided with the side of one of his opponent's vehicles. The hit spun Stenhouse Jr. out, and slammed into the side concrete wall. The force of the collision completely smashed the front passenger side of his No. 47 Chevrolet and ended his race.
There were concerns about Stenhouse Jr.'s safety after he crashed. The collision was violent, and there were some other side effects as he headed to pit road. The No. 47 Chevrolet caught on fire and had flames shooting out of the back. However, Stenhouse Jr. safely made it to his pit crew, and they were able to put out the fire.
"Life feels normal again!!! Thanks ricky," one racing fan commented on Twitter. Several others responded and called Stenhouse Jr. "Wrecky" after the early-race incident. The Cup Series driver has a reputation among some fans for crashing during events, whether they take place virtually or in the real world. They felt that this incident on lap one truly meant that NASCAR was back after its 10-week postponement.
According to The Athletic's Jeff Gluck, the NASCAR scoring monitor listed Stenhouse Jr. as having completed zero laps on Sunday. His day ended minutes after it started, which certainly frustrated him. Although one Twitter account known for joking NASCAR tweets said that Stenhouse Jr. had wrecked in order to give himself more time to prepare for Wednesday's Cup Series race.
The early moments of The Real Heroes 400 were filled with caution flags as drivers got their first laps at Darlington out of the way. None of the competitors were given the opportunity to practice ahead of Sunday's race, nor did they take part in qualifying laps. They essentially headed back to the track "rusty" after a 10-week postponement.
Stage 1 of the race proceeded smoothly after Stenhouse Jr.'s incident, and the drivers got back in their racing groove. Brad Keselowski, who had drawn the pole position led for more than 40 laps but was later overtaken by Alex Bowman and Jimmie Johnson. The race continued as various drivers jockeyed for position and the win during NASCAR's return.