There is no easy way to predict which NASCAR driver will win the Real Heroes 400 this Sunday, but even before the checkered flag waves, those on the track will have already secured a victory.
That's because NASCAR will be one of the first few sports to resume its official season amid the global coronavirus pandemic. There will be no fans to cheer on the eventual winner as he heads to an empty Victory Lane, but drivers said they are just excited to return to their cars and that they're ready to treat the race like they would any competitive event; They want to win.
"I think it'll be business as usual for me," No. 88 driver Alex Bowman said.
"Some of that (media) stuff might be cut down or have to be in a different format," Bowman continued. "But we're all still the same people that we are -- Clint Bowyer is still going to be hilarious. Kyle (Busch) is still going to have people mad at him. The personalities are still going to be there."
If the consistency of driver personalities translates to on-track performance despite the altered format of the event (i.e., no practice laps and qualifying before the race), that could mean a few things in terms of who has an advantage.
Last year's race at Darlington was won by Erik Jones, who led 79 laps of the 367-lap event. He was followed by Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski in the top five. This Darlington race will be a shorter 293-lap event and will not offer any opportunity for on-track preparation.
That could mean starting position plays a bigger role in who leads at the finish since drivers will be more cautious as they ease back into their equipment and get a feel for the 1.366-mile egg-shaped oval.
"It'll be a little bit tricky adjusting on your car at the beginning of the race," Harvick said. "Just because of the lack of rubber on the racetrack."
"It's a racetrack that really evolves as the rubber gets on (it)," Harvick continued. "And last year it was tough to drive on top of the rubber, so you really had to find different spots on the racetrack to move around."
For that reason, among others, The Charlotte Observer is predicting one of two big names to take the title for NASCAR's return event: Brad Keselowski or Kyle Busch.