With Pocono Raceway's NASCAR doubleheader approaching, here's what happened last year
NASCAR's first doubleheader at Pocono Raceway in 2020 featured several key numbers: Three days, five races, 1,250 miles. Zero fans.
Pocono Raceway will again feature 1,250 miles between five races over three days in 2021, but this time fans will be able to fill the grandstands.
Not being there in person last year might fog your memory a bit, so if you need a refresher on what happened, the Pocono Record has you covered.
How to watch the 2021 Pocono Races:Here's when the races start and how to stream it
Here's a look at the 2020 highlights:
Pocono Raceway launched the doubleheader format
A pandemic that upended the sports world and inclement weather couldn't stop Pocono Raceway from hosting NASCAR's first doubleheader weekend.
Two Cup Series races on back-to-back days headlined a weekend that also featured Xfinity Series, Truck Series and ARCA Menards Series races. Rain postponed the Saturday Truck Series race to Sunday, but Pocono managed to complete each event in the jam-packed schedule.
With the Truck Series moved to Sunday last year, Pocono Raceway became the first track in NASCAR history to host three National Series races on the same day.
The new format presented a unique challenge to drivers, since their turn around would be unprecedentedly quick. After finishing the first Cup race, drivers and their teams had to immediately assess what went wrong or right and figure out how to quickly take care of any necessary maintenance.
The quick turnaround also meant no time for practices, leaving teams without any way to prepare for the first race.
Despite the challenges, some drivers find it preferable, with a shortened schedule and ability to be consistent through repetition favorable features of the format.
“I think everybody would be super happy with a much shorter season and multiple doubleheaders,” Kevin Harvick said last year.
Harvick claimed his first win at the Tricky Triangle
Racing in the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford, Harvick won a race at Pocono Raceway for the first time during 2020's doubleheader.
Success at Pocono is familiar for Harvick — who's finished outside the top 10 just once over his last 10 races at Pocono — but that first win remained elusive.
Harvick led the race for each of the final 16 laps, never giving in to strong challenges from Denny Hamlin. Hamlin pulled within 0.750 seconds of Harvick with 11 laps to go, but Harvick came out triumphant.
Hamlin tied the record for most wins at Pocono
The back-and-forth competition of Saturday's race carried over into the second leg of the doubleheader, but this time it was Hamlin to reign supreme.
Hamlin earned his fourth win of the season for Joe Gibbs Racing by beating out Harvick in the Sunday Cup race, but six was the more notable number. Hamlin's victory tied him with Jeff Gordon for most career Cup Series wins at Pocono Raceway.
“It’s hard to believe because we went through such a dry spell there in the middle of my career,” Hamlin said last year.
Rain threatened, but the races continued on despite the weather
Inclement weather disrupted much of last year's doubleheader weekend, notably pushing the Truck Series race back to Sunday.
That same rain delayed the start of the Saturday Cup race by an hour and threatened to pause the race near its end. The track remained dry enough for drivers to finish the race, setting the stage for a historic three-race Sunday.
After the Truck and Xfinity Series races, rain again loomed over the Cup race. This time, NASCAR red-flagged the race for 51 minutes.
Not resuming until around 6:15 p.m., the sun began to set before drivers finished the race. Pocono Raceway rushed to set up lights in victory lane to illuminate Hamlin's celebration.
Frank Piscani is the Sports Life multimedia reporter at the Pocono Record. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on social media platforms @frankpiscani.