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NASCAR title contenders become clear

July 09, 2020 - 06:00
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  • NASCAR title contenders become clear
    Race driver Kevin Harvick (in black) and his crew climb the fence after winning the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. [AP/DARRON CUMMINGS]

Indy, old guys and the coronavirus make for an interesting week of news shifting.

FIRST GEAR: If championship teams rise to the top of the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, then 2020 looks like a two-man race to the title.

Kevin Harvick won that battle Sunday but only after Denny Hamlin crashed into the wall with a flat tire while leading with seven laps to the checkered flag. Now each driver has a series-leading four wins.

Hamlin is fifth in points but has collected a series-leading 23 playoff points. Harvick tops the standings and has collected 22 points for the playoffs.

Harvick said he doesn’t pay much attention to points. He said performance is his primary concern.

“I know if we keep winning, the points will keep adding up,” he said. “When it comes playoff time, those will be very valuable. Right now everything is going so well, we’ve got momentum. You want to win as many races as you can while you’ve got that wave of momentum on your side.”

After emerging from the Indy care center, Hamlin said he expects a season-long competition with Harvick.

“It’s been a great battle and those guys are great competitors,” Hamlin said.

SECOND GEAR: The oldest drivers in the Brickyard 400 finished first and second. Kevin Harvick, 44, took the win while Matt Kenseth, who was called into service by car owner Chip Ganassi, is 48.

“It was a great day for the No. 42 team,” Kenseth said. “It’s always nice to be up front and be in contention late in the race … I tried everything to get to the front, but just didn’t have quite enough to get around the No. 4 car.”

THIRD GEAR: The coronavirus had its first NASCAR Cup Series takedown. Marathon runner Jimmie Johnson, who is stock-car racing’s poster boy for physical health, tested positive for the COVID-19 and was told by NASCAR to stay home.

Justin Allgaier was called up from NASCAR’s Triple-A minor league to take his place at Indy. Allgaier crashed and finished 37th.

Apparently Johnson caught the virus from his wife Chani, who was showing mild symptoms. Johnson, who is in his last season as a full-time Cup driver, said he wants to get back ASAP.

“I learned that once I have two negative tests that I can go back to the track,” he said. “So, I think it’s whichever happens first, either the 14 days or two negative tests.”

FOURTH GEAR: This will be one of those crazy weeks of racing for the Cup Series. Competitors will run Kentucky Speedway on Sunday then head to Bristol Motor Speedway Wednesday for the virus-delayed All-Star Race.

The All-Star Race has been hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway since 1987, so this edition will have a whole new look and feel.

That will be Fox Sports last hurrah for 2020. After the All-Star event, Fox hands the TV baton to NBC.