Hindsight is 20/20: NASCAR wraps up unbelievable 2020 season in Phoenix

It almost doesn‘t seem believable. Yet, Sunday night saw NASCAR complete its 36th and final race of the 2020 Cup Series season right on schedule.

It almost seems impossible.

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt everyday life in the United States. Even with a vaccine in the works, there are still so many unknowns when it comes to the virus that flipped the world upside down back in March.

Yet, Sunday night saw NASCAR complete its 36th and final race of the 2020 Cup Series season, right on schedule.

“If you can get through a year like this and you‘re NASCAR, it certainly bodes well,” said Brad Keselowski, 2020‘s runner-up in the final driver standings. “The only thing left was an asteroid strike.

“No, I thought it was really amazing what the sport was able to achieve, that we were able to get all the races in. To be here today and have a great race for a championship, I think that‘s really impressive. And NASCAR maybe doesn‘t get enough credit for being able to pull that off, considering the landscape.”

2020 CHAMPIONS: Chase Elliott | Austin Cindric | Sheldon Creed

NASCAR crowned three brand-new champions this past weekend at Phoenix Raceway. For starters, Sheldon Creed scored his first-ever Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series title Friday. Austin Cindric followed up with his first Xfinity Series championship Saturday. And Chase Elliott capped off the action Sunday, hoisting the ultimate Bill France Cup for the first time in his career.

The entire industry should have collectively released a sigh of relief when that final checkered flag waved and welcomed the offseason.

Despite a nine-week pause just four weeks into the season, NASCAR managed to execute a 2020 schedule that ultimately required 85 revisions due to the ever-changing status of local and state COVID-19 restrictions. Of the 91 events across all three national series, 84 were impacted by the coronavirus, even if dates and locations didn‘t change.

“If you think about it, it‘s been an awesome year of good racing, and I think our sport has probably done as well as or better than any other sport,” Hendrick Motorsports championship team owner Rick Hendrick said. “We got them all in. Hopefully we‘ll get a vaccine and have fans back.”

As normal as the actual racing appeared, race day itself was anything but.

NASCAR prohibited full occupancy at all tracks after the COVID-19 shutdown. Spectators were limited, if allowed at all. Teams couldn‘t invite sponsors or partners. Even drivers‘ families did not travel until the finale. It was truly essential personnel only.

Weekend events turned into one-day shows, as practice and qualifying sessions were scratched from itineraries in part as a means to limit potential exposure. NASCAR then made up for lost time with doubleheaders and midweek shows.

“The biggest thing we can all take away from this is that we can be more open-minded to change and know that as different as things feel, eventually it becomes a new normal,” third-place finisher Joey Logano said. “I think that was a big challenge for everybody. Change isn‘t easy.”

No one knows what 2021 will look like. Sure, the schedule is out. But 2020 proved nothing is set in stone.

And that‘s OK.

While it may seem too crazy to believe right now, the 2020 season is indeed officially over. There wasn‘t a single race in April, normally an action-packed month, and the schedule still concluded as planned in November.

Think about all the sport overcame. Clearly, anything is possible.

“I applaud NASCAR for what they did,” Hendrick said. “Because if they hadn‘t, we wouldn‘t have had a season.”