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NASCAR claims victory in finishing season during pandemic

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Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

FILE- In this Aug. 22, 2020, file photo, Chase Elliott (9) sits in his car during a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Dover International Speedway in Dover, Del. Denny Hamlin will be racing for the Cup against Team Penske drivers Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski, as well as Chase Elliott of Hendrick Motorsports. (AP Photo/Jason Minto, File)

AVONDALE, Ariz. – NASCAR will take the checkered flag on its season, one of the longest in professional sports, celebrating its ability to work through the pandemic and close its year.

The season was suspended March 13 after just four of 36 races had been completed. The shutdown lasted 10 weeks, a hectic time in which the industry wasn't sure it could survive.

Nobody makes any money unless NASCAR runs its races and the sport was desperate to get back to work. NASCAR was one of the first sports to resume in May, one of the first to get fans back at its events, and used a crammed and overhauled schedule of doubleheaders and midweek races to get to Sunday's season finale.

When the Cup champion is crowned at Phoenix Raceway, all three of NASCAR's national series will have completed their full season.

“I would suggest this is the single most difficult year that we’ve faced as a sport,” NASCAR President Steve Phelps said Saturday in the annual state of the sport — held for the first time over Zoom.

“What we have done during this global pandemic is I think nothing short of remarkable,” Phelps added. "I believe we’re stronger as a sport today than we were pre-COVID. We showed this year as a sport that we did as good or a better job than any sport did, frankly, getting back early and often.

“As of now, as of tomorrow, we’re the only major sport that finished a full season. Certainly proud of that.”

Phelps spent almost a full hour addressing how NASCAR handled the pandemic, the direction the sport is headed and Kevin Harvick's stunning failure to advance to Sunday's championship race.