AKRON — The Daytona 500 was last held 11 months ago. Given what has happened since, it feels like 11 years ago.
When Denny Hamlin crossed the finish line in first place at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 17, 2020 — the rain-soaked race actually began a day earlier before getting postponed on lap 20 — no one in NASCAR had any idea what was to come.
"There was really no inkling that anything was going to change," Greg Stucker, director of racing for Goodyear, said.
"It's hard to remember exactly what the world was like back then. Everyone was starting to get the news (about COVID-19) and some sort of indication that other parts of the world were beginning to have trouble. and we were starting to see it here.
"But, certainly, over the course of Speedweeks in Daytona, there was no indication of what was to come for the rest of the season. It was kind of business as usual."
That all changed over the next month. NASCAR's Cup Series completed three more races and was poised for a fourth — the March 15 Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway — when the pandemic wiped out the next two months of the season.
By the time racing resumed, it was a very different world with very different rules.
NASCAR was able to finish its season — albeit with fewer races and fans — and Goodyear's team adjusted like everyone else, adapting to a schedule that featured little or no practice or qualifying races.