NASCAR officials remain committed to run every race this season.
Thursday, the company announced its first live event since COVID-19 derailed the season, the NASCAR Cup Series at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina, scheduled for May 17.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper extended his stay-at-home order to May 8, but on Tuesday he and state public health officials offered input on NASCAR’s plan, ultimately concluding that the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway can go on without fans in attendance on Memorial Day weekend.
Action from Charlotte continues with the Xfinity Series and NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series events on May 25 and 26, respectively.
Ben Kennedy, great-grandson of NASCAR founder William H.G. France, is the managing director of operations and international development. He focuses primarily on competition-related issues in the NASCAR Cup Series, Xfinity Series and Gander Outdoors Truck Series.
He and his staff have devised different drafts of schedules, and have put their creative minds into overdrive once drivers parallel parked their cars after the FanShield 500 at Phoenix Raceway on March 8.
Since then, they’ve followed orders to stay at home and practice social distancing like everyone else. Eight races have been postponed.
“They’re staying home as much as you possibly can except when you have to go out to do essential things,” said Goldsboro resident Alex Hayden, an announcer for Motor Racing Network and NBCSN.
“I think that’s the same with every potential athlete. You just have to do what’s smart, you have to do what’s right and hopefully, we can get back to doing ‘normal’ things.”
Fans had hoped to hear the most famous words in motorsports, “Gentlemen, start your engines,” on May 9 for the Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway in Virginia. Speedway owners planned to celebrate the track’s first-ever night race that was sold out in advance.
However, Gov. Ralph Northam extended a stay-at-home order for the entire Commonwealth until June 10.
The postponement of the 2020 Olympics opened up a three-week window that allows NASCAR to make up races it has missed, and take over television rights from NBC. A number of scenarios could come into play such as doubling up Cup races at different tracks and possibly running a couple of mid-week events.
If that strategy pans out, NASCAR doesn’t have to tweak its 10-week playoff schedule and will end its season on time with the championship race Nov. 8 at Phoenix.
“Obviously, the way our series works is you have the regular season and that’s basically where you get yourself playoff eligible just like any other sport,” Hayden said. “You’ve got to be able to run all of those races before the playoffs start. If we can get all of those races in and go off on schedule, that’s not a problem.
“If we have to push the playoffs back, potentially into early December, as a wrap-up to essentially accommodate the other races, then that’s what we’ll do.”
The lack of competition due to the virus has created an economic impact on the sport just like the NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball.
Hayden hoped NASCAR would get back to burning rubber in mid-May with the non-points All-Star event at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Pursuit of the inaugural Bill France Cup resumes Memorial Day weekend at CMS.
FOX or FS1 will televise all the races. Fans will not be permitted at the track, all the races will be one-day shows with no practice sessions
Fans have to stretch their dollars and could ask for refunds if they can’t attend the races that are made up, or they could receive a voucher for the same race in 2021.
Drivers are independent contractors and can’t cash paychecks from their sponsors when they’re not behind the wheel. NASCAR team owners have furloughed employees.
Hayden says the lack of professional sports and the freedom to view whichever game or race you choose is new to this generation.
“I think fans of all sports, let alone NASCAR, they’re starved for it right now,” Hayden said. “When it’s time to open the gates back up at race tracks, baseball stadiums and local baseball fields, I think people are going to show up in big ways because they had something that I think they began to take for granted taken away from them.
“This is going to be an opportunity to reflect and say, ‘You know what? We need to make the most of this the next time we get the opportunity.’”