All You Need To Know For NASCAR’s Return

INDIANAPOLIS — NASCAR is returning in two weeks. That much is known. The waivers for Ryan Newman and Matt Kenseth are given out to become playoff eligible, Newman was given a clean bill of health to return to his No. 6 Ford and the new schedule is laid out.

There will be no qualifying, no practice, just races only — seven of them in an 11 day span. While NASCAR has a plan past the Month of May, they won’t unveil that yet because it’s still a very fluid situation and can change again. What won’t change is the next month with the safety measures in place.

Here’s everything you need to know about the revised season.

Is it safe for racing to resume?
NASCAR is working closely with health experts and government officials to ensure best practices and has a plan in place to minimize any risks associated with the virus.

Why is NASCAR racing without fans?
NASCAR prides itself in being a fan-friendly sport. Fans drive everything NASCAR does, and NASCAR looks forward to the day when it can welcome fans back to the track. The decision to race without fans for these races is focused on the long-term health of the fans and the sport.

Does the May 17 race at Darlington Raceway replace the Southern 500 on Labor Day Weekend? Does it replace another previously scheduled race?
The Southern 500 on Labor Day weekend does not change. NASCAR currently is working through future schedule scenarios and will provide updates as soon as they are available. They know what three races will lose future races for 2020 with these additions but will work with those tracks first before letting anyone outside of that know.

“What I would say is those decisions have been made,” said O’Donnell. “We’re not ready to announce those.  That’s not to hide the ball.  That is to make sure that we can have proper communication not only with those tracks and the personnel, which I’m sure you can appreciate, but we have a lot of fans in those areas.

“For the couple tracks where we need to move an event, we want to do that in the right way.  We will certainly disclose that to the media, the race teams and the fans will know ahead of time before we get to Darlington.  We just want to take a little time here before we’re able to announce. 

In terms of when to announce that, O’Donnell said, “I’d say in the coming weeks is fair.  We’ve assured the industry that prior to Darlington they’re going to know.  There’s obviously sponsor implications of events that they may have sold.  We have to disclose those, purse implications.  We want to make sure we do it in the right way for the local fan base for those particular events.”

Will the slate of races announced Thursday all be one-day shows?
Yes. This was decided after thorough collaboration with public health officials, medical experts and state and federal officials.

Will there be practice and qualifying?
There will be no practice sessions for any of the events announced Thursday. Qualifying will only take place for the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. For how to determine the lineup in the first race at Darlington, Steve O’Donnell says that they likely will do so on points. The second race may start based on how drivers finished in the first one.

“A good assumption will be to start off for the first race by points, so you’ll qualify based on points, the lineup, same with picking pits.  We realize that as you go through events that’s not the best way to do things, so there’s some discussion going on with the race teams and drivers about as you get to race two and three, are there some things we can do to mix it up a little bit around pit selection or possibly for race two start that lineup based on how you finished in race one.

“More to come.  We want to flesh out a few more things with the teams, make sure we have the best possible lineup set.”

Can The Future Schedule Change Again?

“The schedule we feel like we have a schedule mapped out for all three series that gets us through Phoenix.  We feel like it’s pretty well baked.  We feel like we’ve had the right cadence with where states are, where health officials may be.  Certainly we have backups to backups to backups.

“I would say we started about seven pencils and a lot of erasers and have moved to pen now in terms of saying to our broadcast partners and tracks that this is what we believe we can collectively do.  The industry is there, as well.

“But until we are racing and until we see how things take place, until we see how this virus affects things down the road, we can’t say for sure.

I do feel confident as an industry we have a schedule that we feel like we can pull off and we can pull off in a good way for the fans.”

Will this COVID-19 schedule cause NASCAR to change the playoff format and the tracks involved in the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs?
There are no changes to the playoff schedule at this time, but the situation remains fluid. There are also no changes to the playoff format or structure. It wasn’t always that way though. Some verisons had NASCAR ending the season in the winter time.

 “I would say on versions probably 40 through 55 we extended through December.  Then things have changed.  It’s backed up.  As of today we expect the Playoff calendar to stay intact on the Cup side where we had it ending at the beginning of the year.

“Again, that could change if some things happen, but that is our intent right now.”

What are the plans for the NASCAR Xfinity Series and NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series?
Schedule adjustments for all NASCAR series remain in progress and will be announced at a later date. The plan remains to run a full schedule for all NASCAR series.

How is NASCAR working to maintain social distancing?
There are several measures being implemented, among them:

— Keeping workspaces separated unless absolutely necessary, and if a group of people works closely, that group will have little to no interaction with other groups.

— Haulers and race cars will have an open space between them — 6 feet minimum — and those spaces must remain clear.

— For Darlington, the Cup garage and motorcoach lot in Turn 3 will be the new “garage.”

— Twenty haulers will be in the traditional Cup garage; balance of the field will be in the motorcoach lot.

— Inspection of vehicles to correspond with the order teams enter the garage; as soon as a team enters, it would unload the car and proceed to inspection.

— 16 person limit per team

— On the road crew advised to not be at the race shop and to use a face screen or have neck sock.

How did NASCAR determine the number of team personnel allowed at the track?
NASCAR worked closely with teams to determine an at-track roster number (16) that ensures the competition remains as strong as ever.

Are the races at Darlington and Charlotte scheduled for those specific tracks because they are within driving distance of Charlotte-area shops?
Yes, although there were several factors involved. Primarily, NASCAR worked with local governments who have determined it was safe to return to racing in their state. These two tracks are within driving distance, so no competitors have to fly and the time spent in these communities is minimized.

“Our goal was to get at least seven or so events under our belt, drivable, learn as we go, not have to put people on planes if we could avoid that,” said O’Donnell. “Once we get beyond those, I think you’ll see us move in.  I keep using the word ‘fluid’, but it is.  Once you get beyond those seven events we feel like we’ll be ready to continue to look at races where we may be able to travel.”

Are the Darlington and Charlotte Races Doubleheaders Per Say?

Yes, but they’ll be different in lengths. The second races at Darlington and Charlotte with 500 km, meaning shorter distances. In terms of two races in the same weekend, Pocono in June is still the first one slated.

What if a driver develops symptoms before the race and can’t participate? Will a backup driver be allowed, and what are the championship implications of that?
We’ve worked with the race teams to update the rulebook provisions for medical waivers to account for potential missed races due to COVID-19 infection. Drivers and teams won’t receive coronavirus tests due to not wanting to take away the limited number available for the general public. They’ll just have temperature and symptom checks instead. If anyone tests positive, they will be required to self-isolate for 14 days.

What will be the procedure if a driver or a crew member ends up testing positive in the days following a race?

From NASCAR: “I think what we would do in that instance is look at every person that driver interacted with directly.  Those folks would probably have to self-isolate.  Then we would obviously make sure that the driver is going to get the care he needs. We will be following up with each participant.  We’ve asked each organization to do that as well for 14 days for symptoms of anybody that’s attended the event.

I have to say all of our plans have been reviewed by the local health officials, including in South Carolina, the local healthcare provider there as well, as well as in North Carolina.”

As far as testing on the teams, if there are multiple cases on a team, what will you do to stop the transmission of that?  If you have to replace a driver, what would be the procedure for that?

“If people are removed, we are going to replace people.  If there are multiple positives, of course we’re obviously going to look at everything that’s gone on around there and investigate, see what we need to do to continue to be safe.

“We hope we don’t have to do this, but we will allow a replacement person for a team member or for a driver.  The parameters will be set up in place with the screening prior to the race, especially for Darlington.  A worst-case scenario, a three-hour window if we had to replace someone, we’d have that time.  As you get beyond that, you look at the what ifs.  We’re going to learn as we go.

“If you had multiple teams, that’s certainly a different story than if we were just isolating one person.”

What media, if any, is going to be permitted to attend the races?

 “Obviously the goal for us (NASCAR) is to be as inclusive as possible but also adhere to what we need to do from a local event standpoint. More to come in terms of media presence at the event.  I know Eric and the team are working hard on that and should have something on that in terms of how it’s going to look, policies and procedures.

“One thing that’s our goal is to keep this to essential people only that’s needed to have the race.  It is a race designed for broadcast and not for spectators or people there.  As Steve said, we definitely want to make sure that we can accommodate media to tell our stories as well.

“I think it’s fair to say, Do we expect we’ll be able to have everybody on this call at an event?  We don’t.  That’s unfortunate.  I think you’ll see a pool type atmosphere set up around the event to make sure we can accommodate as many as possible, but still TBD.

Has there been any consideration with some of the tracks up north that are in hot zones of running a Road Atlanta or another road course or track that NASCAR may own that will allow something to be in the south?

 “I think our first priority was to look at the tracks on the schedule and see if there was a way to accommodate the schedule with those tracks.  So that was our first priority.  Fortunately, as of today we’ve been able to do that.  We’ve certainly had discussions around that with all of our series.  At this point we’re going to remain at the tracks that have been part of the three national series.”

Obviously Florida is beginning to ease restrictions on Monday.  Daytona being relatively drivable from the Charlotte area, has Daytona been discussed as a track that could be added to the schedule in the next few weeks?

“Daytona and also Miami were discussed and are still discussed.  I think the challenge there very honestly was the governor has been very supportive of NASCAR, NASCAR being here.  Certainly drivable, but a decent drive.  You’d probably have an overnight.  We were really trying to avoid for those first races out of the box to get in and out and have people home that night. You will see Daytona in that same slot is our hope, as the last race before the Playoffs, and Miami sooner than later as well.  We know that’s an area we can race in a smart way, but we wanted to try to make sure we could get the races as close to the shops as possible.

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