Sunday, NASCAR is returning. Two months ago, this didn’t seem likely — but here we are. For the first time since March 8, a NASCAR race will occur.
By comparison, the last race of the 2019 Cup Series season at the Homestead-Miami Speedway and the first on track activity for the 2020 Cup season at the Daytona International Speedway saw a span of 83 days. This COVID-19 break lasted just 13 days shy of a typical offseason.
But here we go.
While the racing world, scratch that, the entire world, will be watching how NASCAR conducts business on Sunday at the Darlington Raceway, what we see though won’t even slightly resemble the NASCAR of old. You know, the one 70 days ago.
“Events are going to look different than they have in the past,” said NASCAR vice president of racing operations John Bobo. “The way we travel to the event, the way we enter the event, move about in the event, the way we leave an event is going to be different.”
The new normal, well this may be “normal” for a while now. First off, Sunday’s race and every race that NASCAR will run across the top three divisions of the sport this month will be raced behind closed doors. No fans allowed. While fans are chopping at the bit to go back to a race track again, even when NASCAR releases their next phase to the schedule, I highly doubt fans are going to be included in that either.
More: Darlington Race Preview
You’re not alone though. Race teams are limited to just 16 people. Not among those 16 guests are the families of drivers, sponsor VIPs or even PR folks. That’s right, the drivers’ spouses nor kids are even allowed to come either. Plus, among the 16 at the track, they have to distance amongst themselves too. The drivers for example, have to remain in their motorhome until 10-15 minutes before the race. The spotters will distance from each other on the top row of the grandstands.
Then, we won’t even have a race weekend in general anymore. There’s no practice nor qualifying before Sunday’s race. They won’t do either for all but one race (Coca-Cola 600) which will see qualifying just prior to the race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway next Sunday. This is a move made to limit the amount of crew members needed at the track.
The other big change is there’s no victory lane celebrations. No need to. You can’t touch one another, so Sunday’s winner will be interviewed by the lone Fox Sports media member at the track at the start/finish line, then pull into victory lane for a picture then get out of there in an orderly fashion.
FOX Sports will in turn have their two-man booth broadcast from the Charlotte studios. They won’t even be there. Neither will most media. Only four media members are even allowed in and they’re confined to the press box only.
See where this is different. No practice on Friday. No qualifying on Saturday. No media or sponsor obligations throughout the entire weekend. No autograph sessions. No fan access. No media access. No family access. Just show up, unload the cars, race and go home.
This may be the way it is for a while. The races will run different because the cars have no data prior to the start. The team members at the track can’t be in the team shops before or after the races. The at track team has a disconnect now with the at the shop team. That affects how these races run in general.
So, while this is the first race since Phoenix over two months ago, this race will look nothing like anything before.