Saturday’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 (7:30 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN) at Daytona will mark the first race weekend that the NASCAR Cup Series has been back to a normal schedule. The first four races of the year went off without a hitch, but a couple of days following the fourth race of the season at the Phoenix Raceway back on March 8, that’s when the global pandemic hit close to home. The United States would see the first big reported wave and consequentially after, all the sporting leagues would get shut down for the foreseeable future.
It would be 70 days between races (March 8 to May 17) but a couple of months later, NASCAR was the first sport back to resuming activity. They did so with a revised schedule that would kick start at the Darlington Raceway in South Carolina. Nothing about this revised schedule was the same.
Now, we’re back to where we should be at this part of the year. The final 11 races were always going to be the same as deals and contracts were in place for this. No matter how the season would get altered and affected, Daytona was always going to be the regular season finale and the 10 playoff tracks would remain the same an unaffected.
But, it was races 5-25 on the season schedule that would require some changing around and adapting. Also, we weren’t even sure in May that the playoffs could even run on their scheduled dates. All we knew was, the 10 postseason venues and the regular season finale would remain the same and that all goals were to keep on their scheduled dates, but the situation would be fluid.
Somehow, remarkably rather, NASCAR despite having a few driver COVID cases, has remained on schedule with their plans which the reward is being back to their normally scheduled plan all along.
I mean, we eliminated the use of practice and qualifying. Have adapted to how we will determine starting lineups with a draw in groups of 12 of owners points, to an invert to now the new formula that was announced before the Daytona road course event a few weeks ago. Even that road course race was new.
We’ve had a choose cone added, doubleheaders, new events to the schedule, existing ones canceled, everything was new for 2020.
On March 12 NASCAR announced that the upcoming race weekend in Atlanta was postponed. Four days later (March 16) they announced that everything between then and May 3 was postponed. On April 17, Martinsville, the first race that was supposed to be back, was also announced to be postponed.
But, on April 30, NASCAR formally announced their new plan to get started. That would include staying near home base in the Carolina’s. So, Darlington and Charlotte would be the first tracks up and they’d host two
races each. All four would go behind closed doors.
It was a huge hit.
The next wave of scheduling that was announced on May 14 would continue on. They’d still do close races, but do so in Bristol, Atlanta, Martinsville, Homestead and Talladega. All those races would be made up from the ones they lost in the spring.
But, to get to this point, some races took a hit. On May 8, NASCAR announced that Sonoma and Chicagoland would not get races in 2020 and Richmond’s spring date would not get made up.
With wanting to get to 36 races still, but adding races at Darlington and Charlotte, the two Darlington races replaced Chicagoland and Richmond. The additional Charlotte race replaced Sonoma.
Now, we’re back to even.
Also in that second phase, fans were introduced back at some tracks. Homestead hosted 1,000 fans. Talladega 5k.
The third phase was unveiled next and that included the first normal doubleheader weekend already scheduled for Pocono. That would take places on its normal dates, but behind closed doors. Same for the Brickyard 400 (July 5) and the Quaker State 400 at the Kentucky Speedway on July 12. Those races remained on schedule, but did so without fans.
Then, the All-Star race was moved to Bristol for a Wednesday night after Kentucky and did so in front of 30k. It was another big hit.
After that, Texas was rescheduled for July 19 and Kansas’ spring date to a weeknight on July 23. New Hampshire was next up on Aug. 2.
Texas and New Hampshire had limited fans too.
The final wave was a doubleheader at Michigan and Dover for this month and a road course race at Daytona to replace Watkins Glen. Only the Daytona race would have fans at it.
That leads us to today. We’re back. The schedule is back to normal with the exception of still not having any practice or qualifying which won’t happen at all the rest of the year.
Weeknight races are done. So are doubleheaders. This is how the schedule was envisioned.
Now, we get five straight races under the lights beginning with Daytona. All three races in the first round (Darlnigton, Richmond and Bristol) are night races, so is the opening race of the Round of 12 in Vegas.
NASCAR is back on track.