AVONDALE, AZ — Saturday was a further point to why NASCAR is in good hands with the current regime. President Steve Phelps spoke to the media for nearly an hour on the eve of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series championship. He just did a Q&A with the media a month or so ago about various topics and expanded on them even more from the Phoenix Raceway on Saturday morning.
Here’s the main topics that he talked about.
Race Day Experiences May Be Different Moving Forward
Nothing about 2020 resembled the past. But, NASCAR found a way to adapt through a year that featured a pandemic. 32 of the 36 races run in NASCAR’s premiere series were run during the global pandemic. A majority of the race featured no fans. The rest were minimal. With nothing guaranteed to get back to normal any time soon, Phelps said that the hallmark of NASCAR is fan accessibility. While they’ll continue to enhance that experience, he did note that race days will almost certainly look different.
There was no infield access to fans at the races that they attended in 2020 and I don’t honestly see that changing for a while.
Phelps, does want to give fans a reason to still come to the track still and not just watch on TV, so that’s one of NASCAR’s main goals is to figure out how to do that and do so safely.
Incredible Achievement To Get Through The Season
NASCAR is the only sport that started this past season and that will end as scheduled. The NHL and NBA played in bubbles when they resumed and ended their 2019-2020 seasons around the time range that the 2020-2021 seasons were supposed to begin. The MLB played without fans and did end on time, but they did so in a bubble like atmosphere from the LCS’s and World Series.
NASCAR, well they will end on the same date that their initially scheduled and in the same venue. They reacted and adapted. They ran all 36 races and kept the final 11 in tact. That’s remarkable.
“2020 was the single most difficult year that we’ve faced as a sport,” Phelps continued. “On March 8, we were a sport that was coming back. If you think about where we are as a sport today, I believe we’re stronger than we were pre-COVID. The momentum that we’ve been able to gain is nothing short of incredible.”
Phelps said that he’s proud of their way that they were able to get to this point and did it in ways that they frankly didn’t think that they could do it. He cited the use of doubleheaders, midweek races, no practice and no qualifying as prime examples.
Don’t Expect Shutdowns In 2021
Barring an unforeseen disaster or extreme COVID lockdowns to draconian proportions, NASCAR believes that they can start and finish the 2021 season without hesitation. 2020 was a true blueprint to success and Phelps notes that they can sustain limited fans, hospitality and sponsorship activations next year if needed.
The blueprint is there now to continue racing even if the pandemic lasts longer into 2021.
No Plans To Move The Daytona 500, Not Sure If Capacity Would Be Limited
One of the topics too was about the Daytona 500 on Feb. 14. Would NASCAR entertain moving it? Phelps said that there’s no plans in place for that. The reason this was even brought up was because the NFL could potentially move the Super Bowl back a week or so if they need to add weeks to the end of the current season. If that happens, then the Super Bowl in theory could be moved from Feb. 7 to Feb. 14. That would put the Super Bowl as the same day as the Daytona 500.
But, Phelps said that there’s no plans in place to adjust their plans. I mean, in theory, they could always move the start time up and have a true day of NASCAR’s Super Bowl and NFL’s Super Bowl running in the same state (Daytona-Tampa) on the same day.
But, the Super Bowl is reportedly looking at hosting limited capacity. Daytona is selling tickets still with the intention of selling all 101,500 grandstand seats. Would they need to jump in an dlmit that?
Phelps doesn’t know yet if so.
Playoff Format Not Going Anywhere
Some fans were wondering if NASCAR would alter the playoff format for the future. I mean, they’ve done a lot of tweaks since the playoff era debuted in 2004. With Kevin Harvick winning nine times in 2020 and by far having the superior car, would NASCAR make some changes to ensure a car like that is in the Championship 4 each year moving forward?
“The playoff system as designed worked incredibly well,” Phelps said. “I don’t think anyone thought there was a scenario where they wouldn’t make it. But they didn’t.”
Phelps said that the race at Martinsville gave fans what they wanted which was intense drama.
That doesn’t sound like changes will be made.
Practice/Qualifying Could Return In 2022
With the final 32 races of the season not featuring any practice and only one of them having qualifying, 2021 will resemble that model. Other than the Daytona 500, the season finale at Phoenix and all the new tracks on next year’s schedule, no other race will feature practice or qualifying in 2021. But, that could change again in 2022 though.
“Probably a lot more practice and qualifying,” Phelps said of 2022. The reason is because of the new car that’s coming out. He feels like teams will need more on track activity to figure this car out.
No New Engine Manufacturers Until 2023, Open To Adding Charters
There’s been a lot of rumors that new engine manufacturers could enter the realm of NASCAR soon. Currently, Ford, Chevrolet and Toyota are the three OEM’s in the sport. NASCAR has actively seeked a fourth OEM. But, Phelps noted with the new engine regulations set to begin in 2023, that he doesn’t think we will see one until then.
Also, if a new engine comes in, that means we could see a bump in teams. If so, they’d be open to expanding the charters above 36.