In The Pits: All eyes on NASCAR as it races toward restart

Published 2:46 pm Tuesday, April 28, 2020



CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Sports will eventually start again and all eyes are on NASCAR, which appears to be racing full speed ahead to get there.

The sanctioning body is working on a revised schedule that could have NASCAR back on track in roughly three weeks. The May 9 race at Martinsville Speedway in Virginia is the eighth postponement so far, but NASCAR hopes to race the following weekend.

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Any event would be without spectators, strict limitations on who can attend from each team, and at a track within driving distance for the North Carolina-based teams.

That would certainly favor Darlington Speedway in South Carolina for a one-day race either May 16 or 17. The Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway scheduled for May 24 could also be held on Memorial Day weekend for the 60th consecutive year if the North Carolina governor signs off.

NASCAR has held only four of its 36 races and is desperate to get back to racing and generate revenue that has been on hold since early March.

“I know we’ll be watching NASCAR. I know the IndyCar guys are in communication with NASCAR,” said Ed Carpenter, the only driver who is also a team owner in IndyCar.

“A lot of the promoters are the same promoters. We’re all working together to try to understand how to do this, how to do it the right way to not only bring our racing back to the fans that want to see it but also do it in a safe way to where we’re not going to create new issues during this pandemic.”

NASCAR has been working on a protocol to protect team members and drivers, who are isolated in the cockpit of their car during competition. It has not shed any light on how it plans to maintain social distancing at the track or what sort of personal protective equipment will be required.

NASCAR has also only given teams proposed new schedules and there have been many revisions because so much depends on details in each state.

Just last week, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said NASCAR teams could return to their race shops as an essential business provided the work did not interfere with local stay-at-home orders and employees are able to socially distance.

Previous local orders expire April 30, meaning teams could theoretically be back at work by the end of this week — if they know what to prepare for.

Racing at Charlotte at the end of May is under review by Cooper and public health officials. South Carolina officials have said the state will host a “spring” race.

The governors of Florida and Texas have invited NASCAR to compete there without spectators. Georgia has relaxed restrictions and Atlanta Motor Speedway is within driving distance. So is Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee.

Driver Alex Bowman believes the racing will be good whenever it resumes and the personalities will help carry the sport.

“I would just assume less cameras and interviews and stuff like that, so some of that stuff might be cut down or have to be in a different format, but we’re all still the same people that we are,” Bowman said.

“Clint Bowyer is still going to be hilarious; Kyle Busch is still going to have people mad at him.”

Some racing has already started: Park Jefferson International Speedway in South Dakota raced on a dirt oval without spectators Saturday, while Tri-County Racetrack in North Carolina said it will have racing Thursday night without fans.

NASCAR’s business model depends heavily on both sponsorship and television money and both have come to a stop. Championship-winning crew chief Rodney Childers last week listed his golf cart, racing simulator, Peloton, and other toys for sale after Stewart-Haas Racing became the final team in NASCAR to cut pay.

Mike Tatoian, president of Dover International Speedway in Delaware, was supposed to host the first of two NASCAR Cup Series races this weekend. Instead, a virtual version of his track will be used in NASCAR’s iRacing Series as he awaits real competition.

He said the track has laid off its maintenance team and furloughed a “handful of others” during the shutdown, but is still planning on hosting races this year.

“Obviously all the ancillary income we get from tickets, merchandise, concessions, parking, camping, those dollars are critical to our business,” Tatoian said Monday. “But given the circumstances, like all the other businesses in the world, we are going to do the best we can.

“We’ve built budgets accordingly to if we have fans or we don’t have fans, but either way, we will get through this healthy and we’ll start 2021 in a good position.”

Formula One now won’t start its season until July as everything has been on hold since a McLaren team member tested positive for the coronavirus before the March opener in Australia. Those teams are eager to get back and also will watch NASCAR’s progress.

“It’s not down to us. It’s down to the safety of everyone else,” said McLaren driver Lando Norris. “The fans want it (but) there’s still a lot more people in the world which can honestly be affected. If anything goes wrong, it can impact the sport in a big way.”