NASCAR starts racing again: When is it, where, how to watch
The world is seeking its ‘new normal’ during this coronavirus pandemic. In top-level motor racing, that first step happened when the NASCAR Cup returned at Darlington after a two-month break – its first track action since Phoenix on March 8.
The first race back was held on Sunday May 17 at Darlington Raceway, South Carolina. Events are to be run behind closed doors, with all participants and officials subject to strict social distancing measures combined with personal protective equipment and regular health screening.
Each of the events have TV coverage on FOX, but there will be no practice or qualifying. Besides that, race formats will be as normal.
“NASCAR and its teams are eager and excited to return to racing, and have great respect for the responsibility that comes with a return to competition,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s executive vice president. “NASCAR will return in an environment that will ensure the safety of our competitors, officials and all those in the local community.
“We thank local, state and federal officials and medical experts, as well as everyone in the industry, for the unprecedented support in our return to racing, and we look forward to joining our passionate fans in watching cars return to the track.”
During the hiatus, FOX has been broadcasting virtual iRacing events with NASCAR’s drivers. Now the focus has returned to the real world.
Phoenix track overview
Photo by: Russell LaBounty / NKP / Motorsport Images
How has NASCAR been allowed to return?
NASCAR’s racing return essentially hinged on North Carolina’s Governor, Roy Cooper. His declaration that NASCAR teams were considered ‘essential business’ has been key to the sport’s return – as the majority of its competitors are based in his state. This will be extended to the race tracks “unless the health conditions go down”, according to Gov. Cooper.
Some of the counties within N.C. did carry stricter lockdowns than others, but it is understood that all have now come into alignment to benefit NASCAR’s restart, which has allowed for preparations of cars and race tracks alike.
NASCAR has collaborated with public health officials, medical experts and state and federal officials, and implemented a comprehensive health and safety plan. In accordance with CDC, OSHA and state and local government recommendations, almost every aspect of how the event is conducted will be significantly modified, including the following provisos:
- One-day shows
- Mandated use of personal protective equipment throughout the event
- Health screenings for all individuals prior to entering the facility, while inside the facility and exiting the facility
- Social distancing protocols throughout the event
- Strict limits on the number of individuals who are granted access into each facility
NASCAR has pledged to continue to work with state and local authorities, based on trends and local restrictions. Teams will be limited to 16 members, including the driver.
Daniel Suarez, Gaunt Brothers Racing, Toyota Camry CommScope
Photo by: Russell LaBounty / NKP / Motorsport Images
When and where is NASCAR racing?
Two Cup races took place at Darlington, South Carolina, within the space of four days, as NASCAR endeavors to regain lost racing (and TV) time for the sport. The first race was a 400-miler, followed by a shorter Wednesday evening event of 500km. There was also a 200-mile Xfinity Series race on Tuesday night.
From there, the Cup circus will reassemble at Charlotte Motor Speedway for the Coca-Cola 600 as planned on May 24. As at Darlington, a 500km race will be held there the following Wednesday. This time, Xfinity will race on Monday night, with a 300-mile event, followed by the return of the Gander Truck Series on Tuesday evening.
William Byron, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro Hendrick Autoguard/City Chevrolet Throwback Brad Keselowski, Team Penske, Ford Mustang Miller Lite
Photo by: Matthew T. Thacker / NKP / Motorsport Images
How to watch NASCAR on TV
Here is the full lineup of NASCAR’s return to racing for the rest of the month…
|Sun, May 17||Darlington||Cup||400 mi||FOX||3:30 PM|
|Tues, May 19||Darlington||Xfinity||200 mi||FS1||8:00 PM|
|Weds, May 20||Darlington||Cup||500 km||FS1||7:30 PM|
|Sun, May 24||Charlotte||Cup||600 mi||FOX||6:00 PM|
|Mon, May 25||Charlotte||Xfinity||300 mi||FS1||7:30 PM|
|Tues, May 26||Charlotte||Trucks||200 mi||FS1||8:00 PM|
|Weds, May 27||Charlotte||Cup||500 km||FS1||8:00 PM|
Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Camry FedEx Express, Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing, Ford Mustang Busch Light, Martin Truex Jr., Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Camry Bass Pro Shops, Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Camry M&M's
Photo by: Lesley Ann Miller / Motorsport Images
Update: NASCAR races revealed through June 21
NASCAR has further outlined its plans for racing until June 21. This ambitious plan includes multiple states, and will depend on no further pandemic spikes in those areas that might cause local health restrictions.
O’Donnell added: “We are eager to expand our schedule while continuing to work closely with the local governments in each of the areas we will visit. We thank the many government officials for their guidance, as we share the same goal in our return – the safety for our competitors and the communities in which we race.”
|Sat, May 30||Bristol||Xfinity||160 mi||FS1||3:30 PM|
|Sun, May 31||Bristol||Cup||266 mi||FS1||3:30 PM|
|Sat, June 6||Atlanta||Trucks||200 mi||FS1||1:00 PM|
|Sat, June 6||Atlanta||Xfinity||251 mi||FOX||4:30 PM|
|Sun, June 7||Atlanta||Cup||500 mi||FOX||3:00 PM|
|Wed, June 10||Martinsville||Cup||263 mi||FS1||7:00 PM|
|Sat, June 13||Miami||Trucks||201 mi||FS1||12:30 PM|
|Sat, June 13||Miami||Xfinity||250 mi||FOX||3:30 PM|
|Sun, June 14||Miami||Xfinity||250 mi||FS1||12:00 PM|
|Sun, June 14||Miami||Cup||400 mi||FOX||3:30 PM|
|Sat, June 20||Talladega||ARCA||202 mi||FS1||2:00 PM|
|Sat, June 20||Talladega||Xfinity||300 mi||FS1||5:30 PM|
|Sun, June 21||Talladega||Cup||500 mi||FOX||3:00 PM|
What will happen if a NASCAR driver tests positive for Covid-19?
NASCAR vice president of racing operations John Bobo addressed this question in a recent teleconference:“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 in South Carolina as well as in North Carolina.”
Fans in the Darlington grandstand
Photo by: Nigel Kinrade / NKP / Motorsport Images
When will NASCAR fans be allowed back in the grandstands?
NASCAR’s executive vice president Steve O’Donnell addressed this question in a recent teleconference: “I think that's still a work in progress. Our priority right now is to try and get back racing in a safe way. I think certainly the NASCAR fan is passionate, and we want to conduct events with fans any chance we can get. But until we believe that it's a safe environment, and we can work with the local and state communities to make that happen, we're going to wait until we get that okay.”
Donny Schatz, Tony Stewart Racing
Photo by: Covy Moore
Is NASCAR the first U.S. series to race since the lockdown?
NASCAR is not the first motorsports league to end the pandemic racing hiatus. The World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series raced the week before, holding an invitational event at its famed Knoxville track.
All 48 drivers, their crew members, track workers, officials and media had their temperature checked at the venue, and were provided with face masks and hand sanitizer. Teams were limited to five people, including the driver. Haulers were spaced out to help with social distancing between teams. Of course, the grandstands were completely empty, with extra security on the gate to ensure no fans were able to attend.
It meant that a track that can hold almost 25,000 people in total was capped at under 400. It was broadcast on a specialist channel, with star turns like Donny Schatz, Kasey Kahne and Kyle Larson – the latter making his first appearance since being fired from his NASCAR Cup ride for using a racial slur during an esports event.
Event winner David Gravel, who grabbed the lead coming to the white flag, had a conference call with credentialled media who were present, following a subdued Victory Lane celebration. Larson finished 10th.
“Definitely a different vibe,” said Gravel, who won $10,000 in the 30-lap main event. “But I’m happy we’re racing, happy it’s a point race and happy it’s real money.”
Knoxville track champion Brian Brown echoed those views: “I think this is the first step for sport to get back racing fulltime. Hopefully, this will allow us to have maybe 50 per cent capacity here in a couple of weeks’ time.”
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