Saturday afternoon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. started his only race of the 2020 Xfinity Series season, the Hooters 250. He expressed nervousness about getting behind the wheel without a single practice lap but still finished fifth for the third consecutive year. He later reacted to this lack of preparation, as well as racing without fans in attendance.
Earnhardt Jr. posted a photo on his Instagram account showing the No. 8 Hellmann's Mayonnaise Chevrolet Camaro taking part in the action. He explained that the car was fast and that his team put him in a position to succeed. However, he did not have the right setup for the restart with three laps remaining, which pushed him out of second place. Despite the late issues, Earnhardt Jr. said he was proud of his effort after fighting through some early rust.
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"Racing without fans is so strange. I took notice of that several times during the race," Earnhardt wrote. "When you are battling for position you sometimes look up there to see the reaction. I can't wait till we can see and hear the stands come alive with energy again. It adds so much to the event. Appreciate all the supportive messages leading up to and after today's event. That support is the single driving force that keeps me coming back. Now, I can't wait to be home with my family and watch tomorrow’s events."
The Xfinity Series and Cup Series alike have proceeded without fans in attendance since returning from a COVID-19-caused postponement. Health and safety concerns forced NASCAR to adopt altered guidelines primarily focused on limited bodies at the track on race day. The drivers and pit crew members also all had to wear masks prior to and after the races. The Hooters 250 was Earnhardt Jr.'s first experience with this lack of fans, and he found it to be very strange, much like Kevin Harvick and other drivers.
Starting Sunday, however, there will be limited fans in attendance for a couple of races. The Dixie Vodka 400 will allow 1,000 military service members to attend while the Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway will let 5,000 people attend. These attendees will still have to follow strict guidelines in order to enter the facility.
NASCAR worked with public health officials, medical experts and local and federal officials to create protocols for the return. Attendees must wear masks at all times while on the property and adhere to social distancing while watching the race. They will not have access to the infield. Additionally, track staff will screen all attendees before their entrance.
While some NASCAR fans expressed irritation about these altered guidelines, others were less critical. They recognize that this is the first step in tracks returning to full capacity. If attending a future race and cheering on a favorite driver requires wearing a mask, they will do so.