NASCAR resumes on Sunday, but the sport is making some significant adjustments to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. The Real Heroes 400 will go on at Darlington Raceway on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET — the first official NASCAR race since March 8. NASCAR said it "has a plan in place to minimize any risks associated with the virus."
Like most sports organizations, NASCAR shut down its season indefinitely when the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S. Over two months later, however, it is one of the first to be back on, with races scheduled through June 21. NASCAR president Steve Phelps appeared on The TODAY Show on Saturday, saying: "I don't foresee any further shutdown for us. There are all kinds of different scenario plannings that we've done for both ourselves, our own officials, as well as the race teams, productions people. It takes a village to put on a NASCAR race, but it'll be a smaller village."
NASCAR will restart its racing season Sunday without fans in the stands for the first time. NASCAR president @stevephelps joins @kwelkernbc and @PeterAlexander to explain how drivers and staff are getting back to the speedway. pic.twitter.com/a9jShq64cV— TODAY (@TODAYshow) May 16, 2020
Many fans are curious about the particulars of this planning and whether it will affect their enjoyment of races. At the time of this writing, the U.S. has 1.5 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 89,498 deaths, with that number projected to continue rising in the coming months. This fact has some fans wondering if it is worth it to resume NASCAR, given the inherent risks of any gathering right now.
Officials in the sports seem to think so, though not everyone agrees. Critics of the NASCAR plan for resuming races say that there is not enough protection in place and that the sport should at least be offering testing on-site to essential personal. Here is a look at how NASCAR plans to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Many critics' most prominent issue with NASCAR's coronavirus plan is that it does not include on-site testing for drivers or other personnel. Reigning Cup Series champion Kyle Busch said there would be tests earlier this week, according to For the Win, but now claims he misspoke.
NASCAR vice president of racing operations John Bobo pointed out that "tests remain in short supply" and "getting results can take two to three days. Really those tests should be targeted for people most in need." Still, some critics say that if NASCAR can't provide tests for everyone, it should not be opening in the first place.
Mandatory PPE & Fines
NASCAR requires everyone on-site for its upcoming races to wear specific personal protective equipment, including face masks. They will be expected to keep these on throughout the entire day, and team members can reportedly be fined up to $50,000 for breaking these rules.
Team members will also be subjected to periodic health screenings throughout the day. At the very least, these will include temperature checks as people enter and leave the venues. Drivers, in particular, will be examined by medical professionals to see if they are fit to compete, with tests of their heart rate and pulse oxygenation, according to Fox Sports.
Again, critics are not impressed by this measure in many cases. One of the defining problems with COVID-19 is that people can carry it for up to two weeks with no symptoms, and be contagious the entire time. This fact is a big part of the reason the virus has spread so quickly and a big part of the danger of reopening public spaces.
No Qualifying or Practice Races; One-Day Shows
NASCAR is limiting team members' exposure to one another by minimizing the events in general as well. There will be no qualifying or practice races in the upcoming schedule (except for the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte), according to a report by For the Win.
Social Distancing and Personell Limits
While they are in the venues, team members will be expected to observe social distancing as well. Everyone will maintain six feet of distance between themselves and other people and will return to their motorhomes when they are not needed. NASCAR is even encouraging teams to limit contact with each other, keeping pit crews and other team members at a safe distance whenever possible.
"With the way it's gonna go on Sunday, I'm gonna get to the race track that morning, sit in my motorhome, and then when it's time to go out there, I'm walking right to my car," Ryan Blaney told reporters this week. "And when I'm done, I'm walking right back. There's gonna be really limited contact." Team rosters will reportedly be limited to 16 people per car, including the driver, the crew chief, the team owner and the spotter.
Of course, one of the most striking adaptations NASCAR is making to the pandemic is the lack of fans in the stands. There will be no fans in attendance throughout the remainder of the NASCAR season, and the sport is imposing "strict limits" on who can be on-site in general.
"If you think about a normal NASCAR race, we have between 2,000 and 2,500 people who will be part of putting a race on," Phelps said on The TODAY Show on Saturday. "That number will be down to about 900. There's a footprint that is there. Only essential personnel will be allowed to be in the footprint. I am not essential personnel; I will not be in the footprint."
Finally, if all else fails, NASCAR has contingency plans in place for team members who do show symptoms, test positive or get exposed to someone who has tested positive for the coronavirus. NASCAR will ask anyone with confirmed exposure to COVID-19 to self-isolate for at least 14 days, including any team members they have had contact with. Drivers will have designated replacements, according to NBC Sports, and so will everyone from crew chiefs to pit crew members. Bobo said that this network of potential replacements is hopefully strong enough to prevent an entire team from missing a race.0comments
"If there are multiple positives, of course, we're obviously going to look at everything that's gone on around there and investigate, see what we need to do to continue to be safe," he said.
To top it all off, drivers who miss races this season will likely not be penalized in the playoffs, as NASCAR has to make sure there are no incentives for people to show up if they are not feeling their best. For the latest information on the coronavirus pandemic, visit the websites of the CDC and the World Health Organization.