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March 17, 2020

Steve Phelps provides industry update, response to COVID-19

NASCAR President Steve Phelps at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2018.
Jared C. Tilton
Getty Images

NASCAR President Steve Phelps said competition officials intend to hold all 36 points-paying events and the All-Star Race this season as the sanctioning body continues to monitor the impact of and the variables created by the global COVID-19 outbreak.

In a Tuesday teleconference with reporters, Phelps said officials were considering many options in rescheduling the seven NASCAR Cup Series events and their companion races, not ruling out the possibilities of doubleheader Cup weekends or midweek events. He added that officials are focused on tentatively returning to on-track activity May 8-9 at Martinsville Speedway, but that the primary concern is to keep all those involved in the NASCAR industry and fans safe.

RELATED: Schedule, track updates

“What those look like at this particular point, we’re looking broadly at what our options are,” Phelps said. “At this particular point, we would like to finish the season at Phoenix and keep the playoff portion intact. With that said, that will require a lot of different opportunities for us to look at. We’re in the process of doing that. So no specifics around midweek races or you’ve heard about doubleheaders and different things, so at this particular point, a lot of things on the table for us to look at, working with our race teams, working with our race tracks to make sure that the things that we’re putting on the table are feasible for us to do.”

NASCAR officials announced postponements last Friday of national-series tripleheader events scheduled March 13-15 at Atlanta Motor Speedway and March 20-22 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Monday evening, officials postponed all races through May 3, a decision that will force rescheduling for events at Texas Motor Speedway (March 27-29), Bristol Motor Speedway (April 3-5), Richmond Raceway (April 17-19), Talladega Superspeedway (April 24-26) and Dover International Speedway (May 1-3).

Phelps said pending further public-health developments, competition officials aim to reschedule these events before the 10-race postseason. But the NASCAR exec admitted that the decisions that its officials face are difficult, especially when in the planning stages of sweeping changes coming next season.

“Trying to be as honest as possible. This is not easy, right?” Phelps said. “It’s not easy on anyone who works in this industry. It’s hard. We’re not the only ones this is hard on, right? You have people who are contracting this illness. You have people who are sadly dying from this virus. We’re trying to keep it all in perspective with what it is that we do.”

Among other topics addressed during Tuesday’s teleconference:

– Phelps said that officials are “pushing forward” with two major developments for the 2021 season — next year’s schedule of races and the debut of the Next Gen model car. The 2021 schedule has been on target for an April delivery, and the all-new car is still in development with four on-track tests in the books.”We’re trying to do it as smartly as we can,” Phelps said. “The variables keep changing, right? The hurdles keep being put in front of this industry, and this industry keeps jumping over them, then there’s another, it jumps over that, then another and another. It’s not an easy situation for sure, but it’s one that this industry is managing together. Really proud of how this industry has come together to try to support each other and to try to get through this as best we can. Again, it’s a difficult situation.”

– Phelps said that officials would collaborate with network broadcast partners FOX and NBC in rescheduling races, but also to provide alternate programming during the void. Almost every other major sports league in North America is facing a similar shutdown, so turning to eSports, iRacing and other forms of entertainment will be explored, he said. “Our fans are obviously thirsty for this content,” Phelps said. “We want to provide it to them smartly and have interesting content as opposed to just repurposing some of the content that’s already been done. More to come on that. We want to make sure we’re servicing the fans as best we can.”

– Phelps addressed the financial hardships racing teams are likely to face during a nearly two-month period without racing, but did not offer specifics for how series officials would support them, either with an advance of purse money or other means. “No specifics around the financials about what will happen with our race teams and how we’re going to work with our race teams at this time. Are we concerned about teams broadly and their financial health? Of course we are,” Phelps said. “We want to make sure that each of our teams gets through this, each of our stakeholders in the industry gets through this crisis as well as we all can. Lots of things on the table.”