The National Basketball Association was the first professional sports league to suspend its 2020 schedule due to the COVID-19 outbreak on March 12. NASCAR followed suit on March 13, eventually postponing eight regular-season races overall.
Seven weeks have passed since those first dominos fell, and the world continues to carefully navigate its way through this pandemic.
On Thursday, NASCAR announced it’ll restart its season mid-May, the first professional sports league that will return to action.
“It’s a big factor in terms of getting it right,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s executive vice president and chief racing development officer. “We realize up front it’s a huge responsibility for us as a sport. But I’m also confident in the group we’ve gathered to put this plan together. Our entire industry has come together to believe in the plan we’ve put together.
“We’re certainly going to learn as we go. But the process we put in place I think gives the industry the confidence that we can be first, we can do this in Darlington.”
The first event on the revised NASCAR schedule is set for May 17 at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina. The Cup Series will race first, followed by two more events on May 19-20 — split between the Xfinity Series and Cup Series.
NASCAR will then go to Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina. The Cup Series will compete May 24 and 27. The Xfinity Series and Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series will have their own events May 25 and 26, respectively.
It adds up to seven races in 11 days.
“Events are going to look different than they have in the past,” said John Bobo, vice president of racing operations. “The way we travel to the event, the way we enter the event, move about in the event, the way we leave an event is going to be different.”
For starters, there will be no fans in attendance.
NASCAR will allow only essential personnel, who will still be required to social distance. Team rosters are being limited to 16 people, which includes the driver.
Everyone at the race track will then be regularly evaluated by temperature and symptom checks. NASCAR has chosen not to test people specifically for COVID-19.
“Really,” Bobo said, “those tests should be targeted for people most in need.”
These rules and restrictions — among many other precautions — were developed with help from public health officials, medical experts and local, state and federal officials.
NASCAR’s top priority is keeping everybody safe within the industry and in the communities it’ll visit. There’s a reason Darlington and Charlotte were chosen — they’re both driving distance from race shops in North Carolina. Travel means will continue to be taken into consideration as the sport further edits its season schedule.
“We know we have to work together as an industry to keep our own folks safe, to keep each community safe,” Bobo said. “But it is the discipline and the safety culture of NASCAR. We’re the organization that puts cars on the track four days a week at 200 miles an hour. We think it’s that same discipline and eye towards safety that everybody in our industry has that is going to help us execute on this.”