NASCAR has given the green light to restarting its season on May 17, with an ambitious plan to run four Cup Series races and seven races in 11 days at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina and Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina.
“We have a lot of confidence in our plan,” NASCAR vice-president John Bobo said this week. “We know we have to work together as an industry to keep our own folks safe, to keep each community safe. But that’s 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.”
There won’t be any fans in attendance at any of the seven races. Teams will be spread out throughout the garages and infield lots and everyone will be wearing masks and will have their temperatures checked.
“We’re not an ‘indoor’ or ‘outdoor’ sport in the traditional sense; we have drivers with helmets, and they are in racecars,” said Bobo. “There are some unique things about our sport that we feel provided us the opportunity to get back if we could, to where we knew we were going to be safe. That was first and foremost.
“If we didn’t feel like we had the support of the local community, health officials, the state, you wouldn’t see us racing until November. That was a key for us to make sure that was in place.”
Financial factors were no doubt a major consideration, too.
Teams across NASCAR’s top three series were struggling to match sponsor revenue with costs before the COVID-19 pandemic brought racing to a halt in mid-March. With no events and sponsor revenues depleted, several teams started cutting pay for employees.
The mid-May restart gives NASCAR the opportunity to run each of the races that it had on its Cup, Xfinity and Truck Series schedules at the beginning of the year and fulfill its TV contracts－a primary source of revenue.
NASCAR is trying to get back to racing while also waiting to see what happens. If it goes off without a major hitch, every race will be completed and the condensed schedule will serve as a huge hook for TV viewership.
“We feel like we have a schedule mapped out for all three series that gets us through the season finales,” Bobo said. “We feel like it’s pretty well baked. We feel like we’ve had the right cadence with where states are, where health officials may be. Certainly we have backups to backups to backups.
“I would say we started with about seven pencils and a lot of erasers and have moved to a pen now in terms of saying to our broadcast partners and tracks that this is what we believe we can collectively do.
“But until we are racing and until we see how things take place, until we see how this virus affects things down the road, we can’t say for sure.”