Suddenly, a lot seems to be happening in the NASCAR world.
Matt Kenseth is coming out of retirement. Ryan Newman is clear to climb back into his race car. And there appears to be light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to hitting the X button on virtual racing and firing up a real engine once again. In the last few days, a bit of normalcy has started to creep back in. Just a little, however, because the sport is going to look different for the foreseeable future.
May 17 continues to be the target date for NASCAR to put cars on the track for the first time since early March, and Darlington Raceway remains the intended destination. But things continue to change daily, and NASCAR officials are continuing to work with state and local health officials before taking a huge step in letting the public know where races will be, which potentially could finally come later this week.
Darlington, Charlotte, and Bristol have been mentioned as the possible first few stops. But again, things change daily, and revised schedules are being written in pencil. By the time this column is written, submitted, edited, and published, a new plan might have been created.
Until something is officially announced, details around how the races will be run and who will be present at the track remain undisclosed. Things to chew on, though, include whether there will be multiple races at one track, shorter race distances, elimination of live pit stops, and limited track time before the race.
“I think going to a place like Darlington is going to be really tough,” said Alex Bowman after winning the iRacing event at Talladega Superspeedway over the weekend. “Probably (will) be a little rusty getting into Turn 1 if that was the first one (back). That would be a tough place.
“Hard to say when we really do go back or what the situation really does end up being, but I’ll try to do my best to be ready for whatever the situation is. Yeah, just trying to be as prepared as we can is a big part of it.”
What we know for sure is that fans will not be in attendance. Media, aside from the television and radio broadcast, likely won’t be either, and expect to see teams as spread out as possible, limited on personnel, and possibly being required to wear masks.
Thankfully, these are some of the things that work to NASCAR’s advantage in helping it become one of the first sports back up and running. Also consider that unlike other professional sports where person-to-person contact is involved, NASCAR’s stars are inside race cars and will only be running into sheet metal instead of someone else’s flesh.
It has become critical that NASCAR reopens in some form or fashion for the health of all its competitors. By reopening, NASCAR and its teams will begin to generate some much-needed income. With each passing day, things have gotten tougher for organizations and their employees, resulting in folks either being laid off, furloughed, or given pay cuts, while bonuses have gone away.
“We’re not racing, so we’re not getting charter money, we’re not getting TV money, we’re not getting ancillary money,” Mason St. Hilaire of Go Fas Racing told RACER last month.
Even if fans aren’t the stands, just by going back racing, money can begin to flow through the massive TV deal NASCAR has with Fox Sports and NBC Sports. Teams get a percentage of that deal: the Associated Press reported recently that it’s 25 percent.
NASCAR stands apart from other racing series in that regard. RACER’s Robin Miller recently explained how in IndyCar, viability for the tracks comes from the gate revenue, title sponsorship and other entities because, unlike NASCAR, they do not have television money.
So even without fans in the stands, NASCAR still has a reason to run races as soon as it can. Plus, sponsors will begin paying again, since their companies are back on track. Then there is the charter money for teams, which is the guaranteed revenue for race results.
Races will look different and feel different for months to come, but NASCAR is in a much better position than other motorsports to put on a race. Recent movement appears to suggest that NASCAR might have gotten closer to deciding where it can race, and now is finalizing how to go about doing so.