When NASCAR resumes racing next month at Darlington Raceway, it will be with live pit stops.
Speculation on what races could look like when engines fire up after a COVID-19-induced hiatus had scenarios that included running pitstop-free, but after NASCAR announced its May schedule on Thursday, Steve O’Donnell made it clear officials are looking to keep some sense of normalcy to its events.
“It was important for us to be able to showcase a race as close to what normally takes place as possible,” said O’Donnell, NASCAR’s executive vice president and chief racing development officer. “But it was also important for us to minimize what activity took place leading up to the event. That’s why we don’t have practice or qualifying prior to that event.”
The Coca-Cola 600 will be the only event to feature qualifying. NASCAR Cup Series teams will run that race on its original date of May 24. But all the events announced for May will be one-day shows without fans, and specific guidelines will be implemented as recommended by the CDC and other health officials. NASCAR is also limiting the number of personnel that can be at the racetrack for all three series. Cup Series teams will be limited to 16 people; a number that includes the driver, owner, crew members, and pit crew members.
“We’ve recommended to the teams that the people who are the event not come back into the race shop,” said John Bobo, NASCAR vice president of racing operations.
Specifics regarding race stage breaks and race lengths were not announced. The Cup Series will run a 400-mile race on May 17 at Darlington and then 500 kilometers a few days later. In Charlotte, they will run the full 600 miles of the Coke 600 and then a 500-kilometer race, on the oval, on the 27th.
Particulars for race starting orders are also still to be determined. O’Donnell said a few different ideas are floating about.
“I think a good assumption will be to start off the first race by points, and same with picking pits,” said O’Donnell. “But we realize as you go through events that’s not the best way to do things, so there’s some discussion going on now with the race teams and drivers about, as you get to race two and three, are there some things we can do to mix it up a little bit around pit selection. Or possibly for race two, start that lineup based on how you finished in race one.
“More to come; we just want to flush out a few more things with the teams and make sure we have the fairest possible lineup set.”
And for those wondering, like drivers, how victory lane will work, O’Donnell said that has been discussed as well.
“Our goal is to certainly have a celebration on or around the start/finish line,” he said. “In an ideal world, we would like to have a victory lane. Not sure of all the logistics of how we pull that off. We certainly want to try and have a trophy, at least that celebration with the driver.
“What are some virtual things we can incorporate that we saw in iRacing that can be part of this? Especially for some of the team members that may not be able to be part of it, but are an integral part of that team’s success.”