NASCAR’s first race in 10 weeks seems to have been mission accomplished, and drivers have been praising the sanctioning body for pulling it off.
Darlington Raceway hosted the Cup Series on Sunday afternoon, albeit under different circumstances than usual. First, the track was not scheduled to have a May event, and second, COVID-19 safety protocols resulted in a unique race day experience with social distancing, face masks, and medical screenings.
“Honestly, I felt totally comfortable with everything, and I feel like they did a really good job of having a game plan and having a strategy,” said Martin Truex Jr. “I feel 100 percent comfortable with how things went today and that everybody is safe and everybody is able to go about their business and do their jobs and not have to worry about it.
“I have to commend NASCAR and everybody involved for what they did. It was very streamlined and very easy, and even all the team guys commented on how well everything went and how smooth it was, and it was like it was a big hassle for anybody to be able to do it. From that standpoint, I think everything went really, really good. I’m definitely comfortable with the way things are.”
Drivers and all others who were accessing the facility had their temperatures checked before going through the tunnel. The screening process also involved a questionnaire about one’s health and who they’ve been around.
Once at the track, drivers either self-isolated in their personal vehicles they drove to Darlington, or inside their motorhomes. Family, friends, and team representatives were not permitted to attend the race.
“It seemed to go really smoothly and really easy,” said the reigning series champion Kyle Busch. “Just being able to walk around the track from your bus to the car, and just be there to do a job and a duty and less chaos kind of going around the day, seemed to make it a bit easier. Other than that, you kind of miss just being with or around your guys.”
Cleaning crews sanitized the South Carolina speedway before anyone arrived. The haulers parked Saturday evening, spread out throughout the empty infield to keep teams from mingling with one another. Anyone on the property was required to wear a face mask at all times.
NASCAR has recommended to teams that those who attend the races do not work in the shop, and vice versa. And all those in shops still have to follow CDC and guidelines from local health officials.
“Thought NASCAR did a great job of executing today in a safe manner,” Chase Elliott said. “It was a good atmosphere, in my opinion. The lack of people is certainly a weird vibe, but I think from execution and (NASCAR) doing a really good job of keeping everybody safe and trying to execute the first race back was very well done.”
Austin Dillon also commended NASCAR, as did Joey Logano, and Kevin Harvick when he did his winner’s interview at the start/finish line. It was the first thing Harvick did upon climbing from his car.
Former champion Brad Keselowski offered a lengthy dissection of the day, and praise for NASCAR, after the race. Keselowski said racing at Darlington was not easy to pull off, and a lot of things had to come together to make NASCAR one of the first sports back in action.
“I’m probably one of the first guys to criticize NASCAR on a lot of things and usually rightfully so, but in this case, they deserve a pretty big pat on the back,” said Keselowski. “They worked their butt off and brought a lot of different entities together and made it happen. NASCAR made some really hard, tough decisions that brought together a lot of different stakeholders, and found a way to make this happen and make this race weekend happen in spite of a lot of obstacles. Because of that, I think NASCAR is going to come out okay. The sport will come out okay.
“It kind of blew me away honestly that they pulled it off. Up until probably two or three hours before the race, I was ready for something to go wrong. Like, alright, what is it going to be. Is someone going to be sick? Is there going to be somebody boycotting outside the race track? Nobody did. Nothing bad happened. They pulled this thing off, and it feels a little like a Christmas miracle.”