NASCAR is close to releasing more information about the rest of the 2020 schedule, according to NASCAR President Steve Phelps.
“We’re working hard on it,” said Phelps on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “We’ve got to make sure the state and local governments are good to go for us, and whether it’s racing with fans or racing without fans. So, as we get those yeses, those dominoes fall, we’ll get that announced.
“Whether we’ll announce the full balance of the season or another series of races, as we’ve done a couple of times… remains to be seen. But I would say it’s pretty close. We should see something in the next week or two.”
Officials announced the first part of its revised schedule by outlining races for May, with NASCAR making its return on May 17 at Darlington Raceway. A second announcement outlined races for June, going through June 21 at Talladega Superspeedway. There will be no fans in attendance for the May or June races, and practice and qualifying have been nixed for all races except the Charlotte 600, which ran a qualifying session.
According to Phelps, NASCAR does not have the stated goal of being the first sport to have fans back, but he reiterated that the series would like that to happen.
“As quickly as we can get back to racing with fans, we’ll do that,” said Phelps. “But it needs to be safe. We need to make sure our fans are safe and feel safe to come back. There will be protocols put in place that will be different than they were before this pandemic.”
Phelps does believe that at some point, the sport will return to a regular cadence, but said that some of the changes made as a result of the pandemic have opened the series’ eyes to different ways of approaching things like weekend formats.
“There are some things that we’ll look at both this year and the off-season,” said Phelps. “Typically, we practice three times. Do we need to practice three times? I don’t know. That is something we, as an industry, will determine.
“Having cars on racetracks, is that something that’s important with respect to a practice? Or isn’t it? Or frankly, do you have a better show when you don’t practice? And those are some of the things we need to look at. But do I think at some point this year we’re going to have a schedule that looks more like it did when we left Phoenix? I think the answer is probably yes. Again, what that looks like and will it be tweaked or will it be cut back a little bit, those are all things we need to determine, and we’ll do that working with our industry.”
On the topic of mid-week races, Phelps felt the Wednesday night Cup Series race at Darlington was “phenomenal” and has high expectations for the Charlotte race. The Cup Series will also run a mid-week race on June 10 at Martinsville Speedway. Phelps did acknowledge that he believes there will be more mid-week racing going forward, but only to a point.
“I don’t think we’re going to make a regular occurrence of it,” he said. “A lot of what NASCAR is about is kind of that sense of family, sense of community, the opportunity to go to a racetrack and go camping and be there for three or four days, and that’s something that important to our fans. It’s important to the community at large.
“But do I think we’ll have some one-day shows where you come in and race on a Wednesday night? Yeah, I think we’ll probably see some of that moving forward.”
A return to racing could not have happened without specific policies and procedures in place. NASCAR has mandated the use of personal protective equipment, which requires that a mask always be worn by everyone on the property. Social distancing protocols must be practiced, personnel with access has been limited, the property is sanitized in-between each event, and so forth.
Phelps said thus far NASCAR officials have not had to tweak any of their protocols, and “that’s very gratifying.”
Five races have been held since May 17 with two more set for this week, and all drivers cleared the health screening done before arriving at the track competing. There has not been a reported case of a competitor or anyone associated with a team having or spreading the virus.
“The process has gone very smoothly,” said Phelps. “We need to make sure that we continue that. We need to make sure we’re not getting slippage where crew guys or whomever, folks in the industry, are not getting complacent (and) stop wearing their masks, stop the social distancing, and this idea we call compartmentalization where you stay in the area you’re supposed to stay.
“We’ve made assurances to state and local authorities that we are going to abide by the policy that we put in front of them, and we’re going to do that. The protocols we’ve put in place have worked really well this far.”
After Charlotte, NASCAR will run 12 national series races through June 21.