NASCAR President Steve Phelps said there would be no change to the policy about drivers who test positive for COVID-19 as the sport begins the playoffs.
“We’re going to control the things that we’re going to control and understand that the drivers, when they’re coming into the bubble, are going to follow the same protocols that we’ve been following,” said Phelps. “I would say that if you look at the success that we’ve had to date that the protocols, by and large, are working very well.
“Is everything perfect and foolproof? It’s not, but for us, we’ve been pleased with how it’s gone thus far and will continue to make sure we’re abiding by those rules, and the footprint remains closed and pristine to only those who need to be there.”
If a driver tests positive for the coronavirus, they cannot return to racing until they have two negative test results a minimum of 24 hours apart and are cleared by a personal physician. Drivers who do not start a race do not receive championship points, and Phelps clarified that will continue even for playoff drivers.
Two Cup Series drivers missed a race during the regular season because of a positive COVID-19 test. One was Austin Dillon, who had already won a race and received a waiver to remain championship eligible.
“You’ve still got to be safe and practice everything we’ve been practicing all year — safe social distancing and wearing a mask,” Dillon (pictured at left, above, with Clint Bowyer) said of going forward even though he’s already had the virus. “It does feel good to have had it and know what it’s like, and hopefully never experience it again. It’s hopefully done, or the antibodies are obviously in me.
“Yeah, I feel a little better than some of the guys in the playoffs who have to worry about it more than I think I do.”
Jimmie Johnson did not compete at Indianapolis and received no points for the event. It was one of the variables that hindered his ability to make the postseason.
Ryan Blaney goes into the playoffs as the seventh seed. Should he or any of his fellow competitors have a positive test and miss a race, Blaney acknowledged it is going to put them in a hole.
“Do we sit around and talk about that? No, not really,” said Blaney. “You just have to be as smart as you can and be as safe as you can, not going out, not doing anything that you wouldn’t normally do. … I plan on not doing anything different. You just stay smart.”
Blaney’s Team Penske teammate and 2018 series champion Joey Logano shared the same sentiment on being safe. Logano, the fourth seed in the playoffs, plans to keep vigilant on social distancing, wearing a face mask and hand washing.
“As the world is starting to open up slowly and things like that, I think for these 10 weeks, I probably still need to be smart about it because my season is on the line,” said Logano. “It’s also important that we need to win this thing, too. Sometimes going and doing everything through this Zoom (video conferencing) isn’t as effective as you want it to be, and it’s the same when you’re trying to lead a team. So, just trying to do things the smartest way possible, trying to lead a team from a distance, but in the times where it’s important to see people or do things, those are the moments you have to make the most of but also be careful about the way we do it.”
Thirteenth seed Clint Bowyer spoke of “crazy times” in which there doesn’t seem to be much known about the coronavirus despite how long it’s been an issue. And like those before him, Bowyer said nothing changes for him just because it’s the postseason.
“You’ve got to take care of yourself,” he said. “I’m probably not going to go to college and hit up a keg stand. I would say that would be a good opportunity to find yourself pointless.
“The seriousness comes if you have COVID, you can’t race. That sucks. And honestly, the thing that sucks even worse than that is I’ve talked to both (Johnson and Dillon), and they probably had worse hangovers and couldn’t race.”
Continued Bowyer, “It’s very unfortunate that Jimmie Johnson didn’t get in the playoffs because he had a COVID (positive) that was completely out of his control. You could do all the things, and you might get it opening your car door. There are a lot of precautionary things you could do, but there are a lot of things that are out of your control.”
Access to the infield of a racetrack will remain closed until there is a COVID-19 vaccine or a reliable quick test. Those without access include media, sponsors, fans, and anyone else who is not involved in putting on the race.