With no mandates for its competitors to be vaccinated in the fight against COVID-19, it came as no surprise Friday afternoon when NASCAR president Steve Phelps acknowledged the sport’s vaccination rate is “not high enough.”
NASCAR initially required media members to show proof of vaccination to have infield access when restrictions began to lift back in May. While that requirement only lasted a few weeks, there was no such requirement for drivers, team, or crew members to get vaccinated.
Media members are also still required to wear marks while inside buildings, but drivers and team members do not when coming in for media availabilities. And just recently, the media was informed they no longer had to wear a mask outside while interviewing drivers.
The policy for drivers and team members to have to wear masks fell by the wayside months ago. When it comes to interacting with those not associated with their teams, meet-and-greet events between their drivers and fans changed to socially distanced and held outside.
“I think to me there’s a responsibility that individuals have to each other,” said Phelps on vaccinations during his state of the sport address at Phoenix Raceway. “That’s my opinion. Do I think the vaccination rate is going to climb significantly from here? I don’t know. But I do think it’s important.
“As I said, I think there’s a responsibility that we each have to each other to make sure we’re staying safe. If you are someone who doesn’t believe in vaccinations, then making sure that you’re masked and socially distanced, making sure you’re taking the precautions necessary in order to have people stay safe is our responsibility.”
Restrictions for tracks have lifted through the year, and Sunday’s season-finale will be a sold-out affair. There is nothing left available in the grandstands, infield, suites, or hillside. Guests being able to access pit road before a race also came back months ago.
Cup Series drivers Austin Dillon and Jimmie Johnson each missed a race last year because of positive COVID-19 tests. Corey LaJoie, who is unvaccinated, was sidelined for the race at Michigan International Speedway earlier this year because he’d been in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.
Unvaccinated drivers must go through a mandatory seven-day quarantine if exposed to the coronavirus. A vaccinated driver doesn’t have to quarantine but won’t be cleared to race until they have a negative test three to five days later.
William Byron, Tyler Reddick, Denny Hamlin, Bubba Wallace, and Joey Logano are vaccinated. Other drivers have not wanted to discuss their vaccination status when asked.
There are no expected changes to NASCAR’s policy going into 2022.
“To date, I think it’s worked,” said Phelps. “We as an industry, I think are very different based on how we interact with each other, particularly race car drivers and crews with their built-in PPE. It’s different than the NBA.
“Could we or should we change our policy? That’s something we’ll think about in the offseason. The answer may be no, but we are always trying to make sure that we are putting on safe racing and making sure we’re not in a situation where we have drivers or crews that are not coming to the racetrack.”