Today Nascar is the first of the major North American sports to return to action since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the cars, drivers, and tracks are the same, there’s plenty of changes made for safety’s sake. You (probably) have questions, and I (in theory) have answers:
What’s this “7 in 11 Gauntlet”? In order to try and complete as close to a full-schedule as possible, Nascar is cramming seven different races into an eleven day period—four Cup races, two Xfinity races, and one Truck race.
How are they doing it? For the first time in the modern era, Nascar is scheduling mid-week races in order to maximize the remaining time in 2020.
OK, WHERE are they doing it? Darlington and Charlotte.
Why there? Two big reasons—both Carolinas have relaxed restrictions enough to allow for racing, and both are within driving distance of most teams’ headquarters in the Charlotte/Mooresville region.
So can I go? No. There’ll be no fans in the stands for these races.
(lame joke about there being so few fans they could all sit six feet apart)? Yeah, yeah, but the bigger issue is that with fans—even well below capacity, you’d need increased staffing for things like security, maintenance, and concessions. Nascar doesn’t want to put additional lives in danger, nor do they want to take away from people who could be doing essential work elsewhere.
Racing without fans? Why are they doing that? Remember that episode of The Simpsons where Sideshow Bob forces all TV off the air, and Krusty decides to go on via the Emergency Broadcast System, saying “Think of the ratings…”. Yeah, that’s why.
But how will crews practice social distancing? Long answer—Nascar is limiting road crews to 16 people, work being done will be spaced-out, drivers will avoid contact with other crew members, and everyone working at the track will be subject to regular temperature checks while wearing enhanced personal protective equipment. Short answer—very carefully.
What’s this I hear about “no practice or qualifying”? Yep. No practice will be held for any of these races. Qualifying will only be held for the upcoming Coke 600—for the rest of the races starting lineups will be determined by a semi-random draw (spots 1-12 selected amongst the top-12 in points, etc.).
What will media coverage be like? Fox and MRN will have “skeleton crews” at the track with a majority of the production staff working from their permanent studios. However, since Nascar is quite literally The Only Game in Town, be prepared to have everything explained to you like you’re an eight year old (i.e. “Loose vs. Tight”).
What’s the best outcome for Nascar? Well, obviously that would be for an exciting, competitive race that can help bring back any new fans the next time they run. Also, Nascar is walking on eggshells as the first sports organization to return, so no diagnoses of Coronavirus in anyone at the track is a definite goal.