US stock car racing series Nascar has confirmed it is planning to resume its elite Cup Series season on May 17 at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina.
Nascar will become the latest major sports organization in North America to resume action amid the global Covid-19 pandemic following Professional Bull Riders and the Ultimate Fighting Championship, which has announced a May 9 return date.
In total, Nascar will hold seven events in 11 days across its top three series, including the Xfinity Series and Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series, in its return this month at Darlington Raceway and Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina.
There will be a series of rules and regulations to ensure the health and safety of all participants due to the ongoing health crisis. There will be no fans in the grandstands; only essential personnel will be allowed in venues, where they will be required to social distance; team rosters are limited to 16 people including the driver; and everyone at race tracks will be regularly evaluated by temperature and Covid-19 symptom checks.
Practice for all seven races will be eliminated while there will only be qualifying for the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, which will go on as scheduled during Memorial Day weekend for the race’s 60th anniversary. Each race will be a one-day event.
“Events are going to look different than they have in the past,” said John Bobo, Nascar’s vice-president of racing operations. “The way we travel to the event, the way we enter the event, move about in the event, the way we leave an event is going to be different.”
Fox or cable network FS1 will televise all the races. “We are excited to welcome back the Fox Nascar season to our airwaves to provide a return to live sports, a move toward normalcy and a much-needed distraction during these unprecedented times,” said Mark Silverman, president of national networks at Fox Sports.
No race dates beyond May 27 have been announced, with additional events to be revealed at a later date. According to the Associated Press, Nascar has completed a fully-revised schedule but is not prepared to reveal it as so much relies on the pandemic and guidelines in different states.
ESPN reports that a tentative schedule plan for June and beyond is made up primarily of race tracks in the South East, which are within easy driving distance of most teams’ headquarters in the Charlotte area.
Nascar organizers have previously stated that they intend to complete a full 36-race schedule in 2020. The schedule, though, is subject to repeated change.
“We feel like we have the right cadence with where states are and where health officials may be,” said Steve O’Donnell, Nascar’s executive vice president and chief racing development officer. “Certainly we have backups to backups to backups, but I would say we started with about seven pencils and a lot of erasers, and it’s moved to pen now. [We’re] saying to our broadcast partners and tracks that this is what we believe we can collectively do.
“But until we start racing and see how things take place and until we see how this virus affects things down the road, we can’t say for sure. But I do feel confident as an industry, we have a schedule that we can pull off and that we can pull off for the fans,” O’Donnell said.
Nascar has looked to fill the sports competition void with its newly-developed esports series, the eNascar iRacing Pro Invitational Series. The growing series has also proven a powerful means to expand the overall Nascar audience, bringing the esports competition to hundreds of thousands of fans who had not watched any real-world races this year.