Car Race

COMMENTARY: While Imperfect, NASCAR’s Return Plan Checks A Lot Of Boxes

North
Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said yesterday 
that after consulting with NASCAR, track and state public health officials, he believes that  the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway can be run as scheduled on May 25, providing
there are no fans in the grandstands and health conditions in the state
continue to hold steady, or even improve. 
 North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore, who had urged the Governor to designate NASCAR an essential business, called the
decision “
an important step in
bringing our economy back, bringing businesses back, and bringing exciting
competitive events back to North Carolina.”
As this column hits the Worldwide Web at 9 AM ET Wednesday, there
has been no confirmation of NASCAR’s return to competition. But sometime today
or tomorrow, NASCAR is expected to announce a schedule for returning to the
track, beginning with a 400-mile event at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina
on Sunday, May 17.
That will be followed by an additional 310-mile
race at Darlington the following Wednesday night, May 20. The next week will
see back-to-back races at Charlotte Motor Speedway; the Coca-Cola 600 on
Sunday, May 24 and another 310-mile
event on Wednesday night, May 27. Additional races are expected to be run on
Sunday, May 31 at Martinsville Speedway, Wednesday night, June 3 at Bristol,
Sunday, June 7 at Atlanta and Sunday, June 14 at Homestead Miami Speedway.
There is a method to NASCAR’s
madness when it comes to determining what tracks reopen first, and in what
order. North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida have relaxed their guidelines
to allow racing to take place, a step that not all states have yet been willing
to take. 
Another concern is travel. Teams are not looking to put their
personnel on airplanes at present, either commercial or charter. Hotels not not an option at present, either, leaving tracks within driving
distance — Charlotte, Darlington, Martinsville, Atlanta, Bristol and Homestead
– to carry the load in the short term. 
NASCAR is also restarting its
resurrected 2020 season with four consecutive races using the 550-hp,
high-downforce aerodynamic package, allowing teams to use cars they had previously
prepared for postponed events at Atlanta, Homestead and Texas. 
With NASCAR teams just now
reopening their shops and getting back to work, rolling out short track,
superspeedway or road course cars in the next 2-3 weeks would likely be a
burden too heavy to bear.
When NASCAR does return to action, what will it looks like? 
Back to business at Darlington?
Expect strict limits on the number of team members
allowed at the race track, for at least the foreseeable future. Social distancing and masks will be the order of the day, with personnel checked for fever every time they enter the race track. That’s not a 100%
effective means of identifying people infected with the COVID-19 virus, since
it is possible to have the virus and still be asymptomatic. But with no
failsafe, quick test presently available to identify those with COVID-19,
temperature checks are better than nothing at all.
Many — if not all — of the rescheduled races are expected to be single-day events, with practice reduced
dramatically and qualifying based on either practice speeds or championship points. The idea is to
open the garage in the morning, roll off the event in an expedient, efficient manner and
send teams home that same night. 
On multi-event weekends, the Gander Truck and
Xfinity Series garages are expected to follow a similar plan, opening only on race day. That reduces the total number of people on-site on any given
day, reduces the risk of transmission, expedites testing and makes social distancing
easier to accomplish.
The Wednesday night
races will be shorter in distance – roughly 300 miles – compacting the program, making
midweek racing more palatable for the television audience and ensuring that people
can get off to bed at a reasonable hour, with their NASCAR fix satisfied. 
Live pit stops are unlikely to take place, with timed cautions allowing tire changes and basic pit service to be performed at a slower pace, before drivers return to the
track in the same order they left. That allows teams to reduce their payroll and
transport fewer team members to the track.
 
It’s not a perfect scenario,
by any means. 
In a perfect world, we would prefer to return to competition
in a “business as usual fashion,” complete with multi-day events, live pit
stops and all the competitive whistles and bells we have come to expect from
NASCAR. 
Unfortunately, this is far from a perfect world right now, and very few
of us are conducting “business as usual.”
In the short term – at least for the
next two months – NASCAR will have to ease back into action, the first sport to
do so. 
It’s not perfect, but it will do as a means to get back on
track, get some revenue flowing to race teams severely in need of capital, and
get racing back on television for an audience that has been severely affected
by simultaneous outbreaks of COVID-19 and Cabin Fever.

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