On Tuesday, NASCAR President Steve Phelps held a teleconference to discuss the Cup Series‘ plans once the COVID-19 pandemic comes to a hopeful end. The conference comes a day after the 2020 season screeched to a halt until early May as the crisis continues to worsen.
“The situation we are facing transcends the world of sports,” Phelps began. Since the National Basketball Association suspended its season last Thursday due to the pandemic, nearly every other major international sporting league has followed suit, including NASCAR and its fellow motorsports. “What is most important now is we take precautions to keep everyone as safe as possible during these challenging times.”
With the NASCAR season frozen after just four races and Monday’s announcement leading to seven event weekends being postponed, Phelps remained hopeful that those rounds can be made up before the playoffs. As a result of the declaration, Atlanta Motor Speedway, Homestead-Miami Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway, Bristol Motor Speedway, Richmond Raceway, Talladega Superspeedway, and Dover International Speedway will be unable to host their races. However, Atlanta and Homestead—whose races were called off the previous Friday—are the only tracks with just one date on the calendar.
“I think the way we view this is kind of how we view Atlanta, which is we need to make sure that we are keeping our competitors and those that are at the racetracks, our race teams, our officials, we need to have the health of those folks paramount for us,” he said in regards to when and how to restart the season.
“Would we consider racing without fans at some point the to get back racing more quickly without fans? That’s in the consideration set. I don’t know. It’s changing so rapidly, what it means for mass gatherings, what’s that number,” Phelps added. Prior to postponing Atlanta and Homestead, NASCAR had intended to run both races without fans in attendance.
To make up for the lost dates, various alternative ideas have been suggested, including races on weekdays, doubleheader weekends, and competing on off-weekends like the two-week bye from 19 July (New Hampshire Motor Speedway) to 9 August (Michigan International Speedway), which was originally scheduled to accommodate NBC‘s broadcast of the Summer Olympics. Excluding races postponed due to weather, weekday races, much less midweek are rare in NASCAR, with exceptions being in the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series with races like the Eldora Dirt Derby. The doubleheader concept is currently scheduled to be experimented at Pocono Raceway in late June.
Although Phelps did not commit to any of the suggestions, he stated his hopes to run the full 36-race schedule, including the All-Star Race scheduled a week after the hiatus is expected to end.
“No specifics around midweek races,” he added. “I’ve heard about doubleheaders, different things. At this particular point a lot of things on the table for us to look at, working with our race teams, working with our racetracks to make sure the things that we’re putting on the table are feasible for us to do.
“We are working with our media partners, with FOX, with NBC. If you kind of consider what is going to happen, we’re in this period right now where the major sports are shut down from participating. At some point soon we hope to all get back to finding that escape that our fans are all looking for, in our case getting back to racing.”
Of the seven tracks with postponed races, four of them also have dates in the playoffs: Richmond, Bristol, Talladega, and Texas. Regardless, even with the doubleheader possibility, Phelps hopes to keep the playoffs the same length at ten races and the finale at Phoenix Raceway as scheduled.
“[W]e are interested in getting these postponed races done prior to our Playoff starting, so not running doubleheaders in those races that have been postponed during the Playoffs,” he commented. “That is the goal that we’re working towards right now.”
Other concerns revolved around the teams, many of which temporarily shut down operations to avoid spreading the virus. In response to worries about the financial impact of the closings, Phelps noted NASCAR is working with the “teams closely to have them industry wide make sure we are all financially viable moving forward during this postponement of our races.”
“Are we concerned about teams broadly and their financial health? Of course we are. We want to make sure that each of our teams gets through this, each of our stakeholders in the industry gets through this crisis as well as we all can.”