Race for the Cup: One of the First Sports to Return

On Thursday, NASCAR announced plans to resume their season in the Carolina’s.

All races will be single-day events, held without fans and with reduced race crews, televised on FOX or FS1. According to Matt Weaver of Auto Week USA, an email was sent Wednesday to NASCAR teams expressing the public safety responsibility of returning to racing correctly during the COVID-19 pandemic. The revised schedule includes dates for the premier Cup Series as well as two of their development series.

The first race will be at Darlington Raceway, in South Carolina on May 17. Following a mid-week Darlington race, the Cup Series will host two races at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the track closest to all the teams. The May 24 Memorial Day Weekend date is the original date for the historic Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, the longest race of the season.

Sunday, May 17 | Cup | Darlington
Tuesday, May 19 | Xfinity | Darlington
Wednesday, May 20 | Cup | Darlington
Sunday, May 24 | Cup | Charlotte
Monday, May 25 | Xfinity | Charlotte
Tuesday, May 26 | Trucks | Charlotte
Wednesday, May 27 | Cup | Charlotte

Racing in North and South Carolina would allow all teams to transport with personal vehicles to and from the tracks the day of the races. Many of the smaller Cup teams and development teams have laid off their entire workforce due to COVID-19 and some have considered closing their NASCAR teams for good. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, deemed NASCAR an essential business on Apr. 24, allowing crews to return to working on team operations and green-lit the upcoming races in Charlotte.

Protective equipment and health screenings for all individuals will be mandatory and social distancing protocols will be used at all events. Besides qualifying on the May 24 Charlotte race, the Coke 600, there will be no practice or qualifying for the events.

“NASCAR and its teams are eager and excited to return to racing, and have great respect for the responsibility that comes with a return to competition,” NASCAR Executive Vice President, Steve O’Donnell, said in a release. “NASCAR will return in an environment that will ensure the safety of our competitors, officials and all those in the local community.”

This will be the first NASCAR race since the FanShield 500 at Phoenix Raceway on March 8. Teams arrived at Atlanta Motor Speedway the following weekend to race without fans before they were instructed to return home over concerns of COVID-19 prior to race operations beginning.

These will all be official races and count towards the points championship which is currently as follows:

NASCAR’s offseason only spans three months with the championship race at Phoenix Raceway scheduled for Nov. 8, and the 2021 Daytona 500 for Feb. 14.

The revised schedule still leaves contracted races at nine venues up in the air. To finish the season without delaying the 2020 championship, NASCAR would have to run 31 more races within 24 weeks, the equivalent of NFL teams playing 24 games within their regular 17-week schedule.

It is still to be determined how the schedule changes will affect the 2020 Championship Weekend at Phoenix Raceway. This will be the first time in NASCAR’s 73-year history the series will crown a champion in Phoenix and holds the event on only a one-year contract. NASCAR has not addressed any changes to the current schedule beyond May or if Phoenix Raceway will be the host of Championship Weekend in 2021.

Schedule changes due to COVID-19 may also change 2021 season contracts. NASCAR signs a five-year contract with all venues that legally prevent NASCAR from adding or removing track appearances to the 36-week schedule. Those contracts expire at the end of the 2020 season.

Major changes have been rumored of tracks being added to the NASCAR circuit, meaning some tracks will lose one or all of the appearances on the NASCAR schedule. NASCAR must race at every venue scheduled in the 2020 season to not breach the current contract with the 23 tracks, which could cause major implications if the schedule to extended to finish into the 2021 calendar year.