Live sports return in two weeks, when NASCAR teams take to the track at Darlington Raceway on May 17, the first of four NASCAR Cup races in 11 days.
The Cup teams will race the 17th and on Wednesday, May 20, at Darlington, with an Xfinity series race on May 19.
Teams will head north to Charlotte to race the Coca-Cola 600, on its originally-scheduled date of May 24, with another race on the 27th. The XFinity series runs the 25th and the Craftsman Trucks series runs the 26th.
Driver Ryan Newman, involved in a violent crash in the Daytona 500 on Feb. 17, is expected to return to the driver’s seat at Darlington.
All the races will air on Fox or Fox Sports1, the only way to see the races — all will be run without fans in the stands.
The last time NASCAR raced was at Phoenix International Raceway on March 8. The COVID-19 pandemic shut down sports around much of the globe the weekend of March 13.
Races at Darlington and Charlotte were feasible because they are a short drive away from most race teams car-building shops in the Carolinas.
While the UFC plans a fight card on May 9, NASCAR becomes the first major sports circuit to return to competition — sorta. Drivers have been competing in virtual races on the iRacing Pro Invitational series over the past four weeks that have aired on Fox.
NASCAR Executive Vice President Steve O’Donnell said the racing circuit being the first sport to return is a “huge responsibility.”
“I’m confident in the group that’s put the plan together, it gives the industry the confidence that we can be first,” he said.
The Darlington events will be run without qualifying or practice. The Cup Series races at Charlotte hope to include qualifying, but NASCAR officials say that could change depending on what they learn at Darlington. Those first two Cup races will feature these rules:
- Only licensed NASCAR team members will be allowed into the racetrack. They will be required to wear cloth face masks. Anyone who does not will be removed from the facility.
- Teams’ work areas in the garage will be spread out to comply with social distancing guidelines.
- Spotters, normally working shoulder-to-shoulder atop the press box/tower, will be spread out to comply with social distancing guidelines.
- Competitor motorhomes will be allowed in the racetrack infield, but instead of occupying one enclosed area, they will be spread out throughout the infield.
- Teams will be limited to 16 total members, including the driver.
- Over-the-wall pit crew members will use face screens or neck socks in addition to their normal gear of firesuits, helmets and gloves.
- NASCAR has asked race teams to closely monitor the health of their employees, before, during and following each event. There will be random temperature checks of everyone working in the garage area. Anyone determined to be symptomatic will be checked via an outside care center. If they are determined to be a potential virus threat, they will be required to leave and be replaced with another crew member. This includes drivers.
- NASCAR is asking everyone inside a race facility to keep a contact tracing log, manually at first and then by implementing digital inputs. If a worker shows symptoms, that person and those he was in contact with will need to self-isolate.
- Media coverage outside of the TV and radio broadcast partners is still being determined.
NASCAR is patching together a schedule for the summer, but has committed to running the Coke Zero 400 on its originally scheduled date of Aug. 29, the first year it’s been moved from July 4 weekend.
The PGA Tour is another major sports circuit with a confirmed return date: The Charles Schwab Invitational Jun 8-11 in Fort Worth Texas. It’s the start of four events that will also be played without fans.
The NBA, NHL, MLS and Major League Baseball are all still waiting on input from health officials on when (and how) to continue or start seasons. There’s rumors of a plan for the NBA to play games at the ESPN Wide World of Sports using the HP Center and Visa Center buildings.