(For those who would prefer to listen rather than read you can click on the play button below to hear the spoken version of this story)
The NASCAR Cup Series is finally set to return to action this Sunday, May 17th at Darlington Raceway and with that return comes an entirely new way of doing things. Significantly reduced numbers of crew members being allowed on the property, no practice, no qualifying, fewer media members to report what is happening, social distancing regulations being enforced to the point that a team member who fails to adhere could be removed from the track and/or fined will all be part of this resumption of racing.
And, of course, the biggest change of all is the fact that no fans will be in attendance when the race takes the green flag.
Another thing that will be very different about this return to action for NASCAR will be the fact that there will be very quick turnarounds for the teams as they will go right back to Darlington the following Wednesday. That will be followed by the same type of schedule the next week except Charlotte Motor Speedway will be the venue in use.
As I said, it’s an entirely new way of doing things.
Even with all of that, I’m not sure I have ever looked more forward to a NASCAR Cup Series race than I am looking forward to this one.
And more to the point, NASCAR is employing several strategies that the sanctioning body has seemingly fought against for quite some time. Midweek races, one-day shows, less practice, less qualifying, double-header weekends, and shorter races are going to be part of the norm going forward in 2020.
In the grand scheme of things, the changes brought about from the shutdowns related to the coronavirus may result in changes that needed to be made for the overall health of the sport.
Another thing that may come about because of this unusual turn of events could be the revelation that some things once thought to be necessary in this sport may not be necessary at all. As I pointed out above, the reduction of crew members at the track may show teams that they were bloated in that area anyway. Maybe some tracks don’t actually need two dates, or even one date. With the restrictions being placed in some states, tracks that are not going to be used in 2020 may find themselves on the ‘not necessary’ list in the future as well.
With the Xfinity Series and the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series races being run as entirely separate entities, NASCAR might just realize that those series are not needed as support for the Cup Series and they may be allowed to go off and find their own path in the future.
And if TV ratings are high enough for the Wednesday night broadcasts, the sport may come to realize that weekends are not necessarily needed either, which could open a whole new marketing plan to keep the sport from constantly butting heads with other sporting events on Saturdays and Sundays.
And adding to the mention of broadcasts, with NASCAR being one of the first major sports to get back into action, there is a real opportunity here to open the sport up to an entirely new audience as sports-starved audiences looking for anything to watch might actually find something they like. The remainder of the 2020 season could potentially bring about a situation somewhat like that of the 1979 Daytona 500 when snowbound audiences tuned in to the first live flag-to-flag broadcast of a NASCAR race by a national network.
I know there are a myriad of concerns, with the possibility of someone getting sick being chief among them. It sounds like NASCAR is taking all the right precautions going in. If something like that happens, it will just have to be dealt with when the situation calls for it.
For now, let’s just enjoy the fact that there is going to be a real race with real cars in it this Sunday!
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association
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