Questions and answers about NASCAR’s planned return to racing

Leave a comment

After announcing that NASCAR plans to resume May 17 at Darlington Raceway and look at running Cup, Xfinity and Truck races there and at Charlotte Motor Speedway through May 27, NASCAR officials held a teleconference with reporters to answer questions.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, and John Bobo, NASCAR vice president of racing operations, met with reporters.

Here is what was said:

Q: Will fans be allowed at the races for May 17-27 at Darlington and Charlotte?

A: No. O’Donnell said: “We want to conduct events with fans any chance we can get. But until we believe that it’s a safe environment, and we can work with the local and state communities to make that happen, we’re going to wait until we get that okay.”

Q: NASCAR only announced races for May 17-27. What about afterward for Cup?

A: O’Donnell said the goal is to have the first seven races at tracks within driving distance of the race shops in the Charlotte, North Carolina region. With Darlington and Charlotte each hosting two races, that could allow NASCAR to run a race each at Bristol, Martinsville and Atlanta before venturing further out where teams would need to take a plane and stay in hotels instead of driving to an event and back home afterward.

Q: Will some tracks lose races?

A: Yes. O’Donnell said three Cup races likely will be realigned and “a few more” would take place in the Xfinity and Gander RV & Outdoors Series. He did not reveal the races but said an announcement is expected before the May 17 Darlington race what races will be moved. Darlington has stated that the Southern 500 remains scheduled for Sept. 6, so the two Darlington races in May would replace two Cup events.

Q: Will there be more doubleheaders in Cup?

A: Possibly. O’Donnell said that it was NASCAR’s intent that the Pocono doubleheader June 27-28 remains the first doubleheader but he suggested there could be one or two other doubleheaders. In a filing with the SEC on Thursday, Dover Motorsports stated that it is “possible that our May NASCAR Cup Series event will be moved to August and that we hold a double header with back to back NASCAR Cup Series events held on Saturday and Sunday.”

Q: Will the playoff races remain the same?

A: Yes at this time.

Q: Will there be practice and qualifying for any of the races scheduled in May?

A: There will be no practice for any of the events scheduled from May 17-27. Only the May 24 Coca-Cola 600 will have qualifying.

Q: Will there be live pit stops in these races scheduled in May?

A: Yes. O’Donnell said: “It was important for us to be able to showcase a race as close to what normally takes place as possible.”

Q: With no qualifying at Darlington, how will the starting lineup be set?

A: O’Donnell said NASCAR is not ready to announce that but did say a “good assumption” would be that the first race for each series would be set by car owner points. That would put Kevin Harvick on the pole at Darlington for the May 17 event. O’Donnell did say: “We realize that as you go through events (setting the lineup by car owner points) is not the best way to do things, so there is some discussion going on now with the race teams and the drivers about as you get to race two and three, are there some things you can do to mix it up a little bit around pit selection or possibly for race two, start that lineup based on how you finished in race one. More to come. We just went to flush out a few more things with the teams and make sure we’ve the fairest possible lineups.

Q: Will there be a Victory Lane?

A: Said O’Donnell: “We have thought about it. The drivers have asked us about this, too. Our goal is to certainly have a celebration on or around the start/finish line. In an ideal world we would like have to have Victory Lane. Not sure of all the logistics of how we pull that off. We certainly want to try and have a trophy, at least that celebration with the driver.”

Q: How many crew members will be allowed at Darlington for the Cup race?

A: 16. That will include driver, team owner, spotter, crew chief, pit crew and team members. Xfinity and  Truck teams will have fewer team members.

Q: What will be the screening process?

A: NASCAR vice president of racing operations John Bobo said: “We’re asking teams and all of our participants, organizations, to self‑monitor people for five days for symptoms before they arrive.  We’re asking them to fill out a questionnaire and initial screening for temperature. Concerns after that, they will go into secondary screening with medical personnel, which will include heart rate, pulse oxygenation. Medical personnel will make decisions at that point. … Temperatures will be taken randomly throughout the event of people as needed.  Symptomatic patients will be processed and removed from the event and given medical attention if needed.”

Q: What if a driver fails the screening process?

A: They would be replaced. Said O’Donnell: “We hope we don’t have to do this, but we will allow a replacement person for a team member or for a driver. The parameters will be set up in place with the screening prior to the race, especially for Darlington.

Q: What if a driver does not pass the health screening and is replaced. Will the driver who was to have started get points?

A: No. O’Donnell said the current rule remains at this point — the driver in the car at the start of the race gets the points. O’Donnell noted that the rule could be amended, depending on the circumstances.

Q: What if a crew member or driver tests positive in the days following a race?

A: Bobo said: “In that instance we would look at every person that driver interacted with directly and those folks would have to self-isolate and then we would obviously make sure the driver gets the car he needs. … We will be following up with each participant and we’ve asked each organization do that as well for 14 days for symptoms for anybody that has attended an event.”

Q: Will crew members at the track be allowed to work in the race shop between events.

A: Bobo said: “We’ve recommended to the teams that the people at the events not come back into the race shop.”

Ryan Newman to be sponsored by Progressive Insurance at Atlanta

Ryan Newman
Roush Fenway Racing
Leave a comment

Ryan Newman and his No. 6 Ford will be sponsored by Progressive Insurance this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway (3 p.m. ET on Fox), Roush Fenway Racing announced Wednesday.

“We’re excited to welcome Progressive Insurance to the team this weekend in Atlanta,” Newman said in a press release. “A major brand such as theirs fits well into the NASCAR space. Atlanta makes for a challenging and entertaining race with the differing options of the preferred line, so we’re looking forward to it with Progressive on board.”

This is the first time Progressive has been a primary sponsor on a car in a national NASCAR series.

“We’re inspired by the resolve of Ryan and thrilled to be working with him and the team at Roush Fenway Racing this weekend in Atlanta,” Jay VanAntwerp, Progressive’s Media Business Leader, said in the press release. “Racing fans, and sports fans in general, are craving live events, so everyone should be thrilled at the chance to see Ryan and his fellow drivers out on the track. Progressive’s competitive spirit is a great fit for the dynamic, fast-paced action of NASCAR, so we’re looking forward to being part of that excitement with the No. 6 car wrapped in blue and white and sporting the Progressive name. Hopefully we will see Ryan take the checkered flag on Sunday afternoon.”

Newman enters Sunday’s race coming off a 15th-place finish at Bristol. In the five races since NASCAR returned on May 17 at Darlington, Newman’s best finish is 14th in the second Darlington race.

Cup drivers preparing for hotter, slicker Atlanta race after March postponement

Atlanta Motor Speedway
Getty Images
Leave a comment

It’s time for NASCAR to go racing at Atlanta Motor Speedway, finally.

Almost three months after it was scheduled, NASCAR will head back to Georgia for its annual race weekend at the 1.5-mile track Atlanta.

Cars were hours away from being on track on March 13 when NASCAR announced that weekend’s races were postponed due to the emerging COVID-19 pandemic.

All three national series will be in action, with the Cup Series highlighting the weekend with its race on Sunday (3 p.m. ET on Fox).

This is the first time the Cup Series has competed at Atlanta in June since 1965. The last five Atlanta weekends have been held in late February or early March after it was moved from Labor Day weekend in 2015.

With a forecasted temperature of 81 degrees at the start of the race, it will be the return of “Hotlanta.”

The series is preparing for the combination of warm weather and the track’s rough surface that hasn’t been repaved since 1997, thanks to petitioning by drivers.

“Atlanta is always a fun place to race because of the surface and how worn out it is,” Martin Truex Jr. said in a media release. “It has been a few years since we’ve raced there when it’s really hot to bring out just how slick the track can get, so that will be a bit of a challenge going in with no practice.”

Truex, who finished second in this race last year, is seeking his first victory of the year and his first win at Atlanta. Atlanta is one of two 1.5-mile tracks he hasn’t won at, joining Texas Motor Speedway.

Truex has failed to finish in the top 10 once in his last eight starts at Atlanta. He heads into Atlanta coming off a 20th-place finish at Bristol. Before that he had four consecutive top 10s.

“I feel pretty good about how we have ran on the bigger tracks where handling comes into play,” Truex said. “We need a little bit of speed overall, but we’ve been able to run pretty well at tracks where the surface is slicker, so I feel confident about the car we’ll unload and how we’ll run on Sunday.”

With the track’s rough surface, restarts will be vital according to Kyle Busch, a two-time winner at Atlanta.

“I don’t know if it has to do with the asphalt mix or whatever when they paved that place that now you can definitely tell the difference between the inside lane and that outside lane,” Busch said in a media release. “Also, the inside guy has a straighter launch than the guy on the outside – he’s always kind of turning so that’s something to be said for it. Overall, it’s just some places are that way. Atlanta is the worst for the launch. The application of throttle to not spin the rear tires is so crucial there and it’s so easy to do when you’re in that outside lane.”

Busch was the winner of the 2013 Atlanta race, which was held Labor Day weekend. That was also Toyota’s last Cup win there.

“Atlanta is one of those places where anything can happen and we’ll definitely have to be on our toes there this weekend,” Busch said. “You have to have good grip there, you have to have good (tire) fall-off – you have to be fast to start a run, yet you don’t want to fall off more than anybody else. So you have to take care of your stuff and bide your time a little bit. That lends itself to options by the driver to either push hard early (in the run) or save a little and be there late. We went there several months ago and didn’t get to race there, so expecting the weekend to be much different this time around than when we traveled there in March.”

Like Truex, Busch is looking for his first win of the year. Should they or any other Toyota or Chevrolet driver win, they would end a three-year reign by Ford on the 1.5-mile track.

Brad Keselowski won two of those races and Kevin Harvick claimed the other.

Bubba Wallace joins Mike Tirico on Lunch Talk Live on NBCSN

Leave a comment

Bubba Wallace will be on today’s “Lunch Talk Live” with host Mike Tirico. The show airs at Noon ET on NBCSN.

“Lunch Talk Live” focuses on the current state of the sports world, providing guests with a platform to discuss the state of sports, voice their personal stories and detail how they are adapting their daily lives during this challenging time.

You can also watch the show online here.

Wallace is also a guest on this week’s episode of the Dale Jr. Download, which airs at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Today’s scheduled guests are:

  • 12:00 p.m. – Sean McDermott, Buffalo Bills head coach
  • 12:15 p.m. – Bubba Wallace
  • 12:30 p.m. – James Hinchcliffe, IndyCar driver
  • 12:40 p.m. –  Ken Niumatalolo, Navy football head coach
  • 12:50 p.m. – Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets captain

 

Bubba Wallace encourages drivers to speak on social issues

Leave a comment

Bubba Wallace, at times emotional in discussing the recent killings of unarmed black men, said on the Dale Jr. Download that he needs to be more vocal on such matters and encouraged fellow NASCAR drivers to do the same.

“Through all the chaos that has gone on in the world, all of the African Americans, all of the unarmed black men and women being killed, I’ve been silent,” Wallace said on the Dale Jr. Download. “I’ve read all of them and I’ve been silent. I just felt that wasn’t my place. That was a huge mistake.”

Wallace, the only black driver competing in the Cup Series, said he’s reached out to fellow competitors and NASCAR officials and encouraged them to speak out in the days after George Floyd was killed while in custody of Minneapolis police on May 25. Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who placed his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Wednesday, the murder charged was changed to second-degree murder. Also, three other former Minneapolis police officers were charged with aiding and abetting murder on Wednesday.

“We have got to do better, we’ve got to step up,” Wallace said on the show about a message he sent to fellow Cup drivers. “I encourage everybody to say what they feel. … This is way more important than any race win, any championship that you’ve ever accomplished. This is something that can change on a global impact.”

Wallace also discussed a conversation he had with Chase Elliott.

“I texted him (Monday) night,” Wallace said. “I said, hey man, you’re the biggest name in our sport right now bud, like it or not. You’re the biggest name and your voice carries over much more than mine in our sport. I said don’t be silent on this please, don’t let it go under wraps.

“He was like, I know it’s tough to comment on and I’ve been trying to come up with something. What’s really going to change? I said Chase I don’t know but think about this. Imagine a follower, two followers that you have in how many you got. One is a person that is going to go hate somebody, go kill somebody today and the other one is somebody that is getting discriminated against.

“Imagine you saying something and both of those people look at that and they’re like, ‘Wow, that changed who I am today. I’m not going to hate on anybody anymore. I’m not going to be discriminated against. I’m going to stand up for what’s right.’

“Imagine your words changing somebody else’s life. Being silent on that they could have just (said) ‘I was waiting for somebody to tell me something.’ We have that platform and that voice to tell people we have got to stop and change our ways. That’s how to think about it.

“Could my words have helped people? Pissed off people for sure. It could have helped that one person that needed it and didn’t know it. Wow Bubba Wallace just said that, he’s my favorite driver. You know what, I’m going to change my life today because of that. That makes me feel good.”

Wallace became emotional on the Dale Jr. Download as he described seeing the video of Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed black man, gunned down in February in Georgia after a white father and son followed him. They and a third man have been charged with murder in connection with Arbery’s death.

“My heart was broken and my stomach was ripped out of my body when I saw that video and even thinking about it I’m getting emotional about it now, thinking about that video and seeing how an unarmed black man … to be jogging down the street and being hunted by two armed civilians and shot and killed in broad daylight with the other guy videoing and it sounded like he was loading his gun and ready to do the same thing.

“So that’s my take on that, and I’m just like what kind of world do we live I where we hunt people and take their life away because we assume something? We assume that this is a black guy that is terrorizing our neighborhood so we’re going to go kill him? What in the hell, man? I don’t see how people can wake up and think like that.”

Wallace later said: “I’m taking an effort to understand where all the hate, where all the anger, the pain, the suffering is coming from. I’m doing my research, I’m learning about things. I feel better about speaking out about it.”

Wallace also told the story of a cousin who was killed in a police shooting in 2003 in Tennessee.

“We were at my sister’s basketball tournament, I can’t remember where,” he said. “I was running around the gym with all the brothers and sisters there and all of a sudden I hear a scream like the worst scream that you want to hear, not like somebody scared you straight, like something bad had just happened. I look over and I see my mom running out the door and we had just found out that my cousin was shot and killed by a police officer.”

A judge later cleared the officer in the shooting. The family filed a civil suit and lost in court on appeal.

Wallace will appear on Lunch Talk Live with host Mike Tirico on Wednesday on NBCSN. The show airs at noon ET.

The Dale Jr. Download with Wallace airs at 6 p.m. ET Wednesday on NBCSN.