Storylines: New procedures for drivers, teams in return to racing

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No spectators. Drivers isolated from their teams. And a near-empty Victory Lane.

NASCAR’s return Sunday at Darlington Raceway (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX) will be unlike anything the sport has experienced.

Health screenings before, during and after the race. Fewer crew members per team. Fines up to $50,000 for not following NASCAR’s strict COVID-19 guidelines.

What NASCAR does Sunday and in the coming days will be watched by other sports seeking to return during this pandemic.

“We realize up front it’s a huge responsibility for us as a sport,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, about the season resuming. “But I’m also confident in the group we’ve gathered to put this plan together.”

MORE: Storylines – Where Cup Series left off

MORE: Storylines – What’s changed in the Cup Series

MORE: NASCAR reveals competition rule changes

Here’s a look at what will take place before, during and after Sunday’s race:

# No fans are permitted. Paul Wolfe, crew chief for Joey Logano, told NBC Sports: “How weird is it going to be to show up to Darlington and no one is going to be there. No fans. No campers. No motorhomes. … It’s going to be an interesting experience for sure.”

# Drivers, crews, officials and other essential personnel will have designated times Sunday to report to screening areas at Darlington Raceway. Drivers are required to arrive at least four hours before the race. That way, if a driver fails their health screening and is not be allowed to enter the track, it would provide time for a backup driver to arrive from the Charlotte, North Carolina, area, be screened and then race.

# Once through screening, drivers will report to their motorhomes in the infield and remain there. There is no drivers meeting two hours before the race. (The drivers meeting will be held electronically at 5 p.m. ET Saturday). Drivers are to report to their cars at 3:20 p.m. ET, shortly before the command to fire engines. Family and friends are not allowed in the track. Drivers will simply go to their cars and strap in. Christopher Bell told NBC Sports: “That’s going to be very different. I’m just trying to process what I’m going to need going to the racecar. Typically, our interior specialist has everything at the car for us. I’ve taken that for granted over the last couple of years.” Among the items Bell will need to bring with him will be heel guards to protect his feet from the heat inside the car, which will be exacerbated by temperatures that could reach 90 degrees Sunday.

# Spotters will not be located on the spotter’s stand. They will be spread along the top rows of the stands along the frontstretch while maintaining social distancing of at least 6 feet between each other.

# Teams will be limited to 16 people, including the driver and five pit crew members. Top teams often have more than 20 people at the track. Typically, teams have 10 road crew members, which includes the crew chief and spotter. Now, they’ll have six. Many teams will keep their engineers at home so they can have enough mechanics on site. 

# NASCAR will space the haulers a minimum of 6 feet apart to limit contact between teams. NASCAR also says that teams should minimize contact between road crews and pit crews. That way, if a team member later tests positive, it impacts only their particular group and not the entire garage.

# Movement in the garage will be confined to marked, directional paths to better maintain social distancing.

# With only essential personnel at the track, the number of NASCAR officials also will be limited. Teams will communicate with series officials through a chat. It’s a process that has been in place but will be relied on more to keep with social distancing guidelines.

# After the race, the winner will still do their traditional burnout or celebration at the start/finish line. Erik Jones, who won last year’s Southern 500 at Darlington, told NBC Sports that it would be odd to win a race with no fans: “To be a winner and take the checkered flag, and there’s nobody cheering. That would be something I don’t think any of us have experienced. It would be weird.”

# NASCAR has instructed competitors not to engage in traditional celebratory action with others such as handshakes, fist-bumps, high-fives and hugging.

# There will be a Victory Lane but it will be only for the driver. NASCAR will direct crew members when they can enter Victory Lane and push the car to technical inspection.

# Teams must undergo post-event screening. Teams will exit the track in a staggered fashion to keep with social distancing guidelines.

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Results, point standings after second Xfinity race at Kentucky

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Austin Cindric dominated to win Friday night’s Xfinity race at Kentucky Speedway, leading 130 of 200 laps.

He completed a sweep of the series’ doubleheader races at the 1.5-mile track.

The top five was completed by Chase Briscoe, Justin Haley, Ross Chastain and Justin Allgaier.

Click here for the results.

Check back for the point standings.

Noah Gragson, Harrison Burton fight after Xfinity race

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Noah Gragson punched Harrison Burton after Burton repeatedly shoved him in the garage area as they discussed their contact on the track late in Friday night’s Xfinity Series race at Kentucky Speedway.

Gragson and Burton were battling for fourth on Lap 188 of the 200-lap race when Gragson, on in the inside of Burton, drifted up the track into Burton’s car. Both cars hit the wall. There was no caution and both fell back. Gragson finished seventh. Burton finished 12th. Austin Cindric won for the second consecutive night.

FS1 cameras caught Burton and Gragson having a discussion after the race. The cameras caught Burton pushing Gragson away. They continued to talk when Burton shoved Gragson again and Gragson punched Burton. Crew members jumped in. NASCAR officials broke up the fight.

A NASCAR spokesperson told NBC Sports that series officials spoke with both drivers and that no penalties are anticipated.

Burton told FS1: “Just frustrated. That’s two times since we’ve come back after the COVID-19 pandemic on restarts, same situation. We rallied all night to get … (into) fourth place and (Gragson) happens to start in third and just, I don’t know, forgets what racetrack we’re at or what. Both times puts us in the fence, Charlotte and now here. I had a lot of people coming up to me afterwards saying that was a long time coming, so I guess that was a popular move. But honestly, it’s about these guys that work on these racecars and give me fast racecars.”

Gragson told FS1: “This track is so much about track position and restarts. … We’ll go on to Texas and rebound.”

FS1’s Jamie Little told Gragson that Burton noted their incident at Charlotte and asked if he saw what happened Friday coming: “Not really. We’re all racing hard. Us teammates are beating and banging for the finishes at the end and whatnot. I really don’t have a comment.”

Austin Cindric completes Xfinity sweep at Kentucky

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A night after claiming his first oval track win in NASCAR, Austin Cindric followed it up with a victory in Friday night’s Xfinity Series race at Kentucky Speedway.

The Team Penske driver completed a sweep of the series’ doubleheader races on the 1.5-mile track, dominating with a stage win and leading 130 of 200 laps.

Cindric crossed the finish line with a 2.2-second advantage over runner-up Chase Briscoe.

The top five was completed by Justin Haley, Ross Chastain and Justin Allgaier.

Unlike Thursday night, Cindric celebrated with a burnout on the frontstretch.

“I hope I laid enough rubber down to make up for Watkins Glen last year, that was pathetic,” Cindric told FS1. “I’m just so excited. … what we did tonight was really impressive. Because we ran one setup last night and won the race. We came with another setup and won the race again. That happens at the shop, that happens with the guys on the (pit box).”

Later in his press conference, Cindric said a change in setup was in part due to the tracks that are coming up, at Texas Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway.

“Obviously with mile-and-half-tracks being really important in the second round of our playoffs with Texas and Kansas, our next two races being Texas and Kansas, and the question of having practice or not is looming very big for me,” Cindric said. “Obviously, Phoenix (site of the championship race) is the most important race of the year, but you’ve got to get there first. I feel like those are two really important steps other than Martinsville to get there. So deciding on what we want to run at those race tracks given those characteristics and more … that’s why we decided to change the game tonight.”

After the race, Harrison Burton and Noah Gragson got into a scuffle. They had made contact on a restart with 13 laps to go. Gragson finished seventh and and Burton placed 12th.

STAGE 1: Noah Gragson

STAGE 2: Austin Cindric

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Chase Briscoe finished in the top two for the seventh time in 15 races this season … Justin Allgaier finished in the top five after he spent just 33 of 200 laps on the lead lap after a flat tire brought him to pit road early in the race and put him a lap down … Ross Chastain placed fourth for his 13th top-10 finish of 2020, most of all drivers.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Ryan Sieg spun in Turn 2 on Lap 3. He finished 35th … Riley Herbst finished 10th after he was caught speeding on pit road with 52 laps to go … Brandon Jones spun and wrecked with 22 laps to go while racing for second with Daniel Hemric. It’s his fourth consecutive DNF.

NOTABLE: Cindric is the first driver since Richard Petty in July 1971 in Cup to win races in the same series in consecutive days.

WHAT’S NEXT: Race at Texas Motor Speedway at 3 p.m. ET July 18 on NBCSN

NASCAR to teams: Address ‘complacency’ to COVID-19 mask protocols

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NASCAR sent a memo to teams earlier this week advising them to address “pockets of complacency” toward its COVID-19 mask protocols.

The memo was first reported by WCNC, NBC’s Charlotte affiliate.

In the memo, NASCAR said it was “seeing more and more van loads of crew members rolling up to the track without masks on, and people wearing their mask down around their chin.”

The memo stated that further flouting of the protocols “will threaten our ability to continue racing.”

“More people in our industry are going to contract the virus,” the memo added. “The key is limiting it.”

“It is important for everyone to do their part ALL THE TIME. One cluster outbreak can derail our season.”

In May, NASCAR issued a bulletin stating failure to comply with COVID-19 rules could result in a $50,000 fine.

The memo comes after seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson tested positive for COVID-19 last week, forcing him to miss the Brickyard 400. Earlier this week Johnson had two negative tests, allowing him to be cleared for Sunday’s race at Kentucky Speedway.

Previously, Stewart-Haas Racing had two employees test positive for virus and Team Penske had one employee test positive.

In North Carolina, where most NASCAR teams are based, the state now has 81,000 cases and it has reached 1,000 hospitalizations for the first time.

The Cup Series is scheduled to hold its All-Star Race on Wednesday at Bristol Motor Speedway in Northeast Tennessee. Tennessee has just over 59,000 confirmed cases and has had 86 deaths since Sunday, a single-week record.

NASCAR is scheduled to compete next weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. Texas has more than 235,000 cases and almost 3,000 deaths. On Thursday, it recorded 10,000 new daily cases for the second time.