With all the social issues NASCAR has been involved in recently, including banning the Confederate flag at races, the support of Bubba Wallace and opposition to racism and systemic inequality, drivers have had a lot on their minds. And there is also the recent uptick in positive tests of the COVID-19 virus.
Saturday’s race winner, Kevin Harvick, as well as crew chief Rodney Childers and Brad Keselowski all addressed the societal challenges of late after the race, as well as the ongoing concern about the coronavirus.
“This is a very tight-knit community,” Harvick said. “With all the social things going on, this is a unified group of people.
“When you look at the group of people that are in this garage, a lot of us have been around each other for half of our life. You know most of the people in the garage, you know the character of the people in this garage and the character of the people in this sport. It’s a sport built around families, it’s a place where I love to bring my kids, where I love seeing other people’s kids, seeing the fans’ kids.
“There’s been much in the forefront with the things that have gone on in our sport. Last week, we all got down there together (supporting Wallace at Talladega). I could think of a number of different situations you could put together something like that and you could show those moments and show the world that there may be a lot of chatter outside of what’s going on in our garage, but the people in this garage are together.
“We all want to see racing, NASCAR and each other succeed. We are all very competitive, all the team owners and drivers want to beat each other, but in the end this is the most giving, good-natured group of people that you could ask for in sports. There’s no way around that.
“When you look at it from a charitable or unity standpoint, these are just good down to earth people that love to race, love what we do and do what we have to do to … put our sport safely back on the racetrack and get things done.”
Stewart-Haas Racing has had at least two employees test positive for COVID-19 in the last couple of weeks, yet another concern that weighs on team members’ minds.
“There’s a lot to navigate right now, but that’s the way things are structured,” Harvick said. “I think the structure that the race teams, with the shifts of people and the contact tracing and everything we’ve had has definitely been put into play to make sure you limit everything from other people’s exposure. It’s inevitable that that’s going to happen. It’s just how you manage it.”
Childers said he hasn’t seen his chief engineer, Dax Gerringer, in more than a month at the Stewart-Haas Racing compound because of the pandemic.
“Anybody on the race team can’t be replaced,” Childers said. “But if it’s a mechanic in the shop, at least there’s another mechanic in the shop that can help out.
“We don’t have an extra Kevin Harvick sitting in the closet, sometimes I wish we had two of him, but we don’t. And we don’t have another one of me or Dax. It’s been tough. Everybody’s been doing a great job with it and just trying to do our best.”
Keselowski gave his perspective as well after the race on whether he feels safe going to race tracks and then going home to his family. Team Penske has had at least one team member on the NASCAR side of its shop who has also tested positive for the virus and is undergoing a 14-day quarantine.
“Everyone has their own definition of safe, right?” Keselowski said. “We accept risk the second we walk out of our house every day. It is just what level of safety – what is your threshold, that is what safety is. The second you walk out of your door you are taking a chance of getting hit by a bus or meteor or whatever. It is a pretty low chance.
“I think getting sick is probably a higher chance than getting struck by lightning, but I also am more nervous getting on an airplane and that thing running into a mountain than I am of getting COVID. Maybe that is some perspective for you. I am not saying I won’t or can’t get sick, shoot, but from a safety factor I am okay.”
Keselowski also addressed the spotlight that has been placed upon NASCAR in recent weeks and how the sport has addressed social injustice.
“I don’t know that there has been any time period like this that I can ever remember but my memory ain’t so great either, to be honest with you,” Keselowski said. “It feels like a soap opera with the turn of events left and right and it is almost not even believable.
“But it is real and happening and we are all trying to do the right thing by each other and the sport and the fans. I think we are doing that. I feel good about the things we are doing but it is a flurry of emotions and obligations mixed in with rain days and delays not being able to be with your team.
“Everything you are operating with is partial facts all the time in everything you do and it is very hard to make heads or tails of what is going on to be quite honest.”