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NASCAR to race at Atlanta, Homestead without fans

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NASCAR announced Thursday that upcoming races at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway will be held without fans.

NASCAR stated:

“At this time, NASCAR will hold its race events at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway without fans in attendance. These events will be restricted to competitors, crews, officials and other necessary personnel to conduct the race. We will work with public health officials as we determine future scheduling beyond these events.”

Earlier Thursday, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez issued a statement postponing the March 22 NASCAR Cup race at Homestead-Miami Speedway with Miami-Dade County under a state of emergency because of the public health threat of COVID-19.

The last NASCAR race to be postponed for reasons other than weather was the 2001 New Hampshire race because of the Sept. 11 attacks. The New Hampshire race was made up after the season finale that year. That was before NASCAR had its playoff system in place.

MORE: NBC Sports live blog with updates on how the coronavirus is impacting sports

Atlanta Motor Speedway provided a statement for fans who have purchased tickets for this weekend’s races.

More than 1,000 people in the United States have been infected with the coronavirus. At least 33 have died in the U.S. from the disease.

Here is what to know about the coronavirus.

The World Health Organization called the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, a pandemic on Wednesday.

Also Thursday:

IMSA announced it was postponing the 12 Hours of Sebring from March 18-21 to Nov. 11-14.

Joe Gibbs Racing announced that it is closing its shop to visitors.

Other Cup teams soon followed with announcements about closing their shops to visitors:

NASCAR to race at Homestead

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UPDATE: NASCAR announced Thursday it will race at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway without fans 

NASCAR stated:

“At this time, NASCAR will hold its race events at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway without fans in attendance. These events will be restricted to competitors, crews, officials and other necessary personnel to conduct the race. We will work with public health officials as we determine future scheduling beyond these events.”

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez issued a statement Thursday morning postponing next weekend’s NASCAR Cup race at Homestead-Miami Speedway with Miami-Dade County under a state of emergency because of the public health threat of COVID-19.

He stated:

“Although we do not have community spread at this time, we want to take the preemptive steps to keep it that way. Therefore, I have decided to suspend the operation of the Miami-Dade County Youth Fair, the Miami Open tennis tournament, the MIA 5K run, and all major events at the American Airlines Arena. The March 22 NASCAR race at the Homestead Miami Speedway is postponed at this time. NASCAR officials will decide whether or not to hold the race without fans.

“As we move forward together during this time, we will continue to monitor what the World Health Organization has determined is a global pandemic. We will constantly evaluate planned mass gatherings as the situation evolves.

“I will be making future policy decisions regarding indoor events planned for more than 250 people based on federal and state health officials’ guidance.

“In addition, I am recommending that smaller gatherings, if they’re not essential, also be reconsidered.”

NASCAR issued a statement shortly after the mayor’s announcement: “NASCAR will announce its plan for near term race event scheduling at 1 pm ET.”

Wednesday, NASCAR announced procedural changes at the track because of the novel coronavirus outbreak.

The last NASCAR race to be postponed for reasons other than weather was the 2001 New Hampshire race because of the Sept. 11 attacks. The New Hampshire race was made up after the season finale that year. That was before NASCAR had its playoff system in place.

MORE: NBC Sports live blog with updates on how the coronavirus is impacting sports

More than 1,000 people in the United States have been infected with the coronavirus. At least 33 have died in the U.S. from the disease.

Here is what to know about the coronavirus.

The World Health Organization called the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, a pandemic on Wednesday.

Also, St. Petersburg, Florida mayor Rick Kriseman tweeted Thursday that general admission for this weekend’s IndyCar race in the city would be prohibited and left questions as to if the race would be held.

Also Thursday, The NASCAR Whelen Euro Series has rescheduled the April 25-26 NASCAR GP Spain at Valencia to Oct. 31-Nov. 1.

Wednesday night, the NBA announced it was suspending its season after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert preliminary tested positive for the COVID-19.

Also Wednesday, the NCAA announced it would hold its upcoming men’s and women’s basketball tournament games without fans.

Clint Bowyer wins pole for Auto Club 400, Jimmie Johnson qualifies second

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Clint Bowyer edged Jimmie Johnson by .007 seconds to claim the pole for Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway (3:30 p.m. ET on Fox).

It is Bowyer’s fourth career pole and comes after he won the pole at at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last fall.

Johnson, who was the last driver to qualify, will start second in his final Cup Series start at his home track.

The top five is completed by Alex Bowman, Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick.

The gap between Bowyer’s last two poles is much smaller than his previous wait between poles (431 starts).

“I was actually freaking out that the sun kept coming out,” Bowyer told FS1 after qualifying. “You know the track’s building temperature, everybody, you can see in the SMT data, kept getting looser and looser down in (Turns) 1 and 2 and I was no exception. I knew coming to the green was important, you try to stay up high, get up through the gear box as good as you can. But that’s what it was, down there in (Turns) 1 and 2 she just kind of slid and got loose … and it stuck right there and away it went. Everybody else had to chase it up the track and lost speed and momentum. (When Johnson made his run) I’m thinking, ‘man, if it comes down and I get beat by the last car on the race track I’m going to freak out.'”

Busch’s car failed pre-qualifying inspection twice and had his car chief ejected from the event.

Martin Truex Jr. failed inspection three times. His car chief was ejected and he was not allowed to make a qualifying attempt. Truex will start from the rear Sunday.

Click here for the qualifying results.

Podcast: Kyle Petty on wounds being reopened by Ryan Newman’s crash

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Kyle Petty had a hard time getting to sleep Monday night.

That was partly because of the uncertainty surrounding Ryan Newman’s condition after the terrifying last-lap wreck in the Daytona 500.

But it also was because of the dark memories it dredged up for the NASCAR on NBC analyst, whose son, Adam, was killed in a May 12, 2000 crash at New Hampshire Motor Speedway – one of four fatalities during a nine-month period culminating in Dale Earnhardt’s death in the 2001 Daytona 500.

“Look at pictures of Adam’s accident between at New Hampshire, if you look at Earnhardt’s, so many, many people gathered, but nothing going on is what it looks like,” Petty said on the latest NASCAR on NBC Podcast, comparing those crash scenes with the response to Newman’s wreck. “All of a sudden, 20 years of having that in a box, someone ripped the top off the box, and you can see right down in it again.

OVERTIME STAYS: NASCAR won’t adjust rule at superspeedways after crash

“So for me, it was very emotional. I didn’t sleep much Monday night, honestly. Worried about Ryan, praying for Ryan. But at the same time so many emotions that I thought that time was supposed to heal those wounds. That wound is right there. It’s just under the surface. So it was a tough day or so.”

Petty’s anxiety subsided Tuesday with the news that Newman was alert and talking. The Roush Fenway Racing driver walked out of Halifax Medical Center with his daughters Wednesday afternoon. He is being replaced this weekend by Ross Chastain in the No. 6 Ford at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and no timetable has been provided for his return.

NASCAR hasn’t had a fatality in a national series since Earnhardt’s on Feb. 18, 2001, and Petty openly wondered during the podcast about a youthful generation of budding Cup stars who have yet to experience what it’s like when a peer perishes in a crash.

“When the last fatality happened in a NASCAR upper division, they were in kindergarten or first grade,” Petty said. “So they’ve never seen anything like this. I grew up where you go to the racetrack and you’re playing with a bunch of kids, and their mom comes and gets them, and you never see those kids again. When Friday Hassler got killed at Daytona (in 1972), I never saw his kids again. Have run into them since but never saw them again at a racetrack.

“So many times, you’d go to the racetrack, and a crew member would be killed. A driver would be killed. Whether it was in a qualifying race, practice at Daytona. It was just there. You got used to it. This is an exaggeration, but it’s almost like you’re in a war zone. You just become numb to it. Now we don’t understand it because we don’t see it. We don’t know how to react to it. When we do see something, everyone turns it into a joke, and we laugh it off. … The sport has gotten to a point that it’s incredibly safe, as safe as it’s ever been. But it’s never going to be foolproof safe.”

Since Earnhardt’s crash, NASCAR has mandated the HANS device, SAFER barriers and numerous other safety elements in the car and cockpit. While it’s decreased the danger Petty also worries if it’s led to a false sense of security.

“We just got complacent to the fact that auto racing can be a dangerous sport,” he said. “Now the element of danger has decreased, but it’s always that deep water, flowing really fast, and at the bottom of that well, there’s death.”

During the podcast, Petty also discussed:

–His thoughts on “slam drafting” on superspeedways and how it should be addressed;

–Reacting to Corey LaJoie’s recent comments that no changes need to be made;

–How a driver such as Newman rebounds after such a vicious wreck;

–The laudable way in which Denny Hamlin captured his third Daytona 500 victory.

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the embed above, or via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play or wherever you get your podcasts.

There also is a video version of the podcast available at the Motorsports on NBC channel on YouTube.

Kyle Busch to drive in 5 Xfinity races this season for Joe Gibbs Racing

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Joe Gibbs Racing announced Thursday that Kyle Busch will compete in five Xfinity Series races this season.

The reigning NASCAR Cup champ will make his first Xfinity start in the No. 54 Toyota Supra at Phoenix Raceway on March 7.

The other four Xfinity races Busch will drive:

May 23 at Charlotte Motor Speedway

June 20 at Chicagoland Speedway

July 18 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway

August 15 at Watkins Glen International

Busch has a chance of hitting 100 career wins in the Xfinity Series this year. He has 96 wins in 352 career starts in that series. NASCAR rules limit Busch to a maximum of five races per season in another series because of his experience.

Jacob Canter will serve as Busch’s crew chief. He is the test team manager for JGR’s NASCAR Cup program.

The five Truck races that Kyle Busch will race this season already have been announced.

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