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Jimmie Johnson tests positive for coronavirus

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Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson has tested positive for coronavirus, becoming the first NASCAR Cup driver do so.

Johnson, a four-time Brickyard winner, will miss Sunday’s Cup at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and next week’s IndyCar test on the Indy road course for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Hendrick Motorsports said in a statement Friday that Johnson will not return until he is cleared by a physician.

Johnson, 44, has not experienced symptoms of COVID-19, according to the Hendrick Motorsports statement.  He was tested upon learning Friday morning that his wife Chandra tested positive after experiencing allergy-like symptoms.

Justin Allgaier will drive for Johnson in his absence.

“My first priority is the health and safety of my loved ones and my teammates,” Johnson said in a statement from Hendrick Motorsports. “I’ve never missed a race in my Cup career, but I know it’s going to be very hard to watch from the sidelines when I’m supposed to be out there competing. Although this situation is extremely disappointing, I’m going to come back ready to win races and put ourselves in playoff contention.”

Johnson, who is in his final full-time Cup season, has the longest streak for consecutive starts among active drivers at 663. He was to have started fourth in Sunday’s race.

Said car owner Rick Hendrick in a statement: “Jimmie has handled this situation like the champion he is. We’re relieved he isn’t showing symptoms and that Chani is doing great, and we know he’ll be back and ready to go very soon. It’s going to be difficult for him to be out of the car and away from his team, but it’s the right thing to do for Jimmie and everyone involved.”

NASCAR announced that it has granted Johnson a playoff waiver should he win a race before the playoffs begin. NASCAR also stated:

“Following the guidelines outlined in the Event Operations Protocol manual, Jimmie Johnson has alerted NASCAR that he has tested positive for COVID-19.

“NASCAR has outlined the steps for Johnson’s return, in accordance with the CDC’s current guidelines, which includes that Johnson is symptom free and has two negative COVID-19 test results, at least 24 hours apart. NASCAR requires Johnson to be cleared by his physician before returning to racing.

“Jimmie is a true battle-tested champion, and we wish him well in his recovery. NASCAR has granted Jimmie a playoff waiver, and we look forward to his return as he races for an eighth NASCAR Cup Series championship.”

Hendrick Motorsports stated that as a precaution, it identified one member of the No. 48 traveling crew to self-quarantine due to close contact with Johnson.

Last month Stewart-Haas Racing confirmed that two employees had tested positive for coronavirus. Team Penske confirmed last month that one of its employees tested positive.

Hendrick Motorsports stated that it has implemented detailed procedures to protect the health of its team members. That includes daily COVID-19 screenings at the team facilities; the separation of facility operations and traveling personnel; split work schedules; stringent face covering and social distancing requirements; and an increased level of disinfecting and sanitization of all work areas.

The announcement about Johnson came shortly after Major League Baseball announced Friday that 31 players have tested positive. Nineteen different teams had at least one player test positive.

This comes as the nation sees a surge in coronavirus cases. The United States reported more than 55,000 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, a daily global record. Global coronavirus cases exceeded 11 million on Friday, according to a Reuters tally.

This weekend’s Cup, Xfinity and IndyCar races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway will be held without fans because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

North Carolina Governor calls racetrack’s actions a ‘reckless decision’

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North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper called it a “reckless decision” for a racetrack to hold what was described as a “unity race” last weekend as a way to avoid restrictions on mass gatherings. Gov. Cooper vowed that the state would take action this week if the county did not.

Ace Speedway, a 4/10-mile track located about two hours northeast of Charlotte Motor Speedway, has had crowds in recent weekends that exceeded the state’s mandate on social gatherings.

North Carolina is in Phase 2 of its re-opening. Gatherings are limited to 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors.

Photos and video have shown many more than that at recent races at Ace Speedway. Last Saturday, the track placed a sign at its entrance that read: “This Event is held in PEACEFUL Protest of Injustice & Inequality Everywhere – Ace Speedway.”

Gov. Cooper was asked Monday during a media briefing if there are loopholes that allow protests to exceed gathering limits for events such as the racetrack’s this past weekend.

“People shouldn’t run a money-making operation that puts in danger not only their customers but anybody who would come into contact with their customers,” Gov. Cooper said. “This is a reckless decision being made by the owners, pulling people together in that way that can cause the spread of the (coronavirus) virus.

“Alamance County (home of the track) is one of the counties that is having higher numbers than it should have. We look forward to taking some action on this in the coming week.

“It’s concerning that Alamance officials have not been able to stop this. We would hope that they could. But if they can’t, then the state will have to take action, which we will do this week if the local officials don’t.”

NBC Sports reached out to track officials Monday. They had no comment.

Track owner Robert Turner has been outspoken about having fans at his races. In a May 21 story, Turner told the Times-News in Burlington, North Carolina, that “I’m going to race and I’m going to have people in the stands.”

“And unless they can barricade the road, I’m going to do it. The racing community wants to race. They’re sick and tired of the politics. People are not scared of something that ain’t killing nobody. It may kill .03 percent, but we deal with more than that every day, and I’m not buying it no more.

“I’ve got a business to run and a job to do, and when I can’t run my business and I can’t go to my job and make a full paycheck, I’m in jail already. So getting behind bars does not scare me. I’m going to speak my piece, and we’re going to do something.”

Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson told the Winston-Salem Journal in a June 5 story that the track planned to host this past weekend what he described as a “unity race.” The event, Johnson told the newspaper, was geared toward rallying the community after George Floyd’s death on May 25 while in police custody. Floyd died after a since-fired Minneapolis police officer kneeled on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.

According to the Winston-Salem Journal, Johnson argued the race at Ace Speedway was no different than Gov. Cooper marching with a crowd of protesters on June 1 with his mask down, exposing his face

The Journal and other media outlets reported that the General Cousel for Gov. Cooper addressed a four-page letter June 5 to Alamance County officials, including Sheriff Johnson that stated: “The recent races conducted by ACE Speedway, however, constitute commercial events, rather than gatherings filling under the auspices of the First Amendment, and therefore do not fall within that exemption. The Governor has broad authority to restrict commercial operations to address emergencies, like the public health emergency posed by COVID-19.”

Sheriff Johnson announced Monday that he would not issue the track a citation for all the fans it hosted last weekend, stating: “I have found through research and contacts with other Sheriffs in the state, that numerous speedways and Go (Kart) Tracks ran this weekend in North Carolina with no action being taken on those owners or even warnings given. This concerns me greatly to know that my citizens have basically been singled out for the same alleged violations that are occurring all over the State of North Carolina. … I have always tried to treat all persons with respect and dignity. Everyone should be treated equally. My understanding of the law and the conflicting orders issued by the Governor, leads me to question my authority on writing a citation to Mr. Robert Turner, owner of ACE Speedway.”

Click here for full statement from Alamance County Sheriff Johnson

North Carolina has seen an increase in coronavirus cases. Gov. Cooper said Monday

Gov. Cooper reported Monday that there have been 36,484 confirmed cases, 938 new cases reported Monday, 739 people in the hospital and 1,006 people have died.

“Today marks our highest day of people hospitalized from COVID-19 since the pandemic began,” Gov. Cooper said. “Over the weekend, we saw our single highest day of new cases reported. We’re seeing more viral spread and these numbers are concerning.”

Alamance County has accounted for 494 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state as of Monday, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. The county has had 23 deaths related to COIVD-19, according to the state.

The county is averaging 30 coronavirus cases per 10,000 residents. Thirty-six of the state’s 100 counties have a higher case rate per 10,000 residents than Alamance County. Most counties surrounding Alamance County have a higher case rate per 10,000 residents than it did as of Monday, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

 

Kentucky, Kansas to host races without fans

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While there will be a combined total of nine races next month at Kentucky and Kansas speedways, those races will be held without fans in attendance.

Kentucky Speedway will be hosting Xfinity Series races on July 9 (8 p.m., FS1) and July 10 (8 p.m., FS1), a Truck Series race on July 11 (1 p.m., FS1) and a NASCAR Cup race on July 12 (2:30 p.m., FS1). The Cup Series race will be held on the day it was originally scheduled for prior to the hiatus caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I would like to thank Governor Andy Beshear, Senior Advisor Rocky Adkins and Health Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack for working in collaboration with NASCAR and Kentucky Speedway to assure this year’s race weekend takes place in a way that protects the safety of participants and the community,” Kentucky Speedway executive vice president and general manager Mark Simendinger said in a statement. “We are very disappointed that the coronavirus pandemic dictates that we will not have spectators at this year’s races.

“We work all year for this weekend and to not be able to share it with fans, especially in the 10th anniversary year of the Quaker State 400, is tough. The health and safety of the public comes first so we hope fans will catch all of the action on FOX or PRN.”

Kansas Speedway will host five races: a Cup race July 23 (7:30 p.m., NBCSN), a Truck Series race on July 24 (7 p.m., FS1), an ARCA Series race on July 24 (10 p.m., FS1), a Truck Series race (1:30 p.m., FS1) on July 25 and Xfinity Series race on July 25 (5 p.m., NBCSN).

Those races were rescheduled from the May 30-31 weekend due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We are excited to be a part of NASCAR’s return to racing,” Kansas Speedway president Pat Warren said in a statement. “This is an important first step in the resumption of sports to the Kansas City area, and we feel a deep sense of responsibility to play an integral role in that process.”

While the races at Kansas are scheduled to be run without fans, track officials said in a statement on the track’s website that could change if state and local officials further loosen restrictions:

“The situation today requires us to plan our events without fans. However, we continue to work closely with state and local officials to determine if it may be possible to have fans attend our races in July. As the situation evolves, we will immediately share any new information with our customers.”

MORE: NASCAR announces revised schedule through Aug. 2

FAN STATUS FOR FUTURE RACES

Charlotte Motor Speedway states that for the July 15 All-Star Race “options for fan entry are being evaluated in consultation with state and local health officials, but no decisions have been finalized at this time.”

Texas Motor Speedway states that it has developed with NASCAR “a comprehensive plan and continue to work with state and local officials to determine the size and scope of the number of race fans who will be able to attend the weekend’s events.”

Kansas Speedway announced that its NASCAR revised schedule has July races that will be run without spectators, but will re-evaluate if conditions improve.

New Hampshire Motor Speedway states that “it’s unclear at this time if fans will be allowed access” for the Aug. 2 Cup race.

Here is the NASCAR schedule through Aug. 2:

(ALL TIMES ARE EASTERN)

June 26 at Pocono: ARCA race (6 p.m., FS1)

June 27 at Pocono: Truck Series race (12:30 p.m., FS1)

June 27 at Pocono: Cup Series race (3:30 p.m., Fox)

June 28 at Pocono: Xfinity Series race (12:30 p.m., FS1)

June 28 at Pocono: Cup Series race (4 p.m., FS1)

July 4 at Indianapolis: Xfinity Series race (3 p.m., NBC)

July 5 at Indianapolis: Cup Series race (4 p.m., NBC)

July 9 at Kentucky: Xfinity Series race (8 p.m., FS1)

July 10 at Kentucky: Xfinity Series race (8 p.m., FS1)

July 11 at Kentucky: Truck Series race (1 p.m., FS1)

July 12 at Kentucky: Cup Series race (2:30 p.m., FS1)

July 15 at Charlotte: ARCA Series race (4 p.m., FS1)

July 15 at Charlotte: Cup Series All-Star Open race (7 p.m., FS1)

July 15 at Charlotte: Cup Series All-Star Race (8:30 p.m., FS1)

July 18 at Texas: Xfinity Series race (3 p.m., NBCSN)

July 18 at Texas: Truck Series race (8 p.m., FS1)

July 19 at Texas: Cup Series race (3 p.m., NBCSN)

July 23 at Kansas: Cup Series race (7:30 p.m., NBCSN)

July 24 at Kansas: Truck Series race (7 p.m., FS1)

July 24 at Kansas: ARCA Series race (10 p.m., FS1)

July 25 at Kansas: Truck Series race (1:30 p.m., FS1)

July 25 at Kansas: Xfinity Series race (5 p.m., NBCSN)

August 2 at New Hampshire: Cup Series race (3 p.m., NBCSN)

Further national series dates will be announced at a later date.

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NASCAR set to resume racing May 17 at Darlington Raceway with Cup Series

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NASCAR announced Thursday that it plans to resume racing May 17 with the Cup Series racing at Darlington Raceway. That event will be the first of seven races among three series between May 17-27 and starts the NASCAR return.

No fans will be allowed at any of those events.

Here is the schedule NASCAR announced:

May 17 (Sunday): Cup teams will run a 400-mile race at Darlington Raceway. Race will be at 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX.

May 19 (Tuesday): Xfinity teams will run a 200-mile race at Darlington Raceway. Race will be at 8 p.m. ET on FS1.

May 20 (Wednesday): Cup teams will return to Darlington to run a 500-kilometer race. Race will be at 7:30 p.m. ET on FS1.

May 24 (Sunday): Cup teams will compete in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Race will be at 6 p.m. ET on FOX.

May 25 (Monday): Xfinity teams will run 300 miles at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Race will be at 7:30 p.m. ET on FS1.

May 26 (Tuesday): Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series teams will run 200 miles at Charlotte. Race will be at 8 p.m. ET on FS1.

May 27 (Wednesday): Cup teams return to race 500 kilometers at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Race will be at 8 p.m. ET on FS1

NASCAR will eliminate practice for all events between May 17-27, as well as qualifying for all events except the Coca-Cola 600. Each event will be a one-day show.

“NASCAR and its teams are eager and excited to return to racing, and have great respect for the responsibility that comes with a return to competition,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer. “NASCAR will return in an environment that will ensure the safety of our competitors, officials and all those in the local community.

“We thank local, state and federal officials and medical experts, as well as everyone in the industry, for the unprecedented support in our return to racing, and we look forward to joining our passionate fans in watching cars return to the track.”

Adjustments NASCAR return will make

In accordance with CDC, OSHA and state and local government recommendations, NASCAR stated that nearly every aspect of how the event is conducted will be significantly modified, including:

# Use of personal protective equipment throughout the event.

# Health screenings for all individuals prior to entering the facility, while inside the facility and exiting the facility.

# Social distancing protocols throughout the event.

# Strict limits on the number of individuals who are granted access into each facility.

NASCAR did not provide details about any other races beyond the Darlington events. Darlington Raceway announced that the Southern 500 will still take place Sept. 4-6, meaning that Darlington’s races in May will replace other events. 

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster issued a statement about Darlington hosting NASCAR’s return: “As our nation restarts, I can think of no better place for NASCAR to drop the green flag than at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina. Team South Carolina stands ready to help NASCAR restart the season at Darlington Raceway with three races next month that can be enjoyed by fans from home on television, radio, and online.”

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper stated Tuesday that “unless health conditions go down,” the state will allow Charlotte Motor Speedway to host the May 24 Coca-Cola 600.

“I’d like to thank Gov. Cooper, NASCAR and all of our state and local government and health officials who have worked so hard with us to make this happen,” said Speedway Motorsports President and Chief Executive Officer Marcus Smith in a statement. “This has been a proactive effort to put our motorsports industry back to work and boost the morale of sports fans around the world, while at the same time keeping the health and safety of all who will be on site the top priority.

All-Star Race date is still TBD

Charlotte Motor Speedway announced that the All-Star Race has been postponed to a yet-to-be determined date. Smith said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that “the plan” is for Charlotte to host the Roval race in the playoffs as scheduled.

NASCAR last raced March 8 with the Cup Series at Phoenix Raceway. NASCAR postponed races at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Homestead-Miami Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway, Bristol Motor Speedway, Richmond Raceway, Talladega Superspeedway, Dover International Speedway and Martinsville Speedway because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Charlotte Motor Speedway announced that Coca-Cola 600 and NASCAR All-Star Race weekend ticket holders on file may choose to receive an event credit for the full amount paid plus an additional 20 percent, or choose to receive a full refund of their purchase price. The event credit can be applied toward any admissions, including, but not limited to, grandstand seating, infield tickets, camping, fan hospitality and pit passes. The 120-percent event credit can be used during the remaining 2020 or 2021 seasons for a NASCAR sanctioned event at any Speedway Motorsports owned track, subject to availability.

NASCAR addresses company layoffs; staff reductions at Iowa Speedway

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NASCAR has addressed companywide layoffs that were announced Friday and significantly will impact the staffing of one racetrack.

As part of the restructuring, NASCAR has moved to a “centralized” model at Iowa Speedway, meaning the majority of its staff has been dismissed.

The track will retain president David Hyatt and a small staff in operating its races this year. The staff at Kansas Speedway, which is about four hours away from the 0.8-mile oval, will assist the operation of Iowa Speedway. NASCAR hasn’t finalized its 2021 schedule, but the track’s potential races next year also wouldn’t be expected to be affected as of now.

“Iowa Speedway looks forward to running our 2020 race event schedule and delivering another exciting season of racing,” Hyatt said in a statement to NBCSports.com. “With assistance from the Kansas Speedway staff, we remain committed to providing an unforgettable race day experience and great entertainment value for our fans.”

NASCAR wouldn’t comment on how many employees lost their jobs Friday in layoffs that affected every department in its organization. The personnel changes had been planned after the absorption of International Speedway Corp. last October that brought a dozen tracks under the NASCAR umbrella.

Following the (ISC) merger, NASCAR began evolving its operations and we remain committed to this process during these unprecedented times to ensure the long-term health of our sport,” NASCAR said in a statement to NBCSports.com. “Like other businesses, we are working to get through this economic impact and position ourselves for success upon our return to racing.”

A spokesman said NASCAR was offering programs and resources to help employees who were affected with finding new jobs.

NASCAR already had announced across-the-board pay cuts last week (25 percent for executives, 20 percent for other employees) as it deals with the shutdown from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The next race on its schedule is May 9 at Martinsville Speedway, which seems in doubt because of a Virginia Stay at Home order. NASCAR has yet to announce a revised schedule for 2020.