COVID-19 pandemic

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N.C. Governor enlists Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson for COVID-19 PSA

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On Thursday, the office of North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper debuted a public service announcement with Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson instructing state residents on how to help slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 1 minute and 16 second video shows Gordon and Johnson advising on proper hand washing and face touching habits, as well as for people to stay home.

“You can feel healthy but still carry this disease to more vulnerable people,” Johnson says in the video.

The video also provides a web site from the state government that provides facts on the situation: ncdhhs.gov/coronavirus.

The message comes a day after Cabarrus County in North Carolina became the second county that is home to NASCAR teams to issue an order for residents to stay at home because of COVID-19. The order, which restricts non-essential travel and bans gatherings of more than 10 people, starts at 5 p.m. ET Thursday and goes through April 16.

The number of COVID-19 cases in North Carolina was 636 as of Thursday morning, an increase of 132 cases in 24 hours. The state also recorded its first two deaths from the virus on Wednesday.

 

Kyle Busch Motorsports ‘half business as usual’ during racing pause

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The COVID-19 pandemic has put a pause on the entire NASCAR community and Kyle Busch Motorsports is no different.

Without any Gander RV & Outdoors Series races scheduled until May 15 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, life for the team is “half business as usual” according to Busch in an appearance on Kevin Harvick‘s SiriusXM NASCAR Radio show “Happy Hours.”

The status of his Truck Series team was one of the subjects Busch discussed during his appearance on Wednesday’s show.

Busch said everyone that works at the team’s shop is being kept on payroll for the time being, but that work shifts have been split in two.

“What we did is we took our shop guys, our fab shop, body shop, assembly area and all that sort of stuff, there’s probably about 45 people in that, but they’re all spread out through the 77,000-square foot building and we cut them in half,” Busch said. “There’s a 4 a.m. to noon sector, then there’s a noon to 8 p.m. sector of guys that are working. We kind of just split them. We’ve definitely got stuff we can do, there’s cleaning to do, there’s straightening up to do, there’s also building to do and getting ahead.”

They have to get ahead on a schedule that they don’t know will look like when racing returns.

‘We know as soon as we get back going again, they’re going to want to get all the races in and that’s pretty much going to mean 13 straight weeks if we did the calendar right,” Busch said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “We have no idea, we just guessed (at the format). That’s 13 straight weeks for our truck guys. I don’t know how the other teams are going do it with people and equipment and that sort of stuff.

“We’re planning ahead in the regard, so we’re keeping everybody on payroll. Nothing’s happening in that regard yet. Hopefully, we get through with the CDC’s recommendation on a May time frame of getting back to business here, so I think we’ll be fine if that’s the case and we can get back racing in May.”

His Truck Series team isn’t the only business that Busch has on his mind.

Earlier this year the two-time Cup champion launched his own energy drink brand, Rowdy Energy.

That comes after Busch’s long relationship with Monster Energy and NOS Energy.

“I had my own energy drink with previous companies I’ve worked with and … they took my name off the can because they said it wasn’t selling, the flavor wasn’t selling,” Busch said. “So they took my name off the can, but yet they still sell the same flavor. So I’m kind of like, ‘Oh, ok, you guys just didn’t want to pay me my royalties. I get it, whatever.'”

Busch said this “sparked” his interest to make a healthier energy drink that gives “an option for people to be able to go out there and buy something that is a better option for you to put in your body.”

While the drink has been rolled out at NASCAR tracks early this season and online, Busch said it’s been a “nightmare” placing it in physical stores.

“Everybody kind of forewarned me about that early on,” Busch told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “It’s certainly coming true. Let’s just say there’s 200,000 convenience stores across the country, well we hope to be in about 2,000 stores by the year’s end and then hopefully by eight or 10,000 stores by next year.

“That’s only chipping the ice, that isn’t even breaking the ice … we’ve got a long way to go.”

Joey Logano: ‘We gotta run’ all 36 Cup races after postponements

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The month of May looms large over the NASCAR industry. That’s when the sanctioning body hopes to return to racing after it postponed seven races because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

May also looms over Joey Logano and his family but in a good way.

“The crazy thing about this, (wife) Brittany is pregnant right now,” Logano said Thursday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive.” “She’s due May 8th. So go figure.”

May 8 is when Cup cars are scheduled to be on track in preparation for the following day’s race at Martinsville Speedway.

While no one asked for eight weeks off because of a pandemic or all the misfortune arising from it, Logano is seeking a silver lining in the situation.

“She was a week early with (first child) Hudson,” Logano said. “And I’m hoping she’s going to be a week or so early again. Not too early, but a little bit early and I can be there for that, which would be a blessing in disguise for this whole thing.”

If the Martinsville race is able to go off as scheduled, what comes after that remains to be seen.

NASCAR President Steve Phelps said earlier this week the sanctioning body intends to hold all the remaining races on the Cup schedule, including the All-Star Race.

Logano was adamant “you have to” run all 36 Cup races.

“Think about if you canceled races,” Logano told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “So you wouldn’t run them at all. Well, now you’re draining the industry of a lot of money. These sponsors come in to pay to run a race. A lot of them are per race.

“So if you start eliminating races, well, it doesn’t change how much you have to pay the employees at the race team. So your revenue goes down a lot if we don’t race. So we gotta race, and there’s going to be plenty of hungry fans to watch it. Everyone’s going to be hungry to watch some sports when we get going again or want to go to races or get out of their houses at that point.”

MORE: Family owned Xfinity teams brace for long break

Logano points to the first races that were postponed at Atlanta and Homestead.

“They’re racetracks that we go to once a year,” Logano said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “So if you live in that area, maybe that was your race you were going to go to because you couldn’t afford to go to one further away.

“You almost feel like you got cheated out of a race if we don’t run it. So finding a way to run the race just makes sense from a fan’s perspective, from a business perspective, we gotta run these things. Now my question is, do we gotta get them all in before the playoffs start? Because that’s what sets the playoffs, is the regular season.”

Phelps said Tuesday it’s NASCAR’s desire to reschedule all the postponed races before the playoffs start so that the season can end at Phoenix Raceway as planned.

“There’s a lot of questions from a scheduling standpoint,” Logano said. “How long have we been talking about running a midweek race?

“I think when you look at the Daytona 500 … we ran it on a Monday night (in 2012). The ratings were great. That’s a big part of sports is what TV ratings are. That was a really big win. The tough part about that is for the racetracks. Now you’re racing on a weekday, people have to go to work, it’s harder to get people into the stands. It’s a balancing act, right? You get better TV but maybe less people with access to the facility. …. Now our hands are kind of tied, and we’re forced to possibly do that and really get a good test on what that’s all about.”

With so much time now on his hands, Logano said “You sit around and you can’t help but let your mind wonder thinking about (it).”

Family-owned Xfinity teams brace for long break

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Less than 24 hours after NASCAR announced it would not hold races until at least May due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Brandon Brown was trying to look on the bright side.

The 26-year-old driver at Brandonbilt Motorsports, a family-owned Xfinity Series team with shop locations in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and Mooresville, North Carolina, was discussing what the team would do until NASCAR’s scheduled return in two months.

“So North Carolina has our pull down rig,” Brown told NBC Sports on Tuesday morning. “So there’s plenty of time to go test. If they want to test a thousand different setups, then by all means, please do. We don’t really get a research and development team being a smaller organization. Now is the time to take advantage of what what we can.”

It was then that Brown was informed that due to “unprecedented events,” NASCAR had just announced a ban on all forms of testing not related to the Cup Series’ Next Gen car.

“Well, I guess we are not doing any research and development, so they’re going home,” Brown said, adding all that may be left to do is “put a car cover (on his race cars) I guess.”

The “unprecedented events” cited by NASCAR is COVID-19, which in less than a week has brought sports and the world in general to a halt. According to the Johns Hopkins University and Medicine coronavirus resource center, the virus has resulted in 5,853 confirmed cases in the U.S. and 97 confirmed deaths.

It’s also placed small teams in the Xfinity Series like Browns’ in a precarious position with likely no regular sources of income until its next scheduled race, May 23 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“What do you think about something that’s never, ever happened to anybody in their lifetimes?” Tommy Joe Martins asked Tuesday morning from Las Vegas. “It’s just not something any of us could probably have been prepared for. So we’re just going to try to make the best of it.”

Martins co-owns and drives for Martins Motorsports, the Xfinity team that relaunched this year. Without prize money from races, which Martins said Monday night on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Late Shift” comprises 80-85% of the team’s budget, it has to furlough its five full-time employees after the first postponed race weekend.

Martins said the team will likely keep crew chief Danny Johnson on part-time and try to help crew members file for unemployment.

“I’m of the opinion this is probably going to get worse for a while,” Martins said. “There might be some sort of a pause in domestic travel or some other things that fall out from it. … Whether you believe that it’s that serious or not, the reaction to it will be serious. It has been very serious and it will affect your life. I think that’s something I’ve taken away from it.”

The impact of the pandemic is hitting Martins on two fronts. Tuesday was his last day of work as a driving instructor at the Ron Fellows Racing School in Las Vegas. Martins said over the last few years he had built a financial cushion for himself that could leave him in a good spot for the next four to five months.

While Monday brought news of NASCAR teams sending employees home as a safety precaution, Brown said his team will try to keep the shop open for two, possibly three weeks.

“We survive on the purse money and we survive on sponsorships, but our sponsors are also struggling,” Brown said. “Parts of their businesses are getting shut down or told they can’t operate. Take for instance, our Daytona sponsor, Larry’s Lemonade. They own a bar and restaurant, but nobody’s going there right now. Without a good income, I wish I had a true deadline of what it’s going to be, but they’re discussing that now. It’s up to the team’s leadership. … But if I had to make a guess, two to three weeks and then we’ll probably be sitting at home.”

When it comes to his personal financial well being, Brown said, “I’ll do OK.

“It’s going to hurt quite a bit, because all of my income comes from working with sponsors and it seems to me right now that companies aren’t really focused on their marketing programs. So a lot of those got put on hold.”

In a teleconference Tuesday afternoon, NASCAR President Steve Phelps was asked what plans the sanctioning body had to financially help teams.

“Are we concerned about teams broadly and their financial health? Of course we are,” Phelps said. “We want to make sure that each of our teams gets through this, each of our stakeholders in the industry gets through this crisis as well as we all can.

“Lots of things on the table. No specifics at this point that we are prepared to discuss.”

Both Brown and Martins have other worries related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“For myself, I’ve had to take precautions a little extra serious because my younger brother, who had to come home from school (at James Madison University), he suffers from Crohn’s Disease, which is an auto immune disorder,” Brown said. “So I have to take it really serious because if I bring anything home, I don’t know what complications that could bring to him.”

Martins is thinking about his parents, who are both are in their 60s and live in Mississippi.

“They’re locked down for the most part,” Martins said. “They’re kind of the target age for this being really bad. My mom has rheumatoid arthritis, my dad’s really lived with diabetes on a very minor scale for a while now. My dad’s still very active and diabetes hasn’t really affected his life the way it affects a lot of people. But still, that puts him at a major risk for this. Just told him to be very, very careful. … Obviously, I’d love to be home with them, but honestly I just traveled over the last few weeks and the question that I have right now as a citizen is: ‘Do I have this?’

“Really, you can’t get that answer yet. So I’m just trying to be as careful as I can right now and I really don’t want to drive home and hang out with them just yet until we kind of know all the facts about this.”

NASCAR President issues letter to fans

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A day after NASCAR postponed all its races through May 3 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, NASCAR President Steve Phelps issued a letter to fans, stressing that the series hopes to return to racing at Martinsville Speedway in May and that “we intend to hold all races this season, with future scheduling soon to be determined.”

In the letter to fans, Phelps also stated: “It’s the thrill of the race that attracts us to NASCAR and makes us all fans. But as we look broadly at the coronavirus situation that is rapidly developing in our country and abroad, what is important now is bigger than the world of sports, and we must focus on everyone’s safety and well-being.

“Most importantly, we encourage you to be smart and safe during this challenging time, and to follow the precautionary measures recommended by the CDC and World Health Organization.

“NASCAR appreciates your support and we look forward to going green.”

Phelps is scheduled to hold a 1 p.m. ET teleconference with media Tuesday.

MORE: Latest from NBC News on the coronavirus

According to the Johns Hopkins University and Medicine coronavirus resource center, there are 4,661 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. and 85 deaths.