John Bobo

NASCAR’s Steve Phelps: ‘I don’t foresee any further shutdown for us’

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As NASCAR prepares to return Sunday at Darlington Raceway, a question often asked of series officials is what happens if someone, whether a driver or crew member, tests positive for COVID-19.

NASCAR President Steve Phelps, appearing on NBC’s “Today” show on Saturday said to that question: “We’ve looked at scenario planning for hundreds of different things happening, including, obviously, someone showing symptoms of having the virus. Protocols are in place that would allow for us to have that person removed. I don’t foresee any further shutdown for us. We had a 10-week hiatus. I don’t see (another shutdown) happening.

“There are replacement crews, there are all kinds of different scenario plannings that we have done for both ourselves, our own officials, as well as the race teams and production people.

“It takes a village to put on a NASCAR race, but it will be a smaller village and one we’re excited to get back to.”

Phelps said that about 900 people are expected to be on site Sunday at Darlington, including drivers, team members, series officials, safety crews, medical providers, TV production members and media.

The event is being limited to essential personnel. Phelps said he is not deemed essential personnel for the event and won’t be at Darlington.

Teams will not have as many crew members at the track as they normally would. They often would have more than 20 people but will be limited to 16, including the driver. Teams had to set their rosters earlier this week and each member going to the track had to complete a health form.

Everyone who enters the track will go through a health screening and temperature check. If there are any issues, those people will go though a secondary screening. A doctor then would determine if someone can be allowed in the infield. Once a person passes the screening, they will go to their particular area. For drivers, they will go to their motorhome and remain there until reporting to their cars shortly before the race.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, addressed Friday on NASCAR America at Home what would happen if a driver is not allowed to compete.

“If, unfortunately, we had to face that scenario, we have communicated with all the race teams and the drivers we would provide a waiver”  to be eligible for the playoffs, he said. “We’d ask them to self-quarantine.”

Crew members who pass their health screening outside the track Sunday will go to the garage. Teams will be separated from each other, even if in the same organization. Teams also are being told to limit contact between their pit crews and other crew members.

Everyone in the garage must wear a cloth mask.

Spotters will be not be allowed in the infield. They will be positioned in the stands to abide by social distancing guidelines as opposed to being packed on the spotter’s stand.

John Bobo, NASCAR vice president of of operations, told NASCAR.com that “we’ll have thermal cameras set up in the infield where we will be randomly taking people’s temperatures and making sure they are compliant.”

NASCAR has stated that it will not administer a COVID-19 test to those entering the track, citing the limited number of such tests in the country at this time.

As for when fans can return to races, O’Donnell told NASCAR America at Home:

“We’d love (the fans) there this weekend,” O’Donnell said of Sunday’s Cup race at Darlington Raceway, “but we also understand that we’ve got to do what’s right in the local communities in each state. Some of the calls we’ve had with governors have said, ‘Hey, we may be ready and we may be open to that,’ so I’m encouraged by those conversations. We’ve not heard a ‘no way’ for the rest of the year.”

NASCAR has set its revised schedule through June 21. Friday, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said during a press briefing that he has had talks with NASCAR but “Pennsylvania is not ready to make a decision” on if Pocono Raceway can host its NASCAR races June 27-28. Saturday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that racing at Watkins Glen International could take place without crowds starting June 1.

Friday 5: NASCAR’s planned return to racing comes with a twist

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NASCAR’s return not only will mark the return of Ryan Newman from his Daytona 500 crash and Matt Kenseth from an unplanned retirement but of a new way of racing.

No practice. 

No qualifying (in most cases).

Just go and race.

NASCAR announced Thursday that there will be no practice before the Cup, Xfinity and Truck races scheduled for May 17-27 at Darlington Raceway and Charlotte Motor Speedway. There also will be no qualifying at those races except for the May 24 Coca-Cola 600. Each event will be held in one day, allowing teams to return home afterward and not stay in a hotel.

The idea of one-day, midweek events could be considered for future seasons when normalcy returns and NASCAR ponders a schedule that ends before November. This year could provide a good test case.

But as the calendar turns to May, the focus for drivers is on competing at Darlington Raceway, considered among the sport’s more challenging tracks. Each driver’s first lap at speed on May 17 will come when the green flag drops for the race.

“I think we’re going to see real tangible value in our simulators,” Kurt Busch told NBC Sports, alluding to how simulators will determine car setups in lieu of no practice.

Said Alex Bowman: “I think going to a place like Darlington is going to be really tough. Probably be a little rusty getting into Turn 1 if that was the first (lap of the day). That would be a tough place.”

Busch notes just how challenging those early laps at Darlington will be without practice.

“The biggest thing we’re all going to be faced with is the track’s rapidly changing conditions because we used to have the Truck Series or Xfinity Series to help lay down the rubber and create the look of where the groove is, and now (the groove is) going to be as green as it has ever been,” he said, noting Cup will be the first seres to resume.

“The pace is going to be astronomically fast in the beginning and (the groove is) going to be getting glazed over more rapidly during our race. Those are the things that crew chiefs, lead engineers and drivers are going to be challenged with in this unique setting.”

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, said there would be a competition caution early in the May 17 Darlington race.

“Obviously we’re still working through what that may look like,” O’Donnell told reporters on a conference call Thursday. “We want to allow for some adjustments for the teams, so (there’s) a lot of dialogue still going on. I’m also confident when (Cup goes) back on Wednesday night on (May) 20th, you may see some different things based on what we learned with our opening event.”

When Cup drivers raced at Darlington in last September’s Southern 500, they faced a green track after rain delayed the race’s start by more than three hours. NASCAR added a competition caution at Lap 35 for that event since rain washed the rubber off the track.

“It’s just adapting to all that and trying to stay on top of it,” Bowman said of what racing at Darlington will be like.

2. “Huge responsibility”

NASCAR is set to become the first major sport to return during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Many likely will be watching to see how NASCAR does.

“We realize up front it’s a huge responsibility for us as a sport,” NASCAR’s Steve O’Donnell said of returning ahead of the NBA, NHL and before Major League Baseball can begin. “But I’m also confident in the group we’ve gathered to put this plan together. … We’re certainly going to learn as we go. But the process we put in place I think gives the industry the confidence that we can be first, we can do this in Darlington.”

After consultation with various medical and health officials at local, state and national levels, this is what NASCAR is planning for team members, drivers and others working upcoming races:

  • Anyone who will work at the track is being asked to self-monitor for five days for symptoms before the event.
  • Each person working at the track must fill out a questionnaire on their health and go through a temperature screening check.
  • If there are concerns based on a person’s temperature, they will go through additional screening that will include monitoring heart rate and oxygenation.
  • There also will be additional screening for essential personnel.
  • Temperature checks will be done randomly throughout the event. Symptomatic patients will be removed from the event and given medical care if needed.
  • Everyone going into the infield must wear cloth masks as they move about.
  • Cup haulers will be spread out in the infield for social distancing among teams. Driver motorcoaches also will be spread out to keep competitors away from each other.
  • There will be one-way walkways to further promote social distancing.
  • On pit road, over-the-wall crew members must have a fireproof sock mask that will go from their nose down to below their chin or use a face screen from above their eyes to below their chin.
  • Spotters will be spread out in the empty stands, all at least 6 feet away from each other.
  • After the race, NASCAR will stagger the exit of crews to maintain social distancing.
  • Because COVID-19 tests remain in limited supply, NASCAR states those tests should be targeted for people most in need.
  • NASCAR recommends that crew members who are at the track not work in the race shop between events.
  • NASCAR also asks all participants to keep a log of who they’ve interacted with throughout the course of a day in case they later have a positive test. That way, those who have come in direct exposure can be contacted and asked to isolate for 14 days.

“We have a lot of confidence in our plan,” said John Bobo, NASCAR vice president of racing operations. “We know we have to work together as an industry to keep our own folks safe, to keep each community safe.”

Brian Symmes, communications director for South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, issued a statement to NBC Sports about NASCAR’s guidelines to race at Darlington. Symmes stated:

“We’ve worked closely with NASCAR as they’ve planned this event and developed their exhaustive guidelines and requirements for anybody working at the raceway that day. We’re confident that those plans will protect South Carolinians from the virus and allow for a great experience for NASCAR fans to enjoy the start of the season.”

3. Getting the band back together

Chip Ganassi Racing’s hiring of Matt Kenseth for the rest of the season for the No. 42 car, reunites Kenseth with former teammate Kurt Busch.

They both drove for what is now Roush Fenway Racing from 2000-05. Kenseth won the 2003 championship. Busch won the 2004 title.

Kenseth told NBC Sports’ Nate Ryan earlier this week about reuniting with Busch:

“I’ve always said he’s one of the best teammates I’ve ever had, and I’ve had a lot of really good teammates. Kurt as a teammate is always very unselfish. He always works really, really hard at it. Puts in the extra time. Asks the questions. Gives his input. Does all the things that you really appreciate as a teammate.”

Busch called Kenseth’s words “humbling.”

Busch said his approach is guided by the philosophy that “if I can make the whole team better, then I’ve got a better chance of winning.”

Busch said Kenseth was instrumental to him early in his career.

“He taught me consistency when we were younger,” Busch said. “He had an incredible ability to just bang out solid, solid finishes every week. When I finally got my footing, it helped propel me to that championship in 2004. I think the two of us did a great job of pushing each other as young guys. We had Mark Martin and Jeff Burton to look up to. The communication has always been seamless with Matt.”

Now, Kenseth likely will lean on Busch. Kenseth last raced in the Cup Series in the 2018 season finale. Busch said he will help Kenseth in any way.

Said Kenseth this week: “Hopefully once we get this thing rolling, I can reciprocate and help (Busch) as well.”

4. Just the beginning

Cup teams racing four times between May 17-27 is just the beginning of what will be a busy time. NASCAR intends to run the remaining 32 races in the next 25 weeks, finishing the season Nov. 8 at Phoenix Raceway as scheduled.

NASCAR’s Steve O’Donnell said that the intention remains for Pocono to host the first Cup doubleheader on June 27-28 but that there could be one or two tracks with doubleheaders. In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Thursday, Dover Motorsports, which operates Dover International Speedway, stated that it is “possible that our May NASCAR Cup Series event will be moved to August and that we hold a doubleheader with back-to-back NASCAR Cup Series events held on Saturday and Sunday.”

With all this racing in a compressed window this season, what will it do to teams?

“We have to ramp up motor-wise, gearbox-wise, all these things,” car owner Rick Ware said. “We’ll be able to get through this. It’s going to be a lot of work.”

Getting the work done between races could prove challenging for some teams.

“I think the more bench strength you have, the more you’re able to absorb the added workload and extra demands,” Richard Childress Racing President Torrey Galida told NBC’s Jerry Bonkowski. “The teams that will really take it on the chin are the small teams. They only have a few people in the shop when they leave for the racetrack.”

5. What if …

With no qualifying for the upcoming races — except for the Coca-Cola 600 — NASCAR’s Steve O’Donnell was asked how the field will be set.

He said the first race back for Cup, Xfinity and Trucks likely would be based on car owner points but after that?

He stated various ideas were being examined including setting a starting lineup based on the finishing order of the previous race.

That’s similar to how NASCAR will align the field for the second race during the Pocono doubleheader weekend in June. The starting lineup for the weekend’s second race will be an inversion of how all the lead-lap cars finished in the weekend’s first race.

A new concept catching on? Hmmm.

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Questions and answers about NASCAR’s planned return to racing

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After announcing that NASCAR plans to resume May 17 at Darlington Raceway and look at running Cup, Xfinity and Truck races there and at Charlotte Motor Speedway through May 27, NASCAR officials held a teleconference with reporters to answer questions.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, and John Bobo, NASCAR vice president of racing operations, met with reporters.

Here is what was said:

Q: Will fans be allowed at the races for May 17-27 at Darlington and Charlotte?

A: No. O’Donnell said: “We want to conduct events with fans any chance we can get. But until we believe that it’s a safe environment, and we can work with the local and state communities to make that happen, we’re going to wait until we get that okay.”

Q: NASCAR only announced races for May 17-27. What about afterward for Cup?

A: O’Donnell said the goal is to have the first seven races at tracks within driving distance of the race shops in the Charlotte, North Carolina region. With Darlington and Charlotte each hosting two races, that could allow NASCAR to run a race each at Bristol, Martinsville and Atlanta before venturing further out where teams would need to take a plane and stay in hotels instead of driving to an event and back home afterward.

Q: Will some tracks lose races?

A: Yes. O’Donnell said three Cup races likely will be realigned and “a few more” would take place in the Xfinity and Gander RV & Outdoors Series. He did not reveal the races but said an announcement is expected before the May 17 Darlington race what races will be moved. Darlington has stated that the Southern 500 remains scheduled for Sept. 6, so the two Darlington races in May would replace two Cup events.

Q: Will there be more doubleheaders in Cup?

A: Possibly. O’Donnell said that it was NASCAR’s intent that the Pocono doubleheader June 27-28 remains the first doubleheader but he suggested there could be one or two other doubleheaders. In a filing with the SEC on Thursday, Dover Motorsports stated that it is “possible that our May NASCAR Cup Series event will be moved to August and that we hold a double header with back to back NASCAR Cup Series events held on Saturday and Sunday.”

Q: Will the playoff races remain the same?

A: Yes at this time.

Q: Will there be practice and qualifying for any of the races scheduled in May?

A: There will be no practice for any of the events scheduled from May 17-27. Only the May 24 Coca-Cola 600 will have qualifying.

Q: Will there be live pit stops in these races scheduled in May?

A: Yes. O’Donnell said: “It was important for us to be able to showcase a race as close to what normally takes place as possible.”

Q: With no qualifying at Darlington, how will the starting lineup be set?

A: O’Donnell said NASCAR is not ready to announce that but did say a “good assumption” would be that the first race for each series would be set by car owner points. That would put Kevin Harvick on the pole at Darlington for the May 17 event. O’Donnell did say: “We realize that as you go through events (setting the lineup by car owner points) is not the best way to do things, so there is some discussion going on now with the race teams and the drivers about as you get to race two and three, are there some things you can do to mix it up a little bit around pit selection or possibly for race two, start that lineup based on how you finished in race one. More to come. We just went to flush out a few more things with the teams and make sure we’ve the fairest possible lineups.

Q: Will there be a Victory Lane?

A: Said O’Donnell: “We have thought about it. The drivers have asked us about this, too. Our goal is to certainly have a celebration on or around the start/finish line. In an ideal world we would like have to have Victory Lane. Not sure of all the logistics of how we pull that off. We certainly want to try and have a trophy, at least that celebration with the driver.”

Q: How many crew members will be allowed at Darlington for the Cup race?

A: 16. That will include driver, team owner, spotter, crew chief, pit crew and team members. Xfinity and  Truck teams will have fewer team members.

Q: What will be the screening process?

A: NASCAR vice president of racing operations John Bobo said: “We’re asking teams and all of our participants, organizations, to self‑monitor people for five days for symptoms before they arrive.  We’re asking them to fill out a questionnaire and initial screening for temperature. Concerns after that, they will go into secondary screening with medical personnel, which will include heart rate, pulse oxygenation. Medical personnel will make decisions at that point. … Temperatures will be taken randomly throughout the event of people as needed.  Symptomatic patients will be processed and removed from the event and given medical attention if needed.”

Q: What if a driver fails the screening process?

A: They would be replaced. Said O’Donnell: “We hope we don’t have to do this, but we will allow a replacement person for a team member or for a driver. The parameters will be set up in place with the screening prior to the race, especially for Darlington.

Q: What if a driver does not pass the health screening and is replaced. Will the driver who was to have started get points?

A: No. O’Donnell said the current rule remains at this point — the driver in the car at the start of the race gets the points. O’Donnell noted that the rule could be amended, depending on the circumstances.

Q: What if a crew member or driver tests positive in the days following a race?

A: Bobo said: “In that instance we would look at every person that driver interacted with directly and those folks would have to self-isolate and then we would obviously make sure the driver gets the car he needs. … We will be following up with each participant and we’ve asked each organization do that as well for 14 days for symptoms for anybody that has attended an event.”

Q: Will crew members at the track be allowed to work in the race shop between events.

A: Bobo said: “We’ve recommended to the teams that the people at the events not come back into the race shop.”

NASCAR won’t change overtime rules after Ryan Newman crash

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Changes won’t be made to overtime rules following Ryan Newman‘s violent crash in an overtime finish of the Daytona 500, a NASCAR executive said Saturday.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, spoke Saturday about NASCAR’s response to Newman’s crash in the immediate seconds after the car came to rest and in the days since with its investigation.

O’Donnell also said he’d “stand by” NASCAR’s caution procedures in the wake of the crash.

O’Donnell appeared with John Bobo, NASCAR vice president of racing operations, whose duties include overseeing the sanctioning body’s medical policies and procedures, and John Patalak, NASCAR senior director of safety engineers, who oversees safety functions and NASCAR’s R&D Center.

O’Donnell provided no information on Newman’s medical status, citing HIPAA laws. It was stated that Newman’s medical team will have to clear Newman to return to racing. NASCAR also will have to clear him. After Newman was released from the hospital Wednesday, Roush Fenway Racing said there was no timetable for his return.

During the news conference, O’Donnell outlined the response by safety and medical crews to Newman’s crash:

  • The safety truck arrived on the scene 19 seconds after Newman’s car came to rest.
  • One of the three trauma doctors arrived 33 seconds after Newman’s car came to rest.
  • A paramedic entered Newman’s car two seconds later.
  • For the next 3 1/2 minutes, two doctors and a paramedic attended to Newman.
  • The decision was made to roll Newman’s car over while continuing to aid the driver 4 minutes, 5 seconds after the car came to rest.
  • The car was rolled over and the extrication team began cutting the roof as a doctor continued to provide treatment to Newman 6:56 after car came to rest.
  • The roof was removed from the car 11:10 after Newman’s car came to rest.
  • The extrication of Newman completed 15:40 after the car came to rest .
  • During the entire time doctors and paramedics were attending to Newman except when the car was rolled over.

NASCAR took the cars driven by Ryan Newman and Corey LaJoie to its R&D Center to continue the investigation.

“On Tuesday, that started with the laying out of the vehicles in a secure space, where we have all the components and associated elements that come from the cars on the race track as well as the driver’s safety equipment,” Patalak said. “Really starting from the outside of the vehicles, slowing working our way in and assessing each of the individual safety systems and how they’ve performed individually, as well as together as a complete assembly, then ultimately how the two cars interacted together during the crash.”

Patalak listed “many sources of data” NASCAR is using during the investigation:

  • The incident data recorder in each car.
  • Footage from the high-speed camera that is inside each Cup car and pointed at the driver to see what a driver goes through in a collision.
  • ECU data and available telemetry data from the cars.
  • Broadcast and non-broadcast video sources.

“We’re currently working on synchronizing all of those data sets together in time … to create full picture of what happened as the crash unfolded,” Patalak said. “We’re working together with Roush Fenway Racing as well as outside experts as we continue to investigate and look forward to being able to provide more information sometime soon.”

O’Donnell said one of the reasons details on the wreck weren’t provided Saturday was that NASCAR hasn’t “had the chance to go through this with Ryan and his team, with the other drivers in the garage, but Ryan’s feedback as we go through this will be key. I think that’ll be a key component as it’s always been throughout the process when he’s been racing.”

O’Donnell expressed surprise that “we haven’t heard a lot (from drivers) about blocking or different things that occurred during the race.”

With the crash having happened five days ago, O’Donnell said “Our job now is to have continued dialogue with the drivers, see what happens in terms of this race package. Where there any changes from Talladega to Daytona in terms of how they races? How that may have contributed or not to this incident and if we can make some changes we will.”

Roush Fenway Racing President Steve Newmark will speak to the media for the first time after the crash in a news conference scheduled for 12:45 p.m. ET on Sunday.

Newman was released from the hospital Wednesday, less then 42 hours after being injured in the Daytona 500.

Roush Fenway Racing announced the news in a release and via Twitter, posting a photo of Newman, clad in T-shirt and jeans, walking from Halifax Medical Center while holding the hands of his two daughters.

It was the second photo that the team had posted Wednesday; earlier reporting that Newman was walking around the hospital in good spirits and playing with his daughters.

Later that day, the team announced Ross Chastain would drive Newman’s car this weekend in Las Vegas while stating there was no timetable for Newman’s return.

More: Corey LaJoie texts with Ryan Newman, thanks fans for support

More Ryan Blaney talks to Ryan Newman, looks forward to seeing him at track

Krissie Newman also posted video of the family leaving the hospital.

 

Not long after his release, Newman met up with his friends Martin Truex Jr. and his girlfriend, Sherry Pollex, in the driver motorhome lot at Daytona International Speedway.

NASCAR announces leadership promotions

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NASCAR announced promotions Thursday for some of its officials.

Gene Stefanyshyn will lead NASCAR’s international efforts as Senior Vice President and Chief International Officer. John Probst has been promoted to Vice President, Innovation and Racing Development, a position formerly held by Stefanyshyn.

Also, John Bobo has been promoted to Vice President, Racing Operations. Scott Prime has been promoted to Vice President, Strategic Development.

Stefanyshyn takes over the role Jim Cassidy held for three months before leaving the organization. Cassidy had been promoted from his position of Vice President, Racing Operations, a position now filled by Bobo.

Stefanyshyn joined NASCAR in May 2013 and helped shaped NASCAR’s approach to competition. He will continue to report to Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer

“Gene’s experience leading our strategic work and industry collaboration on innovating and improving our competition product, along with his prior international working experience, make him an ideal fit for the next phase of our international efforts,” O’Donnell said in a statement. “We are excited about the future direction of our international racing portfolio and are looking forward to Gene’s leadership across this growing platform.”

Probst, who joined NASCAR in 2016 after two decades of industry experience, will be responsible for leading the sport’s efforts toward enhancing competition and integrating innovation and technology across the sport’s at-track operations. He will report to O’Donnell.

“John was instrumental in the development of our new inspection process, incorporating best in class technology and technology partners into one of our most important competition operations,” O’Donnell said in a statement. “Integrating new, relevant technology into our operations and innovating our racing product are strategic priorities for us and John is well suited to continue the important leadership of this area.”

Probst recently joined NBC Sports’ Nate Ryan on the NASCAR on NBC Podcast. Listen to Probst on the podcast via the embed below or on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or Google Play.

Bobo, who joined NASCAR in 2010, will oversee racing operations across all national, touring and weekly series, manage the American Medical Response relationship and manage the sport’s drug testing program. He previously served as a state prosecutor, chief drug and alcohol policy advisor to the U.S. Secretary of Transportation and later head of U.S. Department of Transportation’s Research and Innovative Technology Administration. He will report to O’Donnell.

“John brings leadership experience to our operations at the racetrack,” O’Donnell said. “His ability to develop smart, working solutions to difficult problems has set John apart – he’s a true professional that brings a steady hand in leading our racing operations.”

Prime, who joined NASCAR in 2015, will oversee key strategic initiatives and development of key new business platforms for the sport, as well as managing the council framework across NASCAR’s main stakeholders. Prime will report to Steve Phelps, NASCAR’s Chief Operating Officer.

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