Steve O’Donnell

Friday 5: Despite 2 wins in a row, Toyota boss has sharp words for teams

Leave a comment

Although Toyota has won four of 12 Cup races this season, including the past two, the president of Toyota Racing Development used the words “embarrassing,” “dog crap” and “unacceptable” in discussing a recent race, and performance this season.

A third of the way through the Cup season, Toyota has not shown the strength it did last year in winning 19 of 36 points races and the championship.

David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development said this week that the manufacture’s advantage has declined.

“It’s not that we’ve fallen behind as much as they’ve caught up, and there’s no question that that new Chevrolet Camaro and the nose that is on that car has elevated their program,” Wilson said. “The fact that they’re only sitting on two wins right now is shocking to me. I always look at not necessarily the wins, but the potential, what is the true potential of your race cars and that being a function of raw speed. You could argue that we’re punching above our weight right now and they’re not running at their full potential.”

MORE: Toyota executive keen on keeping young Cup drivers

Wilson said even with wins in the last two Cup races, that’s not satisfying because of the performance of the Toyota cars.

“Coming off two wins, I still think we’re on our back foot a little bit,” he said. “In many respects I feel much better about our loss at Atlanta than our win at Martinsville. … The reason I say that is because at Atlanta we had three cars in the top five, we led laps, we had a couple of cars that were good enough to win that race.

David Wilson. (Photo by Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)

“In Martinsville, we embarrassed ourselves. This is one of the most embarrassing races I can remember for the Toyota family. We weren’t ready for the new tire that Goodyear brought to the racetrack. There’s circumstances behind it, but I’m not going to make excuses for it. We weren’t prepared for it.

“Our engine drivability was terrible. On pit lane and restarts. We could have had our worst finish since 2007 had it not been for Martin (Truex Jr.) hanging on long enough to get the car balanced correctly for the tires and putting himself, ultimately, in a position to win the race.

“I was encouraged at what we saw at (last weekend) Homestead. Where we need to be better is our consistency of how we unload from the haulers across the camp. We’ve had too many guys that are just dog crap for the first stage and use that time to try and catch up. That’s unacceptable. We should be better with the tools that we have, with the experience that we have, we should be better.

“There’s definitely room for improvement. Having said all of that, within our camp, within the JGR camp, we’re still positive because we know that our potential is there to lead laps and win races if we execute consistently on pit lane, if we do a better job with our sim, we will be in a position to win more races.”

Toyota is aligned with Joe Gibbs Racing, Leavine Family Family and Gaunt Brothers Racing. The drivers for JGR and Leavine all have scored significantly fewer points in the first stage compared to the second stage, illustrating Wilson’s frustration with how the teams begin the race.

Erik Jones has scored 12.5% of all his stage points in the first stage. Reigning Cup champion Kyle Busch has scored 29.6% of all his stage points in the first stage. Martin Truex Jr. has scored 37.8% of all his stage points in the first stage. Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin has scored 41.6% of all his stage points in the first stage.

To compare, Chase Elliott, who has a series-best 141 stage points this season, has scored 51.8% of all his stage points in the first stage. Joey Logano, who is tied with Truex for second with 127 stage points, has scored 49.6% of all his stage points in the first stage.

Among manufacturers, Fords have won six of the season’s first 12 races and Chevrolet has won twice this season.

Even if Toyota went on to win 12 Cup races this season, based on its current pace, it would be its fewest wins in a season since 2014. Toyota has averaged 15.6 Cup wins a season since 2015.

2. Looking ahead to 2021

With the Next Gen car’s debut pushed back to 2022, the sport will have an additional year with the current rules. That also means an additional year with a similar workforce. With the move to the Next Gen car, teams are expected to reduce their workforce because of limits on the cars.

Now, teams will keep a similar workforce through next year while finding sponsorship at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has severely impacted the economy.

David Wilson, president of the Toyota Racing Development, said next year will be among the key points discussed in a meeting among the manufacturers with NASCAR next week.

“Part of the agenda is going to be looking at ’21 and how do we as an industry help our teams bridge one more year that wasn’t in the plan,” Wilson said. “We already have enough teams in trouble and on the brink. The focus needs to be not selfishly on us as individual (manufacturers) but on the industry as a whole.”

3. Talladega changes

Rule changes for Sunday’s Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway will lead to slower speeds as NASCAR looks to reduce the chance of a crash similar to what Ryan Newman experienced at the end of the Daytona 500.

Among the changes is a reduction in the throttle body from 59/64” to  57/64” that is expected to reduce horsepower by 35-40. That would put teams around 510-515 horsepower this weekend.

NASCAR also has eliminated the aero ducts to help reduce the likelihood of tandem drafting.

One change not made was to the spoiler. John Probst, NASCAR senior vice president of innovation and racing development, explained why such a change wasn’t made.

“Certainly spoiler changes were looked at,” Probst told reporters this week. “… The items that were under consideration were largely centered around slowing (cars) down, which would usually mean a bigger spoiler.

The spoiler that we have on there now is as tall as we can get them without putting significant bending … on the deck lid to the point at which we’d be worried structurally. From that standpoint, getting larger wasn’t really a good option. The more direct knob for us to turn to slow the cars down is directly to the horsepower.”

Another change is the addition of slip tape to the rear bumper. The contact from Ryan Blaney‘s car to the rear of Newman’s car triggered Newman’s crash.

“We’re trying to make the rear bumper of the car being hit like ice, where they slide across, don’t contact and start influencing the car in front laterally, left to right, if you will,” Probst said.

4. COVID-19 protocols

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, was asked this week if the sport has had anyone test positive for the coronavirus and about the status of protocols NASCAR has in place for each race weekend.

“Everything has been going, actually, remarkably smooth, in terms of the protocols that have been set in place,” O’Donnell said. “We’ve certainly had some folks who may have presented some symptoms that we’ve turned away early. That’s up to them to disclose if there were any issues in terms of did someone have COVID or not, but I would say (the protocols have) worked 100% according to plan.

“We’ve not had challenges during an event where anything has come up where we’ve had to react during the hours that the garage was open. It’s been if there were any issues prior to someone entering the facility, which have been very minimal.

“We expect there will be some challenges. We need to continue to do our due diligence. We need to continue to wear our masks. We need to continue to follow the protocols.”

5. Leader of the pack

Team Penske has won seven of the last 11 Cup races at Talladega Superspeedway, a 63.6% winning percentage.

Brad Keselowski has won four times during that stretch. Joey Logano has three wins during that time, and Ryan Blaney won last year’s playoff race. 

The races not won by a Team Penske driver during that stretch were won by Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Aric Almirola and Chase Elliott.

 and on Facebook

Corey LaJoie: Denny Hamlin feud ‘escalated to a point it shouldn’t have’

1 Comment

Corey LaJoie issued an apology to Denny Hamlin regarding recent statements made during their Twitter feud and said “what started as a me standing up for myself escalated to a point it shouldn’t have reached.”

LaJoie’s statement was posted on social media and came the day after the driver said on his podcast that Hamlin texted him and Go Fas Racing officials last week threatening to wreck LaJoie’s No. 32 Ford. Hamlin denied LaJoie’s claim.

LaJoie said while “there have been no lies spoken … some things are better left unsaid.”

He said “I apologize for some of the things I’ve said towards Denny that were fueled by emotion and continue to recognize his exceptional ability to wheel a race car.”

 

In the newest episode of his Motor Racing Network podcast, “Sunday Money,” LaJoie detailed the timeline of his feud with Hamlin, which largely played out on social media before it escalated last week.

LaJoie’s recounting began during NASCAR’s shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic when Cup drivers competed in the Pro Invitational iRacing Series.

“(Hamlin) subtweets on my stuff, ‘We’ve been hearing about how much your cars suck, now’s your time to prove it on iRacing.’ I finished second at Talladega. I don’t like iRacing, but I jump on and do it just strictly because he called me out. Finished second. I respond to that tweet, pull it back up with the eyes little emoji. He says, ‘Well, Talladega is not really the real thing. Do a race where it really matters.’ Go to Dover, qualify fifth, messed up everybody’s Draft Kings lineup because I wanted to show him I’m capable of qualifying good. Started in the back because of the invert, wrecked.

“Go to North Wilkesboro. … Was going to finish in the top three there, my brake pedal broke. So that’s the end of the iRacing saga. No more Dennis Hamlin (LaJoie’s nickname for Hamlin) anywhere to be found. Race at Atlanta (on June 7). Drive around, finish 27th all day. I post my loop heart rate data and it’s fairly high … He subtweets on it, ‘this is why we couldn’t count on you in the fourth quarter,’ talking about his basketball league, with his heart rate, which was super not consistent … but it was lower than mine. So he’s making a joke about my competitive nature as well as my fitness level.”

“So then I say, ‘Hey, can we trade cars?'” LaJoie continued. “He assumed I’m just (expletive) on his driving abilities every time I respond to him. Goes back and forth and says I’m a (expletive) driver more or less and it dies. We go to Martinsville, which is a driver’s race track. The 32 car finishes (18th) six positions in front of (Hamlin). Now the floodgates open, right? Because all of a sudden three days ago Denny was talking about how the driver makes the difference, it’s not the car. We go to a track where the drivers make a difference and I finish in front of him, when his teammate (Martin Truex Jr.) wins the race. …

“We don’t even go back and forth (on Twitter). I did some passive aggressive stuff, right? Kermit the Frog drinking the tea and the fans are just piling it on, ‘Denny, you suck,’ this, that and the other, which I never said any of this. Not once. Turned around and I acknowledged, I only had three days left to live this up. We’re going to go to Homestead and I’m going to get my (expletive) kicked in. I already knew it, called it Wednesday night. …

“The only personal thing I’ve said to him in this whole ordeal was the one thing about ‘Yeah, he’s probably going to win at Homestead because there’s no pressure on the line.’ Probably a (expletive) thing to say, but look what happened, he ended up winning. … He texts me on Friday night, ‘Congrats on getting your car crashed.’ Talking about how he’s going to wreck me on Sunday. … It’s premeditated threat, right? … He proceeded, this is at like 11:30 at night, proceeded to text my car owner (Archie St. Hilaire), Mason (St. Hilaire), the general manager, as well as my crew chief (Ryan Sparks), and says ‘Congrats on getting your stuff crashed, your driver’s going to learn a hard lesson.’

“So my owner is like, ‘Hey, this is not how this is going to work, because this is a $300,000 race car, for something that was just a Twitter beef that he started.’ Sends the stuff to (NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer Steve) O’Donnell. O’Donnell is like, ‘Ok, if you’re going to wreck a guy don’t just pre-meditate it because we already suspended Matt Kenseth for two races (in 2015) for wrecking Joey Logano on purpose. Now something’s actually premeditated, so we’re going to have to hit it even harder, right? So do what you got to do.’

“So this thing’s gone from just a little Twitter beef to an actual, he’s like threatening me. Now my owner will be mad at me if (Hamlin) wrecks me, because at the end of the day I’m the one driving it. It’s his money getting burned up. … Jay Fabian, series director, texts us a pit location (to meet him at on Sunday). … It’s 2 o’clock. I’m there, it’s 10 minutes early. He gets there about 2:08, a little late. We go over to a motorhome and we sit down. There was some ‘F you’s’ back and forth, pretty tense at the beginning. … He just felt I was attacking his driving ability the whole time. … If I didn’t remind him seven times that he started this and kept subtweeting on my stuff, I didn’t do it once. He went from, ‘It wasn’t about you, you keep making it about your equipment.’ I said, ‘Dennis, you literally said you, the word y-o-u, nine times in the first six tweets to me, so of course it’s about me.’

“‘Don’t say it’s not about me. Don’t say that it’s about you having established the difference between an elite driver and another driver. That’s never what it was about. Then he wanted to kind of backtrack and say ‘It was only because I liked you was why I was messing with you, I don’t mess with guys I don’t like.’

“I was like, ‘You don’t say the (expletive) that you did, nor text everybody in my team that you were going to crash me if you like me.’ At the end of the day, they told him if you’re going to premeditate your decision on crashing this guy, we don’t have any choice, because we already have the evidence that you’re going to do it.’ He kind of softened his stance on that. We spoke through it like men, I told him what I was taking offense to and there was some things he took offense to, that weren’t even contextually accurate because if he goes back and reads what I said, I never made any sort of jabs at his ability, nor his character. He just assumed that I did. He thinks everything’s about him. I defused it enough to where he didn’t just completely trash my (expletive) on Sunday afternoon and he ended up winning the race.”

Hamlin refuted LaJoie’s story on Twitter Wednesday evening.

Hamlin was asked about his feud with LaJoie during his press conference on Sunday.

“I understand his stance and he understands mine,” Hamlin said. “Mine was to win the races I’ve won, I didn’t have the best car every time. I still have to go out and beat probably some of the best drivers in history that drive for Joe Gibbs Racing and Stewart‑Haas and Penske.

“No one gave me anything. My parents had nothing, like nothing nothing. I got here the old‑fashioned way. Any time you feel like anyone says, ‘Hey, if I had what you had, I could do that,’ it’s offensive. It’s a little offensive because you know personally how hard you worked to get there.

“I took offense to it. He took offense to the things that I said. I understand it was a miss ‑‑ just kind of two guys that were talking about some sensitive subjects. I think we’re okay now.”

NASCAR All-Star Race moves to Bristol this year, will host up to 30,000 fans

4 Comments

The July 15 NASCAR All-Star Race will move to Bristol Motor Speedway, marking only the second time in the event’s history it will be held away from Charlotte Motor Speedway, Marcus Smith announced on FS1 Race Hub.

Motorsport.com. first reported the change.

Speedway Motorsports owns both Bristol Motor Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway. 

Smith, Speedway Motorsports President and CEO, said up to 30,000 fans will be permitted to attend the event. Jerry Caldwell, general manager of Bristol Motor Speedway said the facility can hold 155,000. The crowd allowed would be less than 20% capacity. Tickets are on sale now.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Monday morning that having races with fans is important. NASCAR has announced its revised schedule through Aug. 2.

“As you see some areas open up, I think we start to concentrate on where could we have fans back,” he said about the rest of this year’s schedule. “Obviously, we want to keep the integrity of the championship in place and race at as many facilities as possible that were on the original schedule, but if we have the opportunity to make one or two additional adjustments where we could get fans back, obviously that is important for the sport.

“We want fans to be at the racetrack. We want new fans to be at the track. It’s also important … to our race teams. They’re involved in the sport, to bring their sponsors out and entertain customers. So if we can open some of those opportunities here toward the tail end of the season, we’re going to do that. Probably one or two adjustments to make.”

The Coca-Cola 600 was held in May at Charlotte Motor Speedway without fans, but North Carolina continues to see an increase in COVID-19 cases.

“Right now, they’re not trending in the right direction,” N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper said of the COVID-19 statistics on Monday.

Tennessee has allowed fans at large attractions, including racetracks, since May 22. The announcement was made too late for Bristol to have any fans for its May 31 Cup race. Moving the event could allow the track to have fans. 

“We are proud to welcome the return of live sports in Tennessee at the iconic Bristol Motor Speedway,” Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said in a statement. “The All-Star Race is a historic opportunity for our state and I look forward to seeing the World’s Fastest Half-Mile back in action.”

Last weekend’s Cup race at Homestead-Miami Speedway was allowed to have up to 1,000 military members and family members as guests, marking the first time since NASCAR resumed last month that there were fans in the stands. Up to 5,000 fans will be allowed to purchase tickets for Sunday’s Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway.

Cup races at Pocono Raceway (June 27-28), Indianapolis Motor Speedway (July 5) and Kentucky Speedway (July 12) will be held without fans, those tracks have announced. That would make the All-Star Race, scheduled for July 15, the next event after Talladega to have fans with a move to Bristol.

Drivers currently eligible include: Ryan Blaney, Alex Bowman, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliot, Justin Haley, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Erik Jones, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Ryan Newman and Martin Truex Jr.

The final four spots in the All-Star Race field will go to the two stage winners, race winner from the All-Star Open and the All-Star Fan Vote.

Voting for the All-Star Fan Vote is open at www.nascar.com/fanvote and the NASCAR mobile app. Fans may vote for one eligible NASCAR driver per ballot submission and submit one ballot per day per unique email address. Voting closes at 12 p.m. ET on July 14.

The All-Star Race debuted in 1985 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, moved to Atlanta Motor Speedway in 1986 and returned to Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1987. It has been held every year since at Charlotte.

This year’s race was postponed by the COVID-19 pandemic and rescheduled for July 15.

Friday 5: Work remains for NASCAR after extraordinary week

2 Comments

When NASCAR President Steve Phelps spoke about racial injustice last weekend, as cars sat silent at Atlanta Motor Speedway, and pledged that “our sport must do better,” he set NASCAR on a path toward seismic changes.

Giving competitors the ability to peacefully protest during the national anthem and banning the Confederate flag shattered iron-clad beliefs of some fans but proved a welcome sign to many others that NASCAR was ready to listen to them.

Drivers delivered that message in a video they posted last weekend, condemning racial inequality and racism.

“The process begins with us listening and learning because understanding the problem is the first step in fixing it,” drivers said in the video. “We are committed to listening with empathy and with an open heart to better educate ourselves. We will use this education to advocate for change in our nation, our communities and most importantly in our own homes. Even after the headlines go away.”

It’s a promise drivers must keep.

Bubba Wallace has taken the leadership role thrust upon him as the lone full-time Black driver in NASCAR’s national ranks.

“I’m really proud of what he’s doing, the effort he’s putting in, in wanting to kind of lead the charge,” Ryan Blaney said of his close friend. “I stand behind him. A lot of guys stand behind him in NASCAR, not only the drivers, but a lot of teams, as well, crew members.”

While NASCAR officials were discussing various changes to make, it was Wallace who went on CNN, saying of the Confederate flag: “Get them out of here.” Two days later, NASCAR did so.

It was really cool to see what Bubba was able to do,” Joey Logano said. “He should be proud of the movement he’s made for the African-American community in our sport. He always has just by being here, but when you look at the comments he made on CNN the other day and then NASCAR completely answered it. Kudos to NASCAR. Kudos to Bubba for bringing it up and using his platform for something good.”

The youngest daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. was among many who applauded NASCAR on social media for prohibiting the display of the Confederate flag at all its events and properties.

“We want change, it starts with us,” Wallace said Thursday on the “Today” show. “We have to start basically from the roots and go from (the) ground up and really implement what we’re trying to say in our message.”

While now is a time to listen, there will be a time where more action is needed.

“There’s a lot of different ways you can go about this,” said Tyler Reddick, who was among the first Cup drivers to publicly support Black Lives Matter. “Just trying to make NASCAR a more friendly environment for all fans. The step that we made this week with the Confederate flag is one of those steps. I’m sure there are many others that they’re working on.

“Some of the drivers have talked about ideas and other things, and I don’t want to spoil their ideas, but just continuing to not lose sight of it. As they say, when the headlines finally clear and it goes back to a sense of normalcy, if you will, it’s just important to remain adamant that we need to go out there in our communities or we need to go vote and get the right people that we feel that are going to make those changes that we’ve been crying out for the last couple of weeks. … Stay diligent, and not lose sight of what’s important here.”

2. Enforcing Confederate flag ban

Shortly after NASCAR announced that the display of the Confederate flag would be prohibited at all its events and facilities, questions began to be raised about how that could be enforced.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, discussed that matter Thursday on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

“That will certainly be a challenge,” O’Donnell said of enforcing the ban. “We’ll try to do that the right way. We’ll get ahead of it as we are today in letting people know that, ‘Hey, we’re all about pride, we’re all about America, fly your U.S. flag high, fly your driver’s flags high and come on into the track.’ But if we see something displayed at the track we’re going to have react and we will. More details to come but I’m confident we’ll do that and we’ll do that in a smart way.”

Chuck Rosenberg, an NBC legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, notes that those who think they are protected by First Amendment rights at a NASCAR track or event would be wrong.

“NASCAR facilities are private property and so First Amendment protections do not apply,” he said. “NASCAR has the right to make the rules regarding how people must behave inside their facilities. It will be important for NASCAR to issue clear and thoughtful guidance so fans can comply.”

The first race with fans in the stands is Sunday’s Cup race at Miami. That will have up to 1,000 military guest and family members. The June 21 Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway will have to up 5,000 fans. There will be no fans for Cup races at Pocono Raceway (June 27-28), Indianapolis Motor Speedway (July 5), Kentucky Speedway (July 12).

3. Grueling week

Sunday’s Cup race at Homestead-Miami Speedway marks the third Cup race in a week. While this isn’t the first time this season that the Cup series has had as many races within seven days, Brad Keselowski says of this stretch: “I don’t know if there’s ever been a more grueling stretch in Cup racing.”

Consider:

Last Sunday, Cup ran 500 miles at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The high was 84 degrees. Drivers spent much of the day fighting their cars as tires wore on the old pavement.

“Atlanta was a grueling race, very humid, 500 miles,” Keselowski said.

Wednesday night, Cup ran 500 laps at Martinsville Speedway. The high was 87 degrees during the day. While it cooled some at night, drivers noted how hot it was.

“I think a lot of guys, including myself a little bit, thought a night race at Martinsville wasn’t going to be hot,” Tyler Reddick said. “It was one of the hottest races that I’ve done in a very long time.”

Sunday, Cup drivers are set to run 400 miles at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The forecast calls for a high of 86 degrees.

“Honestly, Miami will probably be the hottest one we go to, most humid,” Blaney said.

While there is something to not having practice or qualifying for drivers and teams, that lack of track time can impact drivers during such a stretch.

“One thing about the practices – yes, it’s time on track, but it gives your body a little hint and a look into what you’re going to be experiencing for 500 miles or 500 laps, whatever it may be at the track that we go to,” Reddick said. “So, if you’re having any issues with the car, issues with your back, arms hurting after a 40- or 50-lap run or something in particular that’s bothering you from the week before, you have no insight to that going into the race and you’re going to have to fight it all race long.”

As for the challenge of this week, Keselowski said: “It’s the same for everybody. We all got to toughen up. I think it’s a great test of will, a great test of the drivers. I think it’s what makes these few weeks so compelling not just as a participant but as a fan myself.”

4. Streakin’

A few streaks to keep in mind this weekend for the Cup Series.

Kevin Harvick has had 12 consecutive top-10 finishes in Miami.

Jimmie Johnson enters this weekend having finished in the top 10 in each of the last three races. Since he won his seventh Cup title in 2016, this is only the second time he’s had three consecutive top-10 finishes.

In Martin Truex Jr.‘s last three Miami starts, he has one win and two runner-up finishes, leading a total of 201 laps.

No rookie has finished in the top 10 at Miami since David Ragan placed 10th in the 2007 race. Rookie Tyler Reddick won his last two Xfinity starts there and finished runner-up in a Truck race there.

5. Coming Tuesday

NASCAR Hall of Fame voters selected the 2021 Class on Tuesday. The votes have been tabulated and will be announced at 5 p.m. ET Tuesday (June 16) on NASCAR America. Among those eligible for the Class of 2021 are Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Burton, Carl Edwards, Ricky Rudd, Neil Bonnett and Harry Gant in the Modern Era category.

NASCAR official: Sport ‘in a better place’ with Confederate flag ban

24 Comments

After NASCAR announced Wednesday that it was prohibiting the Confederate flag at all its events and properties, some fans stated on social media that they would no longer purchase tickets or watch the sport.

Asked how he would respond to those feeling that way, Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Thursday:

“I say I feel sorry for them,” he said. “I’m sad, but for us long-term we’ll be in a better place and the amount of people that are talking about NASCAR, that are now interested in NASCAR, that now feel like it’s a potentially safe place to actually go and watch a race, which I can’t imagine someone would feel it wasn’t in the past but that was true, and to be able to open our sport to all, I’ll take that all day long.

“I’ll defend that all day long and any message that I get on social media I’m happy to defend and think we’re making the right move today. It’s not an easy move but long-term it’s the right move for the sport and it’s the right move, I believe, for the country.”

Sunday’s Cup race at Homestead-Miami Speedway will be the first series event with fans in the stands since racing resumed following the COVID-19 hiatus. Up to 1,000 South Florida military service members will be invited to watch the race. The June 21 Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway will have up to 5,000 fans in attendance.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer. (Photo: Getty Images)

Asked how NASCAR will enforce the Confederate flag ban, O’Donnell told “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio:

“That will certainly be a challenge. We’ll try to do that the right way. We’ll get ahead of it as we are today in letting people know that, ‘Hey, we’re all about pride, we’re all about America, fly your U.S. flag high, fly your driver’s flags high and come on into the track.’ But if we see something displayed at the track we’re going to have react and we will. More details to come but I’m confident we’ll do that and we’ll do that in a smart way.”

O’Donnell also discussed the decision to prohibit the Confederate flag.

Asked when the discussions first began, O’Donnell said:

“I think it actually has been for a while when you look at the initiatives we’ve had internally to really and try to promote diversity within our sport and do what we can. Really over the past year, I think you look internally for us, speaking to our diverse employees, trying to be more diverse as a sanctioning body, as an industry and candidly doing a lot of listening.

“What you hear is just a divisiveness regarding the flag was one of the biggest issues. I understand how some people may want to fly the flag and feel as though that it is their right, but the impact that has, the negative impact that (it) has had not only on potential fans but even on our own employees, and to hear the emotion from them especially over the last couple of weeks on what that has meant to them, how they have to defend it to their friends who want to be NASCAR fans and can’t be candidly because of that.

“It just makes you sad and you talk to co-workers who are friends of yours and you want to do the right thing. I think it was just a tipping point internally that a lot of us said enough and let’s do what we all believe is right. Why wouldn’t we want the sport open to as many people as possible? We all love it and let’s expose it to everyone and have everyone be a fan.”