Steve Phelps

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Friday 5: iRacing gives Cup rookie feel of the real thing and more

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Strapping into a Cup car to begin a race? No problem for rookie Christopher Bell.

But competing in an iRacing event in the comfort of his home?

Well …

“For whatever reason, I get more nervous whenever I’m racing on my computer than I do in real life,” Bell told NBC Sports. “I’ll be up there sweating and death gripping the steering wheel. … Whenever you get into a real race car it’s more off of reactions and instincts. You’re just kind of along for the ride.

“But, man, for whatever reason, basically everybody I’ve talked to said the same thing. You get more nervous on the computer than you do in real life.”

Understand that Bell has been racing on a computer for a decade or so. He also helped develop iRacing’s sprint car and dirt track racing, which debuted in 2017.

Bell’s nerves will return Sunday for the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series, which debuts at 1:30 p.m. ET. on FS1 and feature drivers from the Cup, Xfinity and Truck Series racing at a virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The multi-week Pro Invitational Series will feature Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, Kyle Larson and Bell, among others.

“I’m just excited to see who all is going to participate in it,” Bell said. “It’s really cool to see how far this deal has come. It’s going to be a lot of fun to have something to race on Sunday.”

iRacing has become a haven for competitors and fans with NASCAR racing postponed through the May 3 Cup event at Dover International Speedway because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bell also is working on his World of Outlaws sprint car in his free time. He partnered with Chad Boat last year on a sprint car team and won in October at Tri-State Speedway in Haubstadt, Indiana. There’s plenty of work to do on the car.

“We had it stripped from last year,” Bell said. “Our first race wasn’t scheduled until April 16 I think. Now that everyone has got a little bit of time off, we’re just trying to get it ready. If there are some races in the foreseeable future, we’ll go do them.”

Bell admits this break seems like another offseason but the difference is that he raced this past offseason in New Zealand and the Chili Bowl.

“It’s very strange not having anything to go race,” he said. “That’s a really big advantage of having iRacing right now and being active in it. You’re able to, obviously not feel the race car itself, but you are getting every other cue, all the visuals, all the reaction time. It’s real racing and it’s a lot of fun, too.”

2. A plan to help others

The coronavirus has put nursing homes and assisted living centers throughout the country on a virtual lockdown, preventing residents from having visitors because older adults are at a higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

As Jon Wood, senior vice president of Wood Brothers Racing, talked this week to his mother, who oversees marketing for a pair of assisted living centers in Stuart, Virginia, the question arose of what could be done for those residents.

Wood recalled watching the MSNBC show “Lockup” that goes behind the scenes at prisons. He remembered seeing how video conferencing took place between visitors and inmates to keep them separate. Wood thought the same concept could be done at assisted living centers and nursing homes to protect older adults.

Then it became a matter of purchasing enough tablets that could be used for the video conferencing. Wood Brothers Racing donated $1,500 and Wood put out a request on social media for $10 donations through the team’s website. Donations were done through the team’s store so Wood could have the address information for each donor to send thank you notes signed by Matt DiBenedetto.

Wood set a modest goal of a few hundred dollars in donations and has been overwhelmed at the response.

As of Thursday afternoon, Wood said $31,000 in donations had been made, allowing him to purchase about 200 tablets for nursing homes and assisted living centers.

“Every little $10 donation has added up and it’s crazy how it has exploded,” Wood told NBC Sports.

Wood was at a nursing home Thursday in Stuart as a person outside the building used one of the tablets to speak to a resident inside, who was communicating on another tablet.

“I’ll be honest,” Wood said, “the whole time I was nervous, hoping it would work.”

It did.

Now he’s getting requests from other retirement homes and assisted living centers for tablets to help their residents connect to family and friends.

Wood’s work isn’t done. Donations can continue to be made on the team’s website. For every $150, another tablet will be purchased.

“There’s no reason to stop,” Wood said. “I’ve got plenty of thank you notes.”

3. Challenges ahead

NASCAR President Steve Phelps’ comment this week that the sanctioning body intends to run all the Cup races this season and wants to reschedule the postponed races before the playoffs, has some crew chiefs pondering what things could be like this summer.

Providing NASCAR returns May 9 at Martinsville, that would leave 17 weekends to run 22 races and the All-Star Race. There are only two off weekends during that stretch (July 26 and August 2).

To run all those races before the playoffs means that NASCAR will have to do some creative scheduling, whether that is additional doubleheader weekends and/or mid-week races.

What seems certain is an increased workload on teams, particularly crew members who are traveling to each race.

Alan Gustafson, crew chief for Chase Elliott at Hendrick Motorsports, said he’s already pondered such scenarios.

“We’ve looked at all that and that’s going to be a huge logistical challenge,” Gustafson told NBC Sports. “I don’t know what the schedule is going to be but it’s certainly going to be difficult. The first thing that kind of comes to my mind is that the road crew is basically going to be removed from assisting any preparation in the shop, especially if you are racing on Wednesdays or you are racing two races in a row or you’re going to be traveling for an extended period of time.

“They’re not going to be able to assist in the production of the cars. It’s all going to fall back on the shop and it’s going to be extremely important for those guys to be able to carry that load, which our shop has done a fabulous job this year. Logistically, it’s going to be very, very difficult. It’s going to be tough to manage that.”

For as challenging as it could be for an organization such as Hendrick Motorsports, the task will be even greater for a smaller team such as Go Fas Racing, which has about 20 employees.

Ryan Sparks, crew chief for Corey LaJoie and the No. 32 team said his team could face challenges if NASCAR does run all the postponed races before the playoffs. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

“Even working ahead and being prepared, I see a lot of sleepless nights in the near future,” said Ryan Sparks, crew chief for Corey LaJoie at Go Fas Racing. “I live for it man. I could give up sleep to go racing. I’m all good for it.”

Even more responsibility will be on LaJoie to do all he can to avoid an accident. Repairing cars will only add to the team’s workload during that time.

“The biggest thing that will help us is coming out of the race weekends clean,” Sparks told NBC Sports. “Not making any mistakes on the race track and tearing up a car where we can turn it around quickly and go to the next track if needed.”

Sparks said employees are working in the shop while keeping a safe distance to prepare cars for the coming races and for what could be a busy summer of racing.

“Being small and still being able to come to work and work ahead and be prepared is key in this moment,” he said. “If they just sprung it upon us at the last minute, we would really struggle.”

Sparks said while bigger teams will put new bodies on cars to run at other tracks, that isn’t always an option for his team. 

“That’s not going to take us to the next level,” he said of all that extra work with a small crew. “It’s just going to put us further behind. As long as we have a good, solid intermediate product, that’s what we’re going to take to each intermediate track where the bigger teams have track-specific cars.”

4. Work still to do

Although some race shops are closed and NASCAR has banned testing not related to the development of the Next Gen car, there’s still work for teams.

Crew chief Alan Gustafson says he and his engineers are examining areas that can improve the performance of Chase Elliott’s cars.

Chase Elliott and crew chief Alan Gustafson are in their fifth Cup season working together. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

“The rules this year are much more stringent than they’ve been in the past, we’re having to certify a lot of the components,” Gustafson said, referring to NASCAR’s freeze on many new parts for this season with the Next Gen car set to debut next season. “There’s not just a whole lot of places to go and find performance. I expect things to be similar when it restarts, but I think that’s certainly just an educated guess on my part.”

If so, that will be a good sign for Elliott fans. Elliott won three stages in the first four races.

But that’s not stopping Gustafson and his engineers, who are working from home, from trying to find any area to make the cars better.

“It’s very much like the offseason to me,” Gustafson said of the break in racing until at least May. “You know what you feel like you need to improve and you’re trying to mine as much as you possibly can. Then at the same time you have to be a little bit careful and say, ‘Hey I can’t get too caught up in these things because I’m assuming this is better and I don’t want to go down this road and ultimately be worse.’ It is much like a research and development phrase and you’re trying to be prepared.”

One of the advantages of working at home during this pause in the sport is it allows Gustafson to continue healing from the mountain bike accident he suffered last month while in Fontana, California for the race at Auto Club Speedway. Gustafson suffered a torn AC joint in his right shoulder and a hairline fracture in his right clavicle.

“It’s been more convenient for me to stay off of it,” he said. “Right now, I’ve just been in the phase of basically not doing a whole lot of (physical therapy). It’s just basically rebuilding the ligaments.”

5. Long, strange ride

Daniel Suarez and his girlfriend made it to California on Thursday, driving across the country to retrieve a 1963 VW double cab bus he found online and purchased.

Suarez’s first car was a VW Beetle and that has fostered a lifelong love of the make and hunt for such cars to restore.

He recently found the 1963 VW double cab bus, which he said was in good condition, having had only two owners and having been parked since 1982.

Suarez told NBC Sports that he originally joked with his girlfriend about driving out to California to get the vehicle but when she said yes, the trip was on.

Much has changed since they hit the road. When they first left North Carolina, restaurants were still serving people inside. Now, they’re only open for take out or the drive-thru lane. That has meant many meals in his truck. Suarez also said seeing cities vacant has been stunning.

“I’ve been surprised in many different places how different it is,” Suarez said. “We made this decision because we knew we were going to be safe staying away from everyone and just being in the (truck) for many hours.

“We just spent the night in Las Vegas, it was one of the most crazy things I’ve seen in my life. The whole Las Vegas is empty. It’s almost like a movie. It’s very, very incredible. We walked into a hotel and the hotel casino was empty. We got lucky that we got a room. Last night was the last night they were actually offering rooms (with Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak closing all nonessential business for 30 days to stem the spread of COVID-19). It’s extremely, extremely strange. We’ve just been trying to take care of ourselves.”

While on the trip, Suarez and his girlfriend have had a chance to visit some sites, such as Monument Valley, which is located on the Arizona and Utah border, and Horseshoe Bend in Arizona.

“I’m a big outdoor person and Julia is the same way,” Suarez said. “We’ve been talking about a road trip for like a year but with the racing schedule it’s almost impossible to do something like this without being in a hurry.

“Fortunately for us, some of the places that we have visited like Monument Valley and Horseshoe Bend, they’ve been open but they’ve been almost empty, which has been good for us because we’ve never been in those places before and we’ve been able to explore those places.”

Suarez and his girlfriend begin their journey back to North Carolina towing his VW bus today.

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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.”

Transcript of NASCAR President Steve Phelps’ call with reporters

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NASCAR President Steve Phelps spoke with reporters for about 20 minutes Tuesday, the first time he’s spoken to reporters since last weekend’s races at Atlanta Motor Speedway were postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. All NASCAR races are postponed through the the May 3 Cup race at Dover International Speedway. No makeup dates have been announced.

Here is a transcript of the Tuesday’s teleconference:

              THE MODERATOR:  Welcome, everyone, to today’s media teleconference here with NASCAR president Steve Phelps.  We appreciate you all making the time.  We also realize that you have a number of questions for Steve here today.  We’re going to try to get through as many questions as we have for this teleconference.  We’re planning to set aside 20 minutes, a lot of activity going on here as you might imagine.

With that said, I’ll turn it over to NASCAR’s president Steve Phelps.

STEVE PHELPS:  Thanks, guys.  Appreciate you joining us today.  I’ll just make a quick opening statement as I typically do, then open it up for questions.

I want to thank you for joining us today.  We know you have a number of questions, and we appreciate your patience as we work through what is an incredibly fluid process as I’m sure you can appreciate.

Hopefully we can answer a bunch of your questions, but understand there are many more that we simply do not have answers for at this time.  We’re navigating this process with the entire industry and look forward to providing further details when they are finalized.

We’re working through both the complexity of our sport and our many industry stakeholders as well as the complexity of this pandemic and its impact on our daily lives.

I would like to express my gratitude to you the media, our teams, our drivers, the racetracks and everyone in the industry for their incredible patience and cooperation over the past week.

These clearly are unprecedented times with information changing by the hour.  Collectively our industry has made several difficult decisions, all with one thought in mind:  the health and safety of our fans, our competitors, employees and everyone in the industry.

The situation we are facing transcends the world of sports.  What is most important now is we take precautions to keep everyone as safe as possible during these challenging times.

With that, I’m happy to answer questions.

 

            Q.  When you look at trying to figure out the remaining 2020 schedule, are you looking at midweek races, doubleheaders, racing during the Olympic break?  What are the options?

STEVE PHELPS:  Most importantly we intend to race all our 36 points races as well as the All‑Star event.  What those look like at this particular point we’re looking broadly about what our options are.

At this particular point we would like to finish the season at Phoenix and keep the Playoff portion intact.  With that said, it will require a lot of different opportunities for us to look at.  We’re in the process of doing that.

No specifics around midweek races.  I’ve heard about doubleheaders, different things.  At this particular point a lot of things on the table for us to look at, working with our race teams, working with our racetracks to make sure the things that we’re putting on the table are feasible for us to do.

 

            Q.  About the teams, certainly there’s some questions with the sport being shut down for a couple months about finances.  Is there a way, for lack of a better term, a subsidy for teams in any of the national series, in essence like a parent giving a child an advance on allowance to help teams move along?  Has anything been discussed about helping teams financially through the next couple months?

STEVE PHELPS:  I think what I would say there, no specifics around subsidies or anything of that nature.  We are working with our teams closely to have them industry wide make sure we are all financially viable moving forward during this postponement of our races.

 

            Q.  How do you envision going about the process of deciding the start back of the season?  Is it possible that you could start back with events that do not have fans or do you anticipate waiting to start back when you can start back on a regular race weekend?

STEVE PHELPS:  That’s a good question.  I think the way we view this is kind of how we view Atlanta, which is we need to make sure that we are keeping our competitors and those that are at the racetracks, our race teams, our officials, we need to have the health of those folks paramount for us.

Would we consider racing without fans at some point the to get back racing more quickly without fans?  That’s in the consideration set.  I don’t know.  It’s changing so rapidly, what it means for mass gatherings, what’s that number.

Again, we’ll work with our health officials.  We’re working with a number of infectious disease professionals that are going to help us through what that looks like and whether it makes sense for us to race without fans or have our first race be back with fans.

 

            Q.  Earlier today there was a bulletin about the banning of testing except for the Next Gen related car issues.  At this time do you anticipate there could be any postponement to the next generation debut of next season or is it too early to tell?

STEVE PHELPS:  I think it’s just too early to tell.  We are working diligently to try to stay on schedule.  There continues to be barriers that are put in front of us.  We will have to adapt to those as they come.

 

            Q.  A lot of times when we talk to the fans, people will throw ideas out, kind of come up with things that may not be physically possible or might not understand what you have to do in order to get okays to do things.  How much of what is mandated or required by the networks, what are the obstacles generically to try to put this schedule back together?

STEVE PHELPS:  That’s a good question.

We are working with our media partners, with FOX, with NBC.  If you kind of consider what is going to happen, we’re in this period right now where the major sports are shut down from participating.  At some point soon we hope to all get back to finding that escape that our fans are all looking for, in our case getting back to racing.

We are working with FOX and with NBC to understand what windows might be available.  That will come as we develop this schedule.  It is complex, for sure.  But both partners have shown great willingness to try to work with us, obviously we with the other sports to find windows to get back to racing in our case.

 

            Q.  The fact that lots of sports will come all of a sudden, every sport will be back at it, does that make it really tough?  With the two‑week period off for the Olympics, will that be open to you?  Would the network require that you not do that?

STEVE PHELPS:  I would say, again, nothing has been decided at this particular point with respect to those two weeks.  Will it be a crowded landscape, television landscape, with a lot of different sports on?  Yes, it’s going to be.

I think, again, we’ll work with our television partners to find the appropriate windows so we can get back racing and make sure our fans get the opportunity to see that racing.

 

            Q.  Could you give us some insight into how much NASCAR looked at the landscape of what other sports were doing in terms of postponements and cancellations?  If so, how much did what those specific entities’ did play into your decisions with the announcement of no fans and the postponement of the season?

STEVE PHELPS:  We have a lens to what other folks are doing.  But we needed to look through our own lens of what was going to make the most sense for our fans, then ultimately for our competitors, the folks that work on the race teams, our own employees, our own officials.

Do we have an understanding that these things were happening with other sports?  Of course.  But we need to look at it as it relates to our specific facilities.  The first example being Atlanta, then Homestead‑Miami.  That’s what we looked at.

We tried to run it without fans, then made a determination that, you know what, it’s probably not in the best interest to do that, which is why we postponed those two events.

 

            Q.  Can you prioritize what you are looking for when trying to reschedule races?  Midweek races might be more of a hassle for teams, that versus doubleheaders, if fans are in a venue that has two race, they may prefer to go to the track twice separate times rather than two races over the same weekend?

STEVE PHELPS:  I wouldn’t say ‘prioritizing’ as much as we have to look at it based on so many different variables, so many different factors that will come into play.

I wouldn’t say it’s a prioritization.  It’s understanding what is available to us.  It’s understanding the races that we’ve had to postpone and what is the best way to get them fit back into a schedule.

We’ll take a holistic view of what it is, not specifically how are we going to prioritize one versus another.

 

            Q.  How much are you working on potentially having to postpone more races and/or how confident are your experts telling you you should be able to be back racing by early May?

STEVE PHELPS:  I think for us, we’re concentrating on getting back to racing at Martinsville.  We’ll have to do scenario planning that will look different than that.  Right now our priority is to get back to racing at Martinsville.

 

            Q.  On subsidies for the team, Roger Penske assured IndyCar team owners they’re going to get their first payment of their Leader Circles money.  NASCAR teams are worried about making payroll, they don’t know if sponsors are going to ask for money back, what kind of force majeure is going to come into play.  Is NASCAR concerned that teams are going to go out of business during this time?

STEVE PHELPS:  No specifics around the financials about what will happen with our race teams and how we’re going to work with our race teams at this time.

Are we concerned about teams broadly and their financial health?  Of course we are.  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.  Financially we need to make sure that our financials are handled with obviously the stakeholders separately, make sure that we are all aligned with what that’s going to look like.

As of right now, nothing to share.

 

            Q.  You have all these elements in play.  One of those of course is the sponsors.  Obviously some sponsorship went out the window with the individual race sponsorships.  What message are you talking to sponsors about?  Some of those sponsorships may have been geared for a certain time period that’s not going to happen now.  Is that going to be on an individual basis?  Is there a broad mandate towards those sponsors?

STEVE PHELPS:  I think from a sponsor standpoint, each of the sponsors is different, what their needs, wants and desires are, what it says contractually.

No real broad overview or a way to think about where things are with sponsors broadly.  We’ll handle those on an individual basis.

The racetracks that are not our racetracks, they’ll do the same thing.  The race teams and their sponsors will do the same thing.  Nothing specific at this particular point.

We’re looking broadly.  When we talk about stakeholders, sponsors are a huge portion of who those stakeholders are.  We need to make sure we’re adapting smartly with what we’re doing with our sponsor partners and the industry broadly.

 

            Q.  Take us through the decision‑making process last Friday at Atlanta.  It seemed like there was some mixed messaging coming out.  First we heard there was going to be condensed racing, then that changed.  Did it change that quickly?  Was there one thing or something that made it change from we’re going to race this weekend condensed schedule without fans to we’re not going to race at all for the next two races?

STEVE PHELPS:  Obviously it was a very fluid situation.  I will say this:  the industry, the teams, the track, in this case Atlanta Motor Speedway, was everyone working together to try to come to what was going to be the right decision for us and our fans, then us and the safety of our crew and personnel.  It was fluid.

It did change.  We were prepared first run on Sunday, then we were going to pull it to Saturday.  It was decided quickly that we would make a change and postpone both the Atlanta race as well as the Homestead‑Miami race.

 

            Q.  What is the primary motivation and objective behind wanting to make sure that you’re postponing the races and running them later rather than canceling them in some scenarios?

STEVE PHELPS:  Probably depends on who you ask about this.  For us, we have a commitment to our fans that we’re going to run all the races.  We have a commitment to all our competitors that we run all the races.  We have a commitment to the stakeholders broadly that we’re going to run all the races.

We are going to do everything in our power to get these races in.  If there are other variables that happen that would suggest we can’t do that, we’ll look at those at that time.

 

            Q.  Four of the seven tracks that you have postponed, they also have races in the Playoffs.  Is it your wish that the 10‑race Playoff system not be tinkered with, that you would not want to run a doubleheader for any of those four tracks that have races both outside and inside the Playoffs?

STEVE PHELPS:  I would say the answer to that is yes, we are interested in getting these postponed races done prior to our Playoff starting, so not running doubleheaders in those races that have been postponed during the Playoffs.  That is the goal that we’re working towards right now.

Again, if there are other variables that change in the future, we’ll adapt to those as well.

 

            Q.  NASCAR already has so much going on for next year between rolling out a new car and revamping the ’21 schedule.  Now you have this to deal with for 2020.  Are you punting right now on everything for next year?  I presume the timing couldn’t be worse.  With everything you already had on your plate for next year, how much more challenging does it make it?

STEVE PHELPS:  Trying to be as honest as possible.  This is not easy, right?  It’s not easy on anyone who works in this industry.  It’s hard.  We’re not the only ones this is hard on, right?

You have people who are contracting this illness.  You have people who are sadly dying from this virus.  We’re trying to keep it all in perspective with what it is that we do.

To your point, we are still pushing forward right now with the Next Gen car.  We are still pushing forward with changes to our schedule.  We’re trying to do it as smartly as we can.

The variables keep changing, right?  The hurdles keep being put in front of this industry, and this industry keeps jumping over them, then there’s another, it jumps over that, then another and another.

It’s not an easy situation for sure, but it’s one that this industry is managing together.  Really proud of how this industry has come together to try to support each other and to try to get through this as best we can.

Again, it’s a difficult situation.

 

            Q.  How much is NASCAR intending to rely on iRacing and pivoting to other means of entertainment for the NASCAR fans during the postponement?  Where are you intending to direct fans to and how much are you going to rely on iRacing?

STEVE PHELPS:  I think in general we are interested in trying to satisfy our fans with different content, whether that’s through Esports, iRacing.  Tonight, for example, we have a NASCAR Coca‑Cola iRacing Series event at 9 p.m. on ENASCAR.com.  Thank you for that plug.

But there are other things, too.  There are discussions we’re having with FOX about what things we can do, discussions we would have with NBC, things that we can put through our own channels that satisfy our fans.

Our fans are obviously thirsty for this content.  We want to provide it to them smartly and have interesting content as opposed to just repurposing some of the content that’s already been done.

More to come on that.  We want to make sure we’re servicing the fans as best we can.

THE MODERATOR:  Thank you, everybody, for making the time to jump on this.  I realize there were a number of you that had additional questions.  It was important that we made Steve available to answer at least some of your questions.  As you probably would imagine we have a lot going on here.  We’re doing contingency planning.  Anything with follow‑up, bring it to my attention and we’ll see what we can do.  Thank you.

STEVE PHELPS:  Thanks for your time, everyone.

 

NASCAR wants to run postponed races before playoffs

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NASCAR President Steve Phelps said that series officials are looking “broadly at what our options are” but intend to run every points race and the All-Star race this season and are planning to reschedule postponed races before the playoffs so the season can end as scheduled at Phoenix Raceway.

Phelps acknowledged in a teleconference with reporters Tuesday — the first time he’s spoken to reporters since last weekend’s races at Atlanta Motor Speedway were postponed — that there is the possibility of races being run without fans. He noted that many questions remain in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and such decisions will be based on what health experts that NASCAR consult with suggest.

MORE: Full transcript of NASCAR President Steve Phelps’ call with reporters

Phelps also said that officials had no specifics on any financial help for teams with the sport paused until at least May 3 but said “we want to make sure teams get through this.” NASCAR has postponed seven race weekends (nearly 20% of the season). The next Cup race scheduled is May 9 at Martinsville Speedway.

As for this year’s schedule, Phelps said: “At this particular point, we would like to finish the season at Phoenix and keep the playoff portion intact. With that said, that would require a lot of different opportunities for us to look at and we’re in the process of doing that. No specifics about mid-week races. I’ve heard about doubleheaders and different things. At this particular point, a lot of things on the table for us to look at, working with our race teams, working with our race tracks to make sure the things that are put on the table are feasible to do.”

The Cup playoffs are scheduled to begin Sept. 6 at Darlington Raceway and end Nov. 8 at Phoenix Raceway.

Phelps later said in the call with reporters that he hoped not to have doubleheaders during the playoffs at tracks that have had races postponed (Bristol, Texas, Martinsville and Talladega).

As for racing without fans, Phelps said: “Would we consider racing without fans at some point to get back racing more quickly? That’s in the consideration set. I don’t know. It’s changing so rapidly and what it means for mass gatherings and what is that number. We’ll work with our health officials and we’re working with a number of infectious disease professionals that are going to help us through what that looks like and whether it makes sense to race without fans or have our first race be back with fans.”

As for the teams and the financial hardships they could face before racing is scheduled to resume in May and if NASCAR would provide any type of subsidy, Phelps said:  “No specifics around subsidies or anything of that nature. We are working with our teams closely to … make sure we are all financially viable moving forward during this postponement of our races.”

Later in the call Phelps was asked about that topic and said: “Are we concerned about teams broadly and their financial health? Of course we are. 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. Financially we need to make sure that our financials are handled with obviously the stakeholders separately, make sure that we are all aligned with what that’s going to look like. As of right now, nothing to share.”

As for the impact this delay is having on the Next Gen car, which is set to debut next season, Phelps said:  “We are still pushing forward right now with the Next Gen car. We are still pushing forward with changes to our (2021) schedule. We’re trying to do it as smartly as we can.

“The variables keep changing, right? The hurdles keep being put in front of this industry, and this industry keeps jumping over them, then there’s another, it jumps over that, then another and another.

“It’s not an easy situation for sure, but it’s one that this industry is managing together.  Really proud of how this industry has come together to try to support each other and to try to get through this as best we can. Again, it’s a difficult situation.”