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Some NASCAR teams close shops because of COVID-19

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Some NASCAR teams have closed shops or limited staffs to a skeleton crew this week as the sport idles because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

NASCAR continues to work through scenarios in light of Sunday’s announcement by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that it recommended that for the next eight weeks that organizers cancel or postpone events that consist of 50 people or more in the United States. NASCAR officials are scheduled to have another call with teams Monday night.

Many teams announced last week that they were closing their shops to visitors to prevent the potential spread of COVID-19.

NBC Sports reached out to Cup, Xfinity and Truck teams to see what their plans were for Monday and beyond:

Front Row Motorsports — Business as usual for the smaller team. Organization notes that all employees are taking the necessary precautions/recommendations of washing hands and keeping distance as much as possible.

Hendrick Motorsports — Its campus is closed for business for the rest of the week. Those who can work from home are doing so. There is some essential work being done on site with very limited staffing.

Joe Gibbs Racing — Closed shop on Monday and decisions would be made about what to do about the upcoming days.

Richard Childress Racing Measures have been put in place to protect employees and keep them safe, including social distancing, hand washing and sanitizing work stations. Team continues to assess the situation and will adjust as needed.

Richard Petty Motorsports — Shop is closed this week with only a limited number of essential people working in the building.

Spire Motorsports — Operating with essential personnel only.

StarCom Racing — Sent every employee home Monday.

Stewart-Haas Racing — Has closed its shop until March 22 and will reevaluate facility access and processes then.

Team Penske — Has closed its shop.

JD Motorsports — Xfinity team is business as usual as the team finalizes plans moving forward.

Kaulig Racing — General Manager Chris Rice said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that the team is limiting staff in the shop and going with a staggered system so work continues but with limited staff.

ThorSport Racing — The Truck organization is operating under normal business hours with a full staff on site preparing for the Texas race weekend in less than two weeks.

AM Racing – Temporarily closing its facility.

Friday 5: NASCAR’s decision to compete stands out among other sports

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UPDATE: NASCAR announced at 11:37 a.m. ET Friday that this weekend’s races at Atlanta Motor Speedway and next weekend’s races at Homestead-Miami Speedway have been postponed. No makeup dates have been set. 

MORE: President Trump to declare national emergency to combat coronavirus 

By the time the clock hit midnight, ending an unprecedented day and beginning a Friday the 13th, a new reality emerged because of COVID-19.

No NCAA Tournament. No Major League Baseball. No NBA. No NHL. No MLS. No Formula One race in Australia.

What was left? Primarily NASCAR and IndyCar.

While some NASCAR fans bristle at the notion that their sport be more similar to stick-and-ball sports, on this day, NASCAR was not.

With other sports postponing or canceling events, NASCAR announced plans to compete beginning today at Atlanta Motor Speedway with the Cup, Xfinity and Truck Series. No fans will be allowed to attend. Same for IndyCar in St. Pete.

Thursday night, though, the NTT IndyCar Series announced that it had eliminated Friday’s two 45-minute practice sessions. Instead, the weekend will begin Saturday for that series. At the end of its release on the updated weekend schedule, IndyCar stated: “Due to the fluidity of the situation, more modifications may be forthcoming and will be announced at the appropriate time.”

Things can change. NASCAR’s statement Thursday announcing plans to race without fans started: “At this time …” and ended with: “We will work with public health officials as we determine future scheduling beyond these events.”

Plans remain for next weekend’s NASCAR races at Homestead-Miami Speedway to be held without fans.

But how much longer can this go? Or will this go? There are indications that other sports are prepared to be idle for weeks.

In a letter to fans Thursday night, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver stated: “This hiatus will last at least 30 days and we intend to resume the season, if and when, it becomes safe for. all concerned.”

Major League Baseball announced Thursday that it would delay the regular season “by at least two weeks due to the national emergency created by the coronavirus pandemic.” Opening day had been scheduled for March 26.

The NCAA canceled the men’s and women’s basketball tournament, turning March Madness into March Sadness, and all spring sport championships, including some events that would not be held until after Memorial Day.

PGA Golf, which stated Thursday that The Players Championship would continue with no fans, reversed course and announced at 10 p.m. ET that it was canceling the event. That means every PGA Tour event is canceled up to the Masters, which is scheduled from April 9-12.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated Thursday that there were 1,215 total cases of COVID-19 (both confirmed and presumptive awaiting test results) in the United States with 36 deaths. The CDC stated that 42 states and the District of Columbia reported cases.

The CDC stated that Georgia, where NASCAR races this weekend, had reported 31 cases of COVID-19 (both confirmed and presumptive pending test results). Only Washington (366 cases), New York (217), California (175), Massachusetts (95) and Colorado (34) had more cases than Georgia.

Should NASCAR race this weekend and be one of the few sports to compete? To some sports-starved fans, NASCAR (and IndyCar) will be viewed as a hero for doing so. Others, though, may question both sports for holding an event during a pandemic.

Either way, today begins with NASCAR competitors scheduled to be on track at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

2. What’s next?

Once the NBA announced Wednesday night it was suspending its season because of COVID-19, momentum began to build for other sports to follow, leading to Thursday’s string of cancellations and postponements.

With NASCAR continuing, many questions remain. Beyond plans to race at Atlanta and Miami the next two weeks, then what?

Both Texas Motor Speedway, which will host the Cup race on March 29, and Bristol Motor Speedway, which will host the Cup race on April 5, issued statements via social media. Texas Motor Speedway’s statement noted that track officials are “closely monitoring facts and in frequent communications with public health officials. We are currently preparing to host our regularly scheduled events and will continue consulting with officials on best practices and recommendations.”

Bristol Motor Speedway stated Thursday that “there are no changes to our NASCAR race weekend April 2-5. Bristol Motor Speedway is working closely with our state and local health officials in preparation for our events.”

3. Bounty Race

With NASCAR stating it will race this weekend, the focus will turn to what is one of the most anticipated Truck Series races in years.

Kevin Harvick started the excitement by offering a $50,000 bonus for any Cup driver who could beat Kyle Busch in a Truck race. Marcus Lemonis, CEO of Gander RV and Outdoors, added another $50,000.

Busch has won his last seven Truck starts.

To collect the $100,000, a full-time Cup driver does not have to win. They only have to finish better than Busch but cannot do so by unfairly roughing him up. If more than one full-time Cup driver places ahead of Busch, the one who finishes highest wins all the money.

Cup regulars entered in Saturday’s Truck race at Atlanta are Chase Elliott, John Hunter Nemechek and Brennan Poole.

But that bounty left Truck series regulars out. So, Halmar International and truck owner Chris Larsen are putting up a $50,000 bounty for any Truck series regular.

To collect the $50,000 from Larsen, a Truck series regular needs to win the race. Also, Busch must be running at the finish. The bounty is for Atlanta but would continue to Busch’s next race, Homestead, if he wins.

Should Busch win at Atlanta, Larsen and Hal-mar will donate $25,000 to the Bundle of Joy fund, which is a part of the Kyle Busch Foundation and provides funds for families struggling to conceive.

4. Ready to collect

Although Johnny Sauter could collect a $50,000 bonus for beating Kyle Busch and winning Saturday’s Truck race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, he’s not focused on the bounty.

Johnny Sauter has finished second, third and third in his last three Atlanta Truck races. (Photo by Adrian Garcia/Getty Images)

“There’s no greater thing in the world or feeling,” Sauter told NBC Sports of winning. “Even though I’ve been fortunate enough to win a lot of races, it never gets old. … That’s what we do this for, at least that’s what I do it for. It’s not for bounty money or anything else. Winning races is awesome. So when you have trucks that are capable of doing it, especially where we’re at right now, I feel like we’re going to win quite a few races this year.”

Sauter, the 2016 Truck champion, has finished no worse than third in the last three Truck races at Atlanta. He’s also off to a strong start this season, placing seventh at Daytona and second to Busch at Las Vegas.

While there will be plenty of attention on Busch, Sauter doesn’t focus on such things.

“It’s just another person to beat,” Sauter said. “There’s no question that Kyle brings his ‘A’ game, not only with himself but with the program and the whole deal. A lot of people, I think, it bothers them that he runs in the Truck Series. Me personally, it doesn’t matter to me one way or the other. I know why he does it, and I think it’s good for his business and his company to run the Truck Series personally.

“When I look at him, he’s beatable. We’ve beaten him before. There’s no question to beat him you’re going to have to have everything going the way it needs to go. But at the end of the day when you do beat him, it feels good, but I like beating everybody.”

If not Sauter, another candidate among the Truck Series regulars to beat Busch would be 2018 champion Brett Moffitt.

Moffitt won at Atlanta in 2018 — the last time a Truck Series regular won there (Busch won last year’s truck race there).

Brett Moffitt won the 2018 Atlanta Truck race. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

“To have a shot for us to go win 50 grand from Chris Larsen, I think that makes it all the more exciting,” Moffitt told NBC Sports. “I think it’s kind of Chris Larsen’s way of saying our guys are talented too … that they can run with any of the Cup guys that come down here.

“Obviously we haven’t done a good job of that in the last seven races that Kyle has been in, but I feel it can be done.

“I have confidence that we can beat him on the right day. With his talent and the amount of effort he puts into his organization at KBM, that Toyota helps him out with, it’s a tough combination to beat. He’s proven that.

“I think it can be done. I’ve had a few races over the last couple of years with him where I feel like if things would have fallen a little differently, I would have a shot at it, but I’m sure many others have felt the same way. We have yet to deliver on it and I understand that. We’ll just keep putting our best foot forward and go after it.”

5. Streakin’

Brad Keselowski has finished no worse than second in the last three Atlanta Cup races. He won in 2017, finished second in 2018 and won again last year.

Team Penske already has won two races this season with Joey Logano at Las Vegas and Phoenix. Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney has had among the best cars in three of the first four races. Could it be Keselowski’s time to shine this weekend?

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Penalty report from Phoenix Raceway

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NASCAR announced Tuesday it has fined crew chief Paul Wolfe $10,000 for one unsecured lug nut on the No. 22 of race winner Joey Logano’s Team Penske Ford Mustang following Sunday’s race in Phoenix.

No other penalties were assessed by NASCAR.

Ryan Blaney signs multiyear extension to stay at Team Penske

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Scratch Ryan Blaney‘s name off the long list of potential free agents in the NASCAR Cup Series after this season.

Team Penske announced a multiyear extension with the No. 12 Ford driver Friday morning that “will keep him an integral part of the organization for years to come.”

Blaney is leading the points after three races of his fourth full season in Cup. He was in position to win at Daytona, Las Vegas and Fontana.

Earlier this season, Blaney, 26, said he was “tired of being at the bottom of the totem pole at Penske” while talking about the team’s personnel shake-up this season. Penske swapped crew chiefs for its trio of Blaney, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano and paired Blaney with Todd Gordon, formerly with Logano.

The list of drivers in contract years still includes Keselowski, Kyle Larson and Alex Bowman, who won Sunday at Fontana.

Blaney said in a press conference Friday at Phoenix Raceway that he and Team Penske began working on the extension in the offseason and that he didn’t talk to any other teams.

“Even though we pretty much had a full year left on our deal before my current one was up, I was really happy with where I was at,” Blaney said. “I love the people I’m around, I love working with all the teams. … I feel like I owe so much to Roger for what he’s done for me. I just didn’t really see myself right now anywhere else. Yeah, there’s a couple doors open, a couple seats open with other teams, but I didn’t talk to any other teams. If I was approached by another team I don’t know if I’d even want to talk to them because I was so happy where I was at. I’m so loyal to Roger. My mindset was if they’ll have me back, I’d love to be back. It was great that both of our minds set on that.”

Here’s the release from Team Penske:

MOORESVILLE, N.C. (March 6, 2020) – Team Penske announced today that it has signed Ryan Blaney to a multiyear extension, which will keep him an integral part of the organization for years to come.  The current NASCAR Cup Series points leader and driver of the No. 12 Ford Mustang has been a member of Team Penske since 2012. During that time, he has earned three Cup Series victories and qualified for the NASCAR Playoffs in each of his three full-time seasons in the Cup Series.

“Ryan is a true talent with a long runway ahead of him and we are excited to have him as a part of the future of Team Penske,” said Roger Penske. “Since joining our team, Ryan has developed into a championship caliber driver and his personality and engagement with fans has made him a terrific ambassador for NASCAR.  In addition, Ryan has done a great job of working with our partners to support their activation and investment throughout each year. I am looking forward to even more success together.”

One of NASCAR’s rising stars, Blaney first joined Team Penske as a talented 18-year-old, competing in select NASCAR Xfinity Series (NXS) races for the team. He earned his first victory for Team Penske with an NXS win at Kentucky in 2013.  He then captured his first Cup Series victory driving for the Wood Brothers in 2017 at Pocono Raceway before joining Team Penske as a full-time Cup Series competitor in 2018.  The now 26-year-old Blaney has generated a combined nine wins and seven poles since joining the organization in 2012.

“I’ve always said, it’s been a lifelong dream to be able to drive a racecar for Roger Penske,” said Blaney. “I am proud of what we have accomplished with the No. 12 Team Penske Ford and our ability to represent great brands like Menards, Advance Auto Parts, DEX Imaging and BODYARMOR. It’s really exciting to know I will continue to drive for this organization in 2021 and beyond. I am fortunate to be surrounded by extremely talented people throughout the organization and have no doubt we will continue to compete for wins and championships well into the future.”

Through the first three races of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season, Blaney leads the Cup Series point standings and has found himself in contention to be in a position to win in each event – which included a second-place finish in the season-opening Daytona 500.  He also leads the series with a 6.3-average running position.

 

Ryan Newman is awake and speaking with family

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Ryan Newman is awake and speaking with family and doctors, according to a statement Tuesday afternoon from Roush Fenway Racing. He remains at Halifax Health Medical Center in Daytona Beach, Florida.

The statement also says: “Ryan and his family have expressed their appreciation for the concern and heartfelt messages from across the country. They are grateful for the unwavering support of the NASCAR community and beyond.

“We will continue to provide information as it becomes available.”

Newman was listed in serious condition Monday night with injuries that were described as not life threatening, according to a statement from Roush Fenway Racing.

Steve Newmark, president of Roush Fenway Racing, posted a statement on social media at 11:51 a.m. Tuesday thanking the NASCAR community for “the incredible outpouring of support and compassion” and that Newman remained in the hospital. He stated updates on his condition will be provided as they become available.

Newman, 42, was injured after a chaotic last lap in the Daytona 500. He passed Denny Hamlin for the lead on the backstretch, getting a push from Ryan Blaney.

Exiting Turn 4, Blaney went low to challenge for the lead. Newman dropped down the track to block. Blaney hit Newman. The contact turned Newman’s car to the right. He slammed the outside wall and turned upside down. Corey LaJoie’s car slammed into Newman’s car on the driver side. Newman’s car crossed the finish line sliding on its roof with sparks flying. The No. 6 Ford car came to rest just beyond the exit of pit road.

Also Tuesday, team owner Roger Penske issued a statement. Newman drove full-time in the Cup Series from 2002-08 and won the 2008 Daytona 500, giving Penske his first victory in that race.