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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everyone in the garage must wear a cloth mask.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ryan Newman wants to return to racing ‘as soon as I possibly can’

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Ryan Newman said Wednesday morning on NBC’s “Today” show that he suffered a bruised brain and was knocked unconscious in his Daytona 500 crash, but he wants to return to racing “as soon as I possibly can.”

Newman said in the interview that the cage of his car “was compromised. All those welds held together, so the guys at the shop did an amazing job. I got hit from behind by a car going 190 miles an hour and it pushed me back but then (Corey LaJoie‘s) car pushed me forward, his car actually hit my seat.”

About his injuries, Newman said on the “Today” show: “It takes time for it to heal. I was knocked out. There was a point where I don’t remember a part of the race. Realistically, I feel so lucky. On so many levels, I feel so lucky. You look at the crash and you think that is spectacular in a bad way. You look at the car afterwards, you think about all the things that happened right for me to be sitting here.”

As for when he will return, Newman said: “I don’t know yet. We’re working on it. Soon as I possibly can.”

Newman displayed his trademark humor in the interview when asked about the last thing he remembers from the crash.

Ryan Newman on the set of the Today show on Wednesday (Photo: Today show/@photonate

“This was my I should have won interview, right?” he said to laughter. “It’s emotional, no doubt. I think about the fact that I was that close, but, really in the end, I’m really humbled by the opportunity to continue my life, to be blessed by so many people’s prayers, to be sitting here and hopefully make something of it, enjoy life with my daughters.”

Newman was asked about his interest in safety throughout his NASCAR career. The Purdue engineer has been outspoken about safety issues.

“It’s not just me, but there’s a whole group at NASCAR that has done a great job, from the tracks to the safety personnel, the drivers inside the cars, the cockpits, the containment seats that we have,” he said. “There are so many levels of things that happened in the last 20 years that I’ve been a part of the sport that helped me be able to sit here today.”

Asked about what went right in the crash that helped him survive, Newman told the “Today” show: “Just where I was kind of hit, so to speak. The cage was compromised. All those welds held together, so the guys at the shop did an amazing job. I got hit from behind by a car going 190 miles an hour and it pushed me back but then (Corey LaJoie’s) car pushed me forward, his car actually hit my seat. Just lots of things that happened that aligned. The angels aligned and held a really good grip with their hands.”

Newman was asked why he would want to return to racing after surviving such a horrific accident when he could retire at 42 instead.

“I love it,” he said. “Because I’m just 42 right? Really, I love it. It’s been a little bit painful to be out of the racecar, to not being doing what I’ve done for so many years. I started racing when I was 4 years old, 4 1/2 years old. It’s just kind of who I am.”

As for what he told his two daughters, who walked out of the hospital with him hand in hand, Newman told the “Today” show: “Just daddy’s alright. They seem to be completely fine with the fact that I’m still daddy. I think it would be totally different if something else would have happened, but I’m 100 percent who I was, which they were good with.”

Newman led the Daytona 500 with 1 mile to go last month after being pushed to the front by Ryan Blaney. After exiting Turn 4, Newman blocked Blaney, who then tried to push Newman to the win to ensure a Ford victory. But one of the shoves from Blaney’s car unsettled Newman’s car and it turned into the wall.

Newman’s car went airborne and spun upside down. LaJoie couldn’t avoid Newman’s car and hit it on the driver’s side while it was upside down. Newman’s car landed on its roof and slid down the frontstretech, coming to rest beyond the exit of pit road.

NASCAR later stated that Newman was extracted from the car 15 minutes, 40 seconds after the car came to rest. Newman was hospitalized for about 42 hours after his crash.

Ryan Newman with members of his team at Phoenix Raceway. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

In a statement last month, Newman said that the only injury he suffered from the crash was a head injury. Newman has not disclosed any other details about that injury but told reporters last weekend at Phoenix Raceway that he had no timetable for his return to racing.

Last weekend at Phoenix marked Newman’s first time at a track since his crash at Daytona. He told reporters in a brief interview: “It’s great to be alive. If you looked at my car, it’s a miracle.”

Drivers were excited to see Newman at Phoenix. Newman surprised some when he attended an event for Ford drivers.

“It was nice to see him,” Blaney said. “He is full Ryan Newman caliber and it is great to see. It was cool to hear some of the process that he went through and some of the doctors that worked on him. They were very extensive with him and he has been passing everything with flying colors which is unheard of and great to hear.”

Said Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin: “It’s a blessing to be in this position and be talking about when he will get back in the car, especially at this time. I’m really looking forward to it.”

Ross Chastain has driven Newman’s No. 6 car for Roush Fenway Racing in the three races since the Daytona 500 and is on the entry list for this weekend’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Wednesday afternoon, Newman posted a picture of himself doing his “therapy.”

Ryan Newman to appear on NBC’s Today show this morning

Ryan Newman
Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images
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Ryan Newman is scheduled to appear Wednesday morning on NBC’s “Today” show for an exclusive interview about his crash on the last lap of the Daytona 500 and his recovery.

“Today” airs at 7 a.m. locally.

MORE: Ryan Newman tells Today show that he wants to return to race “as soon as I possibly can”

Newman was hospitalized for about 42 hours after his crash that sent his car tumbling down the frontstretch at Daytona International Speedway before sliding to a stop upside down. He was extracted from the car 15 minutes, 40 seconds after the car came to rest.

Newman said in a statement last month that the the only injury he suffered was a head injury. Newman has not disclosed any other details about that injury but told reporters last weekend at Phoenix Raceway that he had no timetable for his return to racing.