Scott Fowler: Coca-Cola 600 is usually too long. Not this year. Make it 1,000 miles! NASCAR is back.

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Gentlemen, start your engines — in slightly less than three weeks.

In a sports world in need of live events, the tentative return of NASCAR’s Cup racing May 17 and May 20 in Darlington, S.C. — and then to Charlotte Motor Speedway for the Coca-Cola 600 on May 24 — qualifies as a huge dose of good news.

NASCAR is expected to make an announcement soon for a radically revised version of its highest-level series — one that would also include a shorter points race to be held at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 27. Other races in NASCAR’s lower series may also be scheduled in late May at CMS.

There would be no fans allowed for any of these early points races. There might not be any “live” pit stops for any of them, either.

Instead, all cars could get new tires and fresh tanks of gas during set breaks in the race to keep the “over-the-wall” pit crews to a minimum.

As for sponsors, media, track personnel — they would all be dramatically limited. A CMS track that has shoehorned far more than 100,000 people inside its gates would look like a ghost town in the stands.

NASCAR’s annual all-star race at Charlotte Motor Speedway is a likely goner for 2020. Originally scheduled for May 16, when the circuit will now most likely be in Darlington, the all-star race has been one of the most fun nights on the Charlotte sports calendar each year.

Still, we’re going to get racing in May. Real racing. Not that virtual racing stuff that I honestly cannot stand to watch.

And, crucially for the sport, these Cup races would still be on TV, allowing race teams to reap the rewards of the television contracts that keep NASCAR solvent.

While no fans would be present at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, I believe NASCAR as a whole would see a net gain in support with this revised schedule.

Coronavirus-related closures have put a halt to nearly every sport in the world since mid-March. Check out the NFL draft’s record TV ratings, or those for the ESPN documentary “The Last Dance.” Sports fans are starved for fresh content.

It’s ironic to think of NASCAR as a “safe” sport, since much of its appeal is built on the real danger of driving a car 200 mph. The sport’s biggest star, Dale Earnhardt Sr., died in a last-lap accident at the Daytona 500 in 2001, and Ryan Newman was hospitalized in a crash during the final stretch of the Great American Race earlier this year.

But in terms of COVID-19, NASCAR can supply a relatively safe environment, as long as social-distancing guidelines are followed. Race-car drivers never actually have to touch each other, even if their cars often do.

“We believe that unless the health conditions go down that we can have the Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend in Charlotte,” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said Tuesday. “ … I think that NASCAR will be making that announcement. We believe that’s what will happen.”

That’s terrific. Normally, I think the Coca-Cola 600 is 200 miles too long, and I crack a few jokes about that in columns leading up to the race. Not this time. Make it 1,000 miles long if you want. Just make it happen.

Before that, it appears NASCAR will have those two points races at Darlington. After the races in Charlotte, the Cup series will likely have several more points races in the Southeast, in places like Atlanta and Martinsville as the series stays within driving distance for most teams. NASCAR has committed to trying to still hold all 36 of its points races at the Cup level this year (more races means more money for everyone).

Marcus Smith, president and CEO of Speedway Motorsports, is in charge of the CMS. Smith released a hopeful statement Tuesday, thanking Gov. Cooper and “all of our state and local government officials who are working with us to get NASCAR back on track with the Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend where it belongs.”

I’ll take it. We need it. Now let’s just hope nothing derails it.


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