CHARLOTTE, N.C. — If the return of professional sports were a race, NASCAR would finish in the top three. After UFC, which returns May 9, NASCAR will be the second major professional sports league to resume after the coronavirus pandemic forced its season to a halt in mid-March.
Thursday, NASCAR announced a modified schedule for resuming the 2020 season that includes two Wednesday and two Sunday Cup Series races that will take place at Darlington Raceway in Darlington, S.C., and Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C. Under the new schedule, the sport is set to resume May 17 at Darlington Raceway.
Fans will not be allowed to attend any of NASCAR’s return events.
“NASCAR and its teams are eager and excited to return to racing, and have great respect for the responsibility that comes with a return to competition,” NASCAR executive vice president Steve O’Donnell said in a statement. “NASCAR will return in an environment that will ensure the safety of our competitors, officials and all those in the local community.”
“We thank local, state and federal officials and medical experts, as well as everyone in the industry, for the unprecedented support in our return to racing, and we look forward to joining our passionate fans in watching cars return to the track,” the statement continued.
The first race back will take place on Sunday, May 17, followed by a second Cup race at the same track three days later on Wednesday, May 20. Darlington Raceway in South Carolina provided the best location for the season to resume since the track is only a two-hour drive from team garages and NASCAR’s Charlotte-based offices, eliminating the need for overnight lodging.
At 1.366 miles, the raceway is also considered an intermediate track like Atlanta Motor Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway, which teams had previously prepared cars for before the season was postponed March 13.
Since March, NASCAR has maintained that it intends to complete all 36 Cup Series points races and that it does not want to modify its 10-race playoff schedule at the end of the season. This means that two races at Darlington have been added, followed by the Coca-Cola 600 (Sunday, May 24) and an additional 500-mile points race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 27.
The All-Star Race, the only non-points NASCAR race that was previously scheduled for May 16 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, was not on the updated schedule.
Last week, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said that NASCAR teams were considered an “essential” business under the state’s stay-at-home order and could return to work. Tuesday, the governor said that his office would allow the state to host the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 24 unless health conditions deteriorated.
“We believe that unless the health conditions go down that we can have the Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend in Charlotte,” Gov. Cooper said. “ … I think that NASCAR will be making that announcement. We believe that’s what will happen.”
NASCAR teams must also abide by the executive orders in place in their respective counties in order to return to their shops, but counties where teams are based — Iredell, Mecklenburg, Cabarrus, Davidson and Rowan — have said their county policies align with the state’s and/or that the county will allow teams to work.
Mecklenburg County, where Joe Gibbs Racing is based, previously had the most restrictive order in place with an extended stay-at-home order. Tuesday, Mecklenburg County said that it would loosen some of its restrictions and modify its stay-at-home order to align with the state’s new May 8 reopening date. Mecklenburg County manager Dena Diorio said that Joe Gibbs Racing would be allowed to return to its Huntersville-based race shop to prepare for the Coca-Cola 600.
Before the coronavirus forced sports to a halt in mid-March, NASCAR completed four of its 36 points races: The Daytona 500, Pennzoil 400 in Las Vegas, Auto Club 400 in Fontana, Calif. and FanShield 500 in Phoenix.
UPDATED NASCAR SCHEDULE
May 17: Darlington (S.C.) Raceway (400 mi)
May 20: Darlington (S.C.) Raceway (500 mi)
May 24: Coca-Cola 600, Charlotte Motor Speedway
May 27: Charlotte Motor Speedway (500 mi)
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