It’s OK to be optimistic about the return of real racing. Just make sure you prepare yourself to be disappointed if it doesn’t come back as soon as you want.
The possibility that NASCAR could return sooner rather than later was raised again on Monday when Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted that he’d been in contact with NASCAR officials about racing at Texas Motor Speedway.
Just spoke to @NASCAR leaders.
They’re working to return to Texas at Texas Motor Speedway very soon.
I hope to announce the exciting details in the near future.
To prevent spread of #COVID19 it will be without fans.
But they will put on a great show for TV.
— Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) April 20, 2020
Abbott became the second governor in a week to talk about his state potentially hosting a NASCAR race without fans. Last week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said that he had been in contact with NASCAR and wanted it to run a race in his state because he thought people needed new content while social distancing.
Neither Abbott nor DeSantis have offered specifics about when a race could be held in their respective states. NASCAR said last week that the May 9 race at Martinsville wouldn’t be held following a Virginia ban on non-essential business. The next scheduled points race is the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 24. The Truck Series is set to run at Texas on June 6.
“Our desire is to run the Coca-Cola 600 with fans as originally scheduled on May 24, but we realize these are unprecedented circumstances and the parameters surrounding public gatherings remain a primary consideration,” Speedway Motorsports president Marcus Smith said in a Monday statement. “We look forward to working with Gov. Cooper in an effort that will allow race fans to once again enjoy action on the track as we all work through these challenging times.”
The first step to a return to racing hasn’t even happened yet. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper’s ban on non-essential business does not exempt race team employees. Teams are unable to work on their cars during the pandemic and NASCAR has reportedly contacted Cooper’s office about when and if teams could have employees back at their shops. North Carolina’s current stay-at-home order goes through April 29, but could be extended.
NASCAR has undoubtedly run through dozens of scenarios about a possible return to racing after the coronavirus pandemic caused the sanctioning body to postpone the season at Atlanta on March 13. And it’s blatantly obvious why NASCAR wants to get the season going as soon as possible. It needs to run all 36 Cup Series races to satisfy its TV contract and — perhaps most importantly — so that teams can fulfill all their sponsor obligations.
It was safe to say the financial landscape for teams was brittle before the coronavirus. Now, with racing indefinitely on hold and the economic impacts of the pandemic and resulting social distancing set to last months, if not years, the consequences for myriad teams throughout NASCAR’s top three series could be catastrophic.
That heightens the urgency to return to racing. But it also doesn’t mean that return is any less complicated. While Republican governors like Abbott and DeSantis have said they want NASCAR races soon, what about governors in other states?
Kansas Speedway is scheduled to host a race the weekend after the 600 on May 31. Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly (D) has been proactive and protective with her actions surrounding the pandemic. Would Kansas state officials be keen on having hundreds of people gathering for a race so soon?
Schedule juggling is a certainty. NASCAR has to reschedule at least eight Cup Series races to run a full 36-race season and could have to reschedule more if states aren’t too keen on having NASCAR come at the previously scheduled time.
It’s far from certain, at least publicly, what it’ll look like when that juggling is over. And if there’s certainty in private, it’s likely hedged. We’ve learned that nothing is guaranteed throughout our five-plus weeks of social distancing. And that includes any thought that we could still be facing a decline of confirmed cases as we get into May and June if certain states relax social distancing measures in the coming days.
NASCAR could be back to real racing in May. It could be back in June or later.
We all want May. But a lot of things have to go in NASCAR’s favor for that to happen.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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