NASCAR: ‘Unprecedented times’ with coronavirus outbreak

NASCAR President Steve Phelps said Tuesday the sanctioning body is doing its best to navigate the numerous “hurdles” that continue to develop from outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

Already NASCAR has postponed all races through May 3 as well as banning all testing (including driver simulation) until further notice.

When the sport does restart, Phelps insisted NASCAR wants to run all 36 races in its premier Cup series but attempt to do so while keeping its current 10-race playoff at the end of the season intact.

“This is not easy, right? It’s not easy on anyone who works in this industry. It’s hard. We’re not the only ones this is hard on, right?” Phelps said. “You have people who are contracting this illness. You have people who are sadly dying from this virus.

“We’re trying to keep it all in perspective with what it is that we do. The variables keep changing, right? The hurdles keep being put in front of this industry, and this industry keeps jumping over them, then there’s another, it jumps over that, then another and another.

“It’s not an easy situation for sure, but it’s one that this industry is managing together. Really proud of how this industry has come together to try to support each other and to try to get through this as best we can.”

Among the issues Phelps addressed in a nearly 24-minute teleconference with media members:

¨ When NASCAR does resume, racing without fans still is under consideration, but “things change so rapidly for mass gatherings.”

¨ It’s too early to tell if the introduction of the Next Generation car in 2021 will be delayed although “we’re working diligently to stay on schedule.”

¨ NASCAR still plans to run all 36 races plus the All-Star event with the championship race still held at Phoenix.

¨ NASCAR is working closely with teams to ensure the “financial viability” of the entire industry during the race postponements.

Here are some highlights from the question-and-answer session:

Q. When you look at trying to figure out the remaining 2020 schedule, are you looking at midweek races, doubleheaders, racing during the Olympic break? What are the options?

Phelps: Most importantly we intend to race all our 36 points races as well as the All-Star event. What those look like at this particular point we’re looking broadly about what our options are. At this particular point we would like to finish the season at Phoenix and keep the Playoff

portion intact. With that said, it will require a lot of different opportunities for us to look at. We’re in the process of doing that.

No specifics around midweek races. I’ve heard about doubleheaders, different things. At this particular point a lot of things on the table for us to look at, working with our race teams, working with our racetracks to make sure the things that we’re putting on the table are feasible for us to do.

Q. About the teams, certainly there’s some questions with the sport being shut down for a couple months about finances. Has anything been discussed about helping teams financially through the next couple months?

Phelps: I think what I would say there, no specifics around subsidies or anything of that nature. We are working with our teams closely to have them industry wide make sure we are all financially viable moving forward during this postponement of our races.

Q. How do you envision going about the process of deciding the start back of the season? Is it possible that you could start back with events that do not have fans or do you anticipate waiting to start back when you can start back on a regular race weekend?

Phelps: That’s a good question. I think the way we view this is kind of how we view Atlanta, which is we need to make sure that we are keeping our competitors and those that are at the racetracks, our race teams, our officials, we need to have the health of those folks paramount for us.

Would we consider racing without fans at some point to get back racing more quickly without fans? That’s in the consideration set. I don’t know. It’s changing so rapidly, what it means for mass gatherings, what’s that number. Again, we’ll work with our health officials. We’re working with a number of infectious disease professionals that are going to help us through what that looks like and whether it makes sense for us to race without fans or have our first race be back with fans.

Q. How much of what is mandated or required by the networks, what are the obstacles generically to try to put this schedule back together?

Phelps: We are working with our media partners, with FOX, with NBC. If you kind of consider what is going to happen, we’re in this period right now where the major sports are shut down from participating. At some point soon we hope to all get back to finding that escape that our fans are all looking for, in our case getting back to racing.

We are working with FOX and with NBC to understand what windows might be available. That will come as we develop this schedule. It is complex, for sure. But both partners have shown great willingness to try to work with us, obviously we with the other sports to find windows to get back to racing in our case.

Q. How much are you working on potentially having to postpone more races and/or how confident are your experts telling you that you should be able to be back racing by early May?

Phelps: I think for us, we’re concentrating on getting back to racing at Martinsville. We’ll have to do scenario planning that will look different than that. Right now our priority is to get back to racing at Martinsville.

Q. Is NASCAR concerned that teams are going to go out of business during this time?

Phelps: No specifics around the financials about what will happen with our race teams and how we’re going to work with our race teams at this time. Are we concerned about teams broadly and their financial health? Of course we are. We want to make sure that each of our teams gets through this, each of our stakeholders in the industry gets through this crisis as well as we all can.

Lots of things on the table. No specifics at this point that we are prepared to discuss. Financially we need to make sure that our financials are handled with obviously the stakeholders separately, make sure that we are all aligned with what that’s going to look like.

Q. Take us through the decision-making process last Friday at Atlanta.

Phelps: Obviously it was a very fluid situation. I will say this: the industry, the teams, the track, in this case Atlanta Motor Speedway, was everyone working together to try to come to what was going to be the right decision for us and our fans, then us and the safety of our crew and personnel It was fluid.

It did change. We were prepared first run on Sunday, then we were going to pull it to Saturday. It was decided quickly that we would make a change and postpone both the Atlanta race as well as the Homestead-Miami race.

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