NASCAR President Steve Phelps: ‘These clearly are unprecedented times’
NASCAR executives finally ended their silence Tuesday several days after first committing to racing without fans, then postponing two races, and finally suspending all racing until at least May.
The COVID-19 virus began to affect the sport when last week NASCAR announced that the Atlanta and Homestead races would be run without fans. Then Friday they announced the postponement of those races.
Friday started at Atlanta with talk of a schedule change that would have had the Truck series race on Friday with the Cup series racing Saturday at 2 followed by the Xfinity series at 7.
Then came word that Cup teams landing at the Atlanta airport were being turned around and sent home. Speculation was that they would return Saturday for a one-day show. Then at Atlanta crews could then be seen repacking the team haulers they had unloaded only a few hours before. Shortly after, the official word came down via the statement about the postponement.
Moments before that the IndyCar series announced they would postpone all races through April starting with the weekend’s St. Pete grand prix. Formula 1 postponed their season opener around the same time.
NASCAR President Steve Phelps met with members of the media via a teleconference to give an insight on the events of the recent days.
As of Monday night, NASCAR will not be racing until at least the weekend of May 8 at Martinsville. This decision was based on guidelines released by the CDC Sunday night calling for groups of no more than 10 people for at least the next eight weeks.
“These clearly are unprecedented times with information changing by the hour,” Phelps said in his opening statement. “Collectively our industry has made several difficult decisions, all with one thought in mind: the health and safety of our fans, our competitors, employees and everyone in the industry.
“The situation we are facing transcends the world of sports. What is most important now is we take precautions to keep everyone as safe as possible during these challenging times.”
In its statement Monday night, NASCAR committed to running a full 36 race schedule and that means there will need to be makeup dates for Atlanta, Homestead-Miami (which were already postponed) and Texas, Bristol, Richmond, Talladega and Dover. Making up these races will most likely involve running them on off-weekends (there are two) as well as weekdays including the time period when the Olympics are scheduled. Phelps reaffirmed that 36 race commitment Tuesday.
“We intend to race all our 36 points races as well as the All-Star event,” he said. “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.”
While NASCAR is shut down, the teams still need to be financially able to remain open. NASCAR is a sanctioning body however and the teams are independent contractors. So, there may not be any financial help coming from NASCAR.
“I think what I would say there, no specifics around subsidies or anything of that nature,” Phelps said. “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.”
While there is a target date of May 3 to resume racing it certainly isn’t set in stone.
“I think the way we view this is kind of how we view Atlanta,” Phelps said. “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 the 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.”
Once cleared to race the compact schedule will look very different than anything NASCAR has ever done. But at this point it’s far from even being started.
“We are working with our media partners, with FOX, with NBC,” Phelps said. “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.”
Two things were made clear about the new upcoming makeup schedule: That the makeup races will most likely happen prior to NASCAR’s Playoffs (normally the last 10 races of the season), and that the postponed races will be made up.
“We have a commitment to our fans that we're going to run all the races,” Phelps said. “We have a commitment to all our competitors that we run all the races. We have a commitment to the stakeholders broadly that we're going to run all the races.
“We are going to do everything in our power to get these races in. If there are other variables that happen that would suggest we can't do that, we'll look at those at that time.”