NASCAR Race Weekend Central
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Friday Faceoff: Should Fans Be Allowed Back at the Track?

1. Since racing has resumed, NASCAR has limited the number of team members that can travel to the track. Should they consider continuing this practice even after social distancing is no longer required?

Erin Campbell:
NASCAR should continue to implement the limited number of team members traveling to the track. It has proven that this model can work, thus saving money for teams in travel expenses. One of the factors that limit the availability in many of today’s racetracks is space. The less space that has to be taken up, the more infield space needs to be taken up, thus leaving more room for infield parking.

Adam Cheek: I’m fine either way, but fewer members might be better, at least going forward. Looking at this from a safety perspective for now, the fewer crew members and people at the track the better, but once completely normal track procedures resume, the limit is useful. Plus, it’s a decent number, and every team could work with it from now on. Heck, they seem to have done just fine so far.

Jared Haas: The limit for the crews is not too drastically different from what it was before. We have seen crew limits that been applied over the years. Most teams have had either a specialist or an engineer stay home. Teams can still work on the car at the shop, which includes the crew that was left home. This limitation shouldn’t continue, though. Because those crew members are still going to be in contact with the team, they are going to work on the car. You are limiting teams with fewer resources at the track but not at the shop.

Zach Gillispie: Either direction NASCAR chooses to go, it won’t have too much of an impact. On one hand, I once heard someone in NASCAR say that when efforts are made for something to grow smaller, everything else will, too. From a sports health standpoint, teams should stay robust to continue to keep them healthy. Additionally, reductions incite higher employee turnover rates, which can make it volatile for teams, especially in the economic state the sport is in. Granted, the more people teams have at the track, the greater the financial effort has to be made. However, the last few weeks have proved that it doesn’t take a full roster of crew members to put on great racing. I would be entertained by the product we have seen on track.

2. Brad Keselowski said this week that his future with Team Penske isn’t entirely up to him. Is Keselowski in the No. 2 next year, and if not, where does he go?

Campbell: Brad Keselowski‘s fate is in his hands. He has sponsorship lined up after signing multi-year contracts in 2018 and is running well so far this year. He should have nothing to worry about since he will at least be in the first round of the championship hunt after having won races this season.

Haas: Keselowski’s return to Penske Racing is going to be determined by a couple of factors. Penske may look to bring up Austin Cindric from the Xfinity Series. He has been running well in Xfinity and is a championship contender; he will likely be up within a year or two. If Cindric is not ready, Penske might want to pounce on either Aric Almirola or Clint Bowyer, as both of their contracts expire at the end of the season with Stewart-Haas Racing, and SHR has Chase Briscoe, who could contend for rookie of the year in 2021. I see a high probability though of Keselowski getting offered the No. 48; after Jimmie Johnson retires, there is no real leader at Hendrick Motorsports, and Keselowski would fit that role nicely. But if that doesn’t happen, I see Keselowski wanting to return to Penske.

Cheek: A lot of the signs point to Keselowski departing Penske at the end of his 11th season with the team. Granted, he’s got two wins, and if he really picks things up, everything could change. If he does leave, I see Keselowski taking over the No. 48 for Hendrick. Keselowski has connections with the team; he was a developmental driver for HMS, running several races in the team’s No. 25 in 2008 and 2009. His first win, at Talladega Superspeedway in 2009, was also linked to Hendrick; Phoenix Racing, which owned the No. 09 he drove to victory lane, maintained a relationship with HMS. Team owner Rick Hendrick will be looking for a veteran on a team of youngsters; Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman and William Byron all have a few years under their belts, but an older presence in the stable would be good for them. Plus, I don’t believe Noah Gragson is ready when considering possible replacements from the Xfinity Series.

Gillispie: Ever since NASCAR resumed racing, I’ve gotten the sense that Keselowski has been very uncomfortable in his current spot, even after his two wins. If contract negotiations fall apart at Penske, the obvious choice would be Hendrick. The No. 48 is poised to be the hottest ride this silly season, especially since it has full-time sponsorship next season. While Keselowski and Hendrick have had ups and downs in their relationship, it is very plausible to see Hendrick bring Keselowski back into the fold. However, you must weigh the other drivers against whom Keselowski would be competing. Would it be Justin Allgaier? Gragson? Ross Chastain? Keselowski has the experience and the results behind him, far and away besting other potential candidates. However, Chip Ganassi has already surprised us once with a driver’s choice this season. Speaking of, where does Matt Kenseth stand this silly season?

3. Is it too soon to consider allowing fans to attend races? When NASCAR does permit attendance, how should it handle the process?

Gillispie: Just hold on. NASCAR has already proved it can put on safe events, but while I understand fans in the stands are what makes the world go round for NASCAR, it should not rush to bring them back. I want fans to return as bad as anyone, but NASCAR is already way ahead of other professional sports. NASCAR risks public outcry and a potential COVID-19 resurgence in the stands if fans start coming back. NASCAR needs to slow it down and take care of what it already has, which is a good, solid product ahead of the curve.

Haas: It isn’t too soon to start letting fans back in. America is trending downward. NASCAR should have the same procedures as it does in the garage, though it also needs to limit the number of fans that come. A good way to phase in fans is a capacity limit. You can start at 25% capacity and go up from there. Also, fans at the beginning will need masks to be granted entry in the grandstands. If feasible, temperate checks would be great to have. We have to make sure everyone is safe.

Cheek: It’s absolutely too soon. We’ve been continuously warned of a second wave of the pandemic and a rise in cases when flu season hits this fall. Bringing fans back to the track would only accelerate that resurgence; it’s too big of a risk to take. As much as I miss being at the track, I probably wouldn’t go until the pandemic is relatively under control.

Campbell: It is too soon to allow fans. In fact, NASCAR needs run the rest of the season without fans, because it is not clear if there will be a second wave of the virus or not. You do not want to allow some tracks to have the fan revenue and not others. Having an across-the-board stance is best. Alas, ticket sales are usually king, so eventually fans will again be allowed to the stands. Camping outside the track should be allowed with increased enforcement,  and sitting in the stands will need to be socially distanced. I would not allow the fan zones or concessions to be opened, only bathrooms in the track. I would also allow for a revised ability to carry concessions in coolers.

4. With the bounty on Kyle Busch claimed in its first race in the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series, will this entice other Cup drivers to attempt a Truck race?

Haas: If the bounty continued for three or four races, you would see a lot more drivers trying to hop in. Since Chase Elliott claimed the bounty, you aren’t going to see as many Cup drivers hop into a truck just to beat Kyle Busch. If I want to see somebody in a truck Series from Cup, I want to see a driver who’s started a truck race, like Kenseth.

Gillispie: Busch has been such a talking point in the lower-tier series for the last few years because he has become the only frequent-flyer Cup driver in them. It wasn’t that long ago where nearly half the Cup field was competing in the Xfinity Series. It was the fans who said that they preferred the series regulars to be the focus of the two series, instead of the invaders. With the help of NASCAR restrictions, most drivers left, except for Busch, who still continues to compete as much as he can within NASCAR’s limits. But all of a sudden now, when there are new Cup drivers, a robust field and a bounty involved, public opinion seems to have shifted. I would rather see non-Cup guys in the series; in fact, I am on the David Ragan train here. Ragan, who recently retired from full-time Cup racing, entered this weekend’s Truck race, though he failed to qualify. His entry reminds me of Ted Musgrave, Johnny Benson and Todd Bodine, all of whom moved from Cup and found immediate success in Trucks. If guys like Ragan, Greg Biffle, Kenseth, Landon Cassill and others got full-time rides in the series, it could produce way more drama than a bounty ever could on a week-to-week basis. What’s better than a veteran vs. young gun match-up each week?

Campbell: I hope that it entices other drivers to come to the Truck series. The bounty idea could catch on and become a way to increase Cup driver engagement in a new way. I would love to see Stewart-Haas Racing take the series by storm. Kevin Harvick should put his money where his mouth is and get out there and battle with them, and team owner Tony Stewart should also get out there again and show them how its done.

Cheek: It will. Seeing drivers like Biffle and Cassill get full-time rides would be great. The challenge of racing against a seasoned veteran while battling through a largely inexperienced field (albeit with some old-timers, too) is something I even find enticing, and Elliott and Busch nearly made it exciting at Charlotte, though their battle at the end simply didn’t materialize due to Busch running out his tires before he could get to the No. 24. As for Cup drivers I’d like to see duke it out with Busch, Keselowski, Kurt Busch or maybe even Johnson in his final season would be cool. I’ll also add Matt DiBenedetto to the list, since he’s never driven a Truck Series race in his career.

 

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About Frank Velat

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Frank Velat has been an avid follower of NASCAR and other motorsports for over 20 years. He brings a blend of passionate fan and objective author to his work. Frank offers unique perspectives that everyone can relate to, remembering the sport's past all the while embracing its future. Follow along with @FrankVelat on Twitter.

2 comments

  1. Avatar

    Some people should be able to attend these races, like special groups i.e. armed forces, first responders and more media people. These places are big enough for that.

  2. Avatar

    nascar should be shut down covid quickly rising in north carolina since racing began