So it’s come to this.
Three months ago, this column went in depth about the potential problems NASCAR could have running a race during the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Not a whole lot of them have been addressed. At all.
The vast majority of that column is still just as relevant now as it was back then. The reality of the matter is that NASCAR just doesn’t care.
At the NASCAR All-Star Race at Bristol Motor Speedway, reportedly over 20,000 fans attended the race. Right off the bat, it should be mentioned that the fans were gated off to specific portions of the racetrack, instead of using the full 168,000-person seating capacity of the racetrack.
It’s understandable, under normal conditions, to section off such a large sporting venue. Less sections open means less staff that need to work the event.
At the same time, however, there is a global pandemic going on, and one of the biggest hot spots in the entire world has been the southeastern United States. With that understanding, whoever ultimately decided to allow fans to sit maskless next to one another instead of spreading them out around the racetrack really should be fired.
When Chase Elliott won the event, guess what he did afterward?
— Xfinity Racing (@XfinityRacing) July 16, 2020
Yep, here he is interacting with a ton of maskless fans, after having already sneaked into the grandstands during the Open (with a mask on).
This came after the sanctioning body gave a memo to teams last week reminding them of COVID-19 standards in the garage area and even fining a NASCAR Xfinity Series team owner for breaking the rules.
This week, in addition to the All-Star Race that may well turn into a super-spreader event with how close fans were on one another with no masks, NASCAR will be going on over to Texas Motor Speedway for the weekend. Yes, Texas. The same Texas that has doctors having to choose who lives in Houston area hospitals. The same Texas that broke its own record for new daily infections twice in the last week.
Texas Motor Speedway track president Not Humpy Wheeler™, in between showing that he doesn’t understand how a race team works after over 40 years in the industry, has been adamant about running the races this weekend. The guy even went full Trump at one point:
. @JerryJordan_KTT didn’t use an unnamed source, someone else did. I’m a journalism school grad. If your story is based on one unnamed source, you can’t run with the story. Unnamed source = I made this up to get you to read it. Race. Sunday. @TXMotorSpeedway. https://t.co/Ot2fEYZh47
— Eddie Gossage ™️ (@eddiegossage) July 13, 2020
This is hilarious because it in effect perpetuates the idea that unnamed sources are fake news made up for clicks. Not Humpy Wheeler™, such a student of journalism, doesn’t understand that some people can’t speak on record for fear of losing their jobs.
People mess up from time to time, but at the same time, the article in question never actually reported that any changes to the weekend were happening, just that a source had said there might be. I don’t agree with the author posting it just because I believe in a three-source minimum, but it’s his website and his choices, and he later updated the article and noting when he did, which is a good journalism practice. And hey, if NASCAR chose not to have two weekends at Texas in a vacuum, that’d be fine with me. When was the last time that track came close to a sellout again?
What should NASCAR do?
It is obvious, after Jimmie Johnson tested positive after being asymptomatic and Brendan Gaughan tested positive following a “head cold,” that NASCAR needs to either start testing people for COVID-19 or not race.
People who bought a ticket to go to Bristol had to agree once buying their ticket that there was a risk that they would be exposed to COVID and that the track was not liable. OK, then.
What about the people all 20,000 of those in attendance will come into contact with over the next couple of weeks? Their families, coworkers and the people at Kroger? Did all of them agree that Billy Bob should go risk all of them by attending this event and potentially exposing himself to COVID? At best, what happened on Wednesday was unethical. At worst, I hope NASCAR has some good lawyers on retention.
Fans have no business attending races right now, especially when tracks won’t even make an honest attempt to socially distance them like Bristol failed to do at the conclusion of the event.
NASCAR shouldn’t go to Texas, but too late for that; ship has sailed. The best part of the defense I’ve seen for having the races at Texas this week is how low the hospitalization rate is in the local area. Like that doesn’t have the potential to change over the next couple of weeks after, at the very least, a thousand people will descend on the area from a state with a high rate of community transmission. They won’t be around for that; that might be a problem the people in the area have to solve.
But I get it. This has become a political issue in America, because everything is a political issue in America now. There are people who have just decided to keep their head in the sand on this issue, ignoring actual science and instead pretending the virus is a hoax or overblown. “Don’t mean nothing if it don’t affect me” is a powerful motivator.
And for those people, I hope that they do not suddenly see the light on this issue. Because if they do, that usually means something awful has happened to somebody they know and love, or even themselves. Let’s hope NASCAR keeps being lucky and never sees the light.
How was the All-Star Race?
While a lot of the thunder for this year’s All-Star Race was stolen thanks to the announcement of Superstar Racing Experience just a couple of days prior to the race, this year’s event was still one of the more unique in the race’s history.
You’d think Bristol would work for an event of this type, and it seemed like an excellent venue on television, but it really wasn’t. Bristol is best with 40 cars on track and about 30-40 green flag laps, when the leaders begin to have to deal with lapped traffic. With the only 20 cars in the main event, short stage distances and no incentive to tear up racecars for all but the top two at the end of the race, there really wasn’t much that Bristol had to offer.
There’s really no reason for sixth or seventh to race each other that hard in the closing laps, and nobody could touch Elliott until about 20 laps into a run, when Kevin Harvick’s Ford started to come alive.
Ultimately, however, the key to this race was the atmosphere of the event. This would have been just another race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but at Bristol, it seemed like a big deal. This race really does need to be in a different venue every year, just because it was something completely different.
As far as the new things, the new number placement really didn’t affect the race that much. Didn’t even register in my mind half the time. That being said, the normal number placement is still the way to go, because it gives the cars more of a week-to-week identity in this age of different sponsors/colors every week.
I’m fully on board with the underglow. Make it mandatory at every scheduled night race. It costs nothing and doesn’t take that many hours to install. The cars should still stay colored based on manufacturer, as it gives the makes more of an identity; that said, Chevrolet really should go to like green or something instead of amber. It looked like the cars were on fire on TV.
Finally, there’s the choose cone. We didn’t really get to see a lot of it come into play, as Elliott was just heads and shoulders above everybody. But it went off without a problem all night and really needs to just be the standard starting next season. It just makes sense, and none of the drivers seemed to have a problem with the rule.
Who can outlast the competition at Texas?
Another week, another loaded weekend of racing.
While there are seven fairly major races this weekend, one of the big differences from past weeks will be how long the events will be. At Texas, the Xfinity and Gander RV & Outdoors Truck series races are both tied for the longest events of the season mile-wise in those series, while the Cup race is a brutal 500-mile slog.
This will be the only major weekend scheduled for Iowa Speedway this year. Iowa typically has a few major weekends, but with COVID-19, both NXS races and the Truck race have been canceled for the year. The IndyCar doubleheader will have an ARCA support race, the lone NASCAR sanctioned race on the NASCAR-owned track this season.
One driver to really watch this weekend will be Martin Truex Jr. Truex is one of the older drivers in the field, but he’s also been very good at these long, exhausting races over the years. Truex will have the benefit of that Martinsville Speedway win last month as part of his contention for a playoff spot, but the master of the playoff point (after having led the series for the most in two of the last three seasons) has precious few entering the homestretch of this regular season.
The 2017 champion is going to need to start winning some stages and races if he wants any kind of safety net going into the playoffs, especially considering how mediocre he is at Bristol, which is currently scheduled to be in the first round.