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4 Burning Questions: NASCAR Still Isn’t Taking This As Seriously As They Should

Really?

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?

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:

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.

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Michael has watched NASCAR for 15 years and began covering the sport five years ago. He is a graduate of Salisbury University and a proud member of the National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA).

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35 comments

  1. Avatar

    You have no business writing articles about NASCAR if you think they shouldn’t be racing or they shouldn’t have fans. You are totally clueless about the devastating economic impacts of keeping things locked down or even partially locked down. And don’t give me this crap about saving lives. People die of all kinds of things all the time and we accept it. Tens of thousands die of the flu every year but nobody shuts things down or wears a mask. At some point we have to accept that Covid is here and we just go about living our lives.
    If we don’t the economic disaster will be permanent and the psychological toll all this will take is equally as terrible. People like you who are apparently still working and still getting paid don’t have a clue about the ripple effects of no fans. It means no concession sales, it means less people working at the track, it means less orders for food and other goods. It’s a terrible thing.
    But you sit in your little ivory tower lecturing people who just want to live their lives. I’m sick of all you mask shamers on here and reddit, etc.
    It’s disgusting.
    And while you are at it. how about you blame who is really at fault for all of this, China and their Communist government.

    • Avatar

      Hello, I actually know people in the industry who would be financially devastated if NASCAR were to shut down again and if you seriously do not think I take that into account, please go back to the Facebook comments section instead of posting on the main website.

      I seriously hope you do not have a medical emergency such as a car crash and get inadequate medical treatment or even get turned away at ICU because the hospital is overwhelmed by something you still compare to the flu in month five of this being a major problem in this country. GEE, I WONDER IF THE ECONOMY WILL BE DEVASTATED BY THAT.

      • Avatar

        Hey Mikey, Please tell us which specific ICUs are turning patients away and are overwhelmed because of the flu patients! I bet you can’t name 2. Give facts not your bloated opinion and quit pushing this scare news!

      • Avatar

        Oh stop it Michael. I happen to live in Virginia and no hospitals are overwhelmed around here. I have purposely driven by the emergency room areas from time to time and noticed nothing out of the ordinary. There were not throngs of people clamoring to get in. Also, look at the stats which can be easily found online. In Va for example, 2000 people are listed as a covid death. 1800 of them are 60 are over. Nobody at all under 18. In a state with 8 million residents. Stop the damn fear mongering.

        • Avatar

          so are you saying that we Virginians who are over 60 don’t matter? You didn’t mention that here in Virginia nursing homes have been a significant number of fatalities. But they are human beings too.
          One of the reasons Virginia has done as well as it has is the measures taken.
          But that gets into politics. Just want to say that I doubt if you can tell whats going on from out in the parking lot. All these people deserve respect, regardless of their age.

        • Avatar

          More states in this country than just Virginia, buddy.

      • Avatar

        Kind of touchy about people critiquing yur writing, aren’t you? Didn’t they teach you at Journalism School that you may have detractors and outright trolls critiquing you and your work? Your snarky replies and rejoinders are in no way casting a good light on your person. Maybe start thinking about your replies before actually replying? You just sound like a pissed off snowflake on a pedantic rant.

    • Avatar

      Thank you, John. Well stated

  2. Avatar

    Given the times that we live in I can’t imagine wanting to attend a major sporting event, or any large gathering for that matter.
    While I can understand the impact of a lockdown, or however you want to term it, on the employees I think this is a mistake. Thousands of people crowded together, no social distancing or PPE is a recipe for disaster.
    So lets see what happens, but this will have ramifications for some time to come.

    • Avatar

      Just don’t apply that logic to the riots. I mean protests. Sorry, the “peaceful” protests.

      • Avatar

        thought we were talking about racing not politics. Sorry I dont see the comparison

        • Avatar

          The subject of “racing” never came up in your comment, which was POLITICAL in its entirety.

        • Avatar

          First time I’ve read anything from this guy and U64837 hit the nail on the head, lol. Exactly what I was thinking.

  3. Avatar

    Don’t worry. Keep peddling your fear mongering and soon enough the Wa Post or Yahoo Sports will come a knockin.

    Also, take a look at the flu rates for the 2018 season. You along with most media like to act like hospitals at capacity or triage is something that hasn’t occurred since WW2.

    Much like it is difficult for a restaurant to be profitable at 50% capacity, why do you expect a hospital to do so?

    Triage occurs across the country to some extent every year, where was your pitchfork last year?

    7500 people die every day in the US. Time to flatten that curve too!

    • Avatar

      Back in the fifties a lot of people didn’t believe that smoking cigarettes was bad for health. I bet you don’t wear a seat belt in your car because people say it helps saves lives. A lot of people didn’t believe they were necessary when they were forced to use them. Motorcyclists were forced to wear helmets because they didn’t believe they would save lives. Some people never believe what they are being told. It helps in population control.

      • Avatar

        I go back to the fifties when cigarettes were commonly called “cancer sticks” and/or “coffin nail”s.

        Seems to me that the hazards of smoking were well known seventy years ago.

  4. Avatar

    Ever read Joe Heller’s book, “Catch 22”? That’s the world we live in, right now. We have those who are scared to death, largely due in part to fearmongering by the media, we have many on the fence, we have those who see a conspiracy by one political party or the other, and we have those who have had the virus and do or don’t see it as a big deal, including me. My wife and I both had it the first week of March. It was like a moderate case of the flu for her and I just felt fatigued and really run down. We both had a cough for about three months afterward. We are part of the percentage of those like Jimmie Johnson, who had the virus and it was not a big deal.

    Conversely, look at states that have shut down and their economies. Right now, Californians are going at each other because businesses are going bankrupt, people are running out of money, more and more people are being laid off and the economy of the 6th (depending on which numbers are to be believed) biggest economy in the world is tanking. Take New Hampshire, for instance, where NASCAR races on August 2nd. Usually they sell a great number of seats in a venue that holds 88,000. They’ll be limited to just 19,000. I know they also get sponsorship money and other monetary revenue, but the big revenue for the track and the city of Concord, NH is taking a huge hit to their economy. And, they are scheduled to hold their annual Bike Weekend in August, which was postponed from June. Except, no vendors are allowed. Bike weekend is a HUGE deal in NH and a lot vendors makes tons of money in that one event. Not this year. Not to mention the limitations and restrictions on bars and restaurants in local communities, which is another financial disaster for NH. Small states that rely heavily on tourist dollars are really taking in the shorts, economically and some may not survive the rest of the year before going under.

    So, there has to be a point in which numbers are crunched, risks mitigated and life goes on as ‘normal’ so people can make a living and put dinner on their plate. We may still have losses, but at some point, these losses have to be accepted in order to save the economy. Blame China, not each other.

  5. Avatar

    I think we need a cure for STUPID as badly as a cure for Covid 19.

  6. Avatar

    Michael Finely is absolutely right! FS fans are mainly deniers of facts and science. NASCAR shouldn’t be in hotspots like Texas. And Florida is the now the worldwide epicenter of the pandemic, yet NASCAR schedules multiple races there in August. And seeing drivers without masks mingling with fans sends the wrong message. It’s all politics for most NASCAR fans – mostly conservative gun-toting rednecks.

    • Avatar

      You want to tout science, but yet have no data to support your theory concerning “hot spots”. Don’t believe the media hysteria but educate yourself with facts. COVID-19 is slightly more contagious than the regular flu bug. Both are respiratory diseases, both can lead to pneumonia and both can kill you. That being said, many states are re-figuring and correcting their numbers (like Texas did yesterday, subtracting over 3,000 cases) because they originally counted people who were not tested. So, the question is, how many other states fall into this conundrum and how many cases and deaths were actually attributed to the seasonal flu? Nobody seems to know. Yet, the underlying info the media is not reporting is the death rate for COVID-19 is about 4%. And, that is using the numbers being touted in the daily news. So, 96% either got sick and recovered, or didn’t get sick. I am one of those who did get sick. It lasted for four days and left me with a cough for three months. The economy is much more important if you use your head. People have to make money, they need to eat and they need to pay for utilities, which are going sky-high in my neck of the woods. Congress is lame and probably is not going to pass any more monetary help for people before November. And, if they do, it will be too little, too late for many of them. You can’t have it both ways…, ergo Catch-22.

      • Avatar

        4% of the population of this country is over 13 million people. You think the economy wouldn’t be destroyed by that many deaths? That is over ten million more deaths than the United States saw last year.

        There’s a big difference from normal, everyday, essential businesses opening up with mask mandates/strict social distancing measures and allowing people to attend a NASCAR race with serious disregard for either, especially once the checkered flag flew.

        Over 50 hospitals in Florida are at full ICU capacity right now. This is not lies or fear mongering from the media, this is according to the state itself. The fact that you have apparently decided to keep going “bUt ThE fLuE” entering month five of this being a major outbreak in America is an absolute embarrassment. The rest of the world would be laughing at you if the country wasn’t as screwed as it is now.

        I hope you do not see the light.

        • Avatar

          Not 4% of the population, but 4% of positive COVID-19 cases. See, that’s where people screw up. They confuse total population numbers and positive COVID-19 numbers. As far as the rest of your rant goes, it sounds as if you didn’t even read my first posts, where I talked about the economic impact versus the health impact in New Hampshire. If not, maybe you should. Then, maybe you can think of something snarky to say about that post, too.

      • Avatar

        U64387, get your facts straight! While about 0.1% of people who get the flu die, the coronavirus’ global death rate is about 4.7%, based on the current numbers of cases and deaths. During the 2018-19 flu season, about 35 million people in the US contracted the flu and about 34,000 died, according to the CDC. The U.S. now has over 140,000 deaths from COVID-19 in only 5 months. Get real!

        • Avatar

          You just defeated your theory with your first statement, for one. And, two you didn’t read my post for clarity (obviously) and glossed right over the part where I said,

          “Both are respiratory diseases, both can lead to pneumonia and both can kill you. That being said, many states are re-figuring and correcting their numbers (like Texas did yesterday, subtracting over 3,000 cases) because they originally counted people who were not tested. So, the question is, how many other states fall into this conundrum and how many cases and deaths were actually attributed to the seasonal flu? Nobody seems to know.”

          And, I caught the disease: did you? That’s about as real as it gets.

        • Avatar

          U64387, you defeated your own credibility with your statement that COVID-19 is “slightly more contagious than the regular flu.” The R0 of the coronavirus so far seems to hover around 2 to 2.5, according to the World Health Organization. The R0 of seasonal influenza is more set, at about 1.3. That means COVID-19 is spreading exponentially, rather than the straight line spread of flu.

          R0, reproduction rate, is a number that essentially represents how many people an individual with a given virus is likely to infect.

          Furthermore, we are now seeing the greatest spike in cases and deaths – long after flu season is over. So your alleged mis-counting is no longer a factor.

        • Avatar

          Not so fast, Jo. While your R0 data is correct, it doesn’t account for those cases where the data gathered back in Feb-May included those not tested and.or those misdiagnosed. When the data is flawed or skewed, it is not reliable and the data gathered through this pandemic has been anything but reliable. And, spread rate is not a good indicator of the lethality of the disease, which goes to my point. In terms of how deadly the disease is and how many die compared to the seasonal flu, the numbers are very close…, 4.6% for COVID and 4.4% for the seasonal flu. It’s NOT as big a deal as you’re making it out to be and all you’re doing is adding to the hysteria. Even doctors agree to that point. Maintain good hygiene, wear a mask while indoors and you should be okay. Have a great day!

        • Avatar

          Again the death rate from seasonal flu is 0.1% and the death rate from COVID-19 is 4.7%. That makes COVID-19 47 times deadlier than flu. So, COVID is both deadlier and much more contagious.

        • Avatar

          And as to your previous question, no, I haven’t had COVID-19, but I haven’t had the flu since 1999 or a cold since 2005, so I’m hardly typical. I just happen to agree with Michael Finley based on the facts.

  7. Avatar

    Mike, keep writing this political crap till the sport you cover is gone. Maybe Jeff Gluck can find a spot for you to cover a sport that no longer exists, and if not try Bill Krystol at the Bulwark.

  8. Avatar

    Two comments.. 1. I disagree with nearly everything Michael wrote – but applaud his (at least once) willingness to get on here and mix it up.. bravo. 2. Absolutely amazed nobody took the bait and engaged that troll… very impressive folks.