NASCAR president Steve Phelps addressed the juggling act the sanctioning body is performing to solve the uncertainties surrounding the sport during the Coronavirus pandemic.
Less than a day after announcing NASCAR would go dark through May 3--with resumption currently planned for the May 9 weekend at Martinsville--Phelps attempted to offer answers for some very fluid situations that simply have no solutions at this time. As of Tuesday, the intention is to run the entire 2020 Cup schedule, although it’s uncertain how it might unfold.
Ultimately, Phelps believes public safety is the overwhelming concern in navigating the next eight weeks.
“We're working through both the complexity of our sport and our many industry stakeholders as well as the complexity of this pandemic and its impact on our daily lives,” Phelps said on a Tuesday teleconference with reporters. “I would like to express my gratitude to you, the media, our teams, our drivers, the racetracks and everyone in the industry for their incredible patience and cooperation over the past week.
“These clearly are unprecedented times, with information changing by the hour. 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.”
After just four races into the NASCAR Cup Series schedule, 32 points races and the All-Star remain to be contested in NASCAR's top division. According to Phelps, NASCAR intends to keep the Playoff schedule intact, with Phoenix as the championship race.
While there has been discussion of midweek races, doubleheaders and using the two open weeks between New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 19 and Michigan International Speedway on August 9—which was originally set aside for NBC Sports Olympic coverage—the revised calendar is still a work in progress. Phelps says no concrete decisions have been made.
“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 with the other sports to find windows to get back to racing in our case.”
Certainly, NASCAR is taking into consideration the interests of the tracks and teams as well as the TV partners. But if NASCAR returns to action in May, it could be competing with a crowded sports landscape, if Major League Baseball returns and the National Hockey League and National Basketball Association also attempt to pick up where they left off.
“It's understanding what is available to us,” Phelps said. “It's understanding the races that we've had to postpone and what is the best way to get them fit back into a schedule. We'll take a holistic view of what it is, not specifically how are we going to prioritize one versus another.
“We'll work with our television partners to find the appropriate windows so we can get back racing and make sure our fans get the opportunity to see that racing.”
While the financial stability of the race teams is of concern to Phelps, NASCAR has nothing concrete to say at this time about possibly subsidizing its competitors. Some teams have already laid off crew personnel—even on the Cup side of the garage.
“There are 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.
“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.”
Prior to the teleconference with Phelps, NASCAR released a technical bulletin suspending any testing on the current car. However, the testing ban does not include the Next Gen Cup car for 2021. As for continued development on the new car, as well as the distribution of a revamped schedule for 2021, Phelps expects to stay the course.
“Trying to be as honest as possible, this is not easy, right? It's not easy on anyone who works in this industry,” Phelps said. “It's hard. We're not the only ones this is hard on, right? 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.
“We are still pushing forward right now with the Next Gen car. We are still pushing forward with changes to our schedule. We're trying to do it as smartly as we can. 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. Again, it's a difficult situation.”