Roger Diez: Time to get back to real racing
After weeks of no racing except for the simulated type, there’s good news on the horizon. Locally, Fernley 95A Motorsports complex has rescheduled its postponed preseason test and tune for Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Drivers wanting to take their cars on track will pay $45 for the privilege, and spectators will be admitted for a mere $5 fee. Social distancing rules will apply, and the track will be enforcing those. I plan to be on hand to check out new and returning competitors.
NASCAR has also updated its schedule to return to the track in two weeks. The NASCAR Cup series will race at Darlington on May 17. It will be the first of seven races over an 11-day period, featuring four NASCAR Cup races, two Xfinity contests, and one Gander Outdoor Truck event. In addition to the Darlington 400 miler the Cup cars will race for 500 kilometers at the same track on May 20. The next two Cup races will be the Coke 600 at Charlotte on May 24, and another 500K, also at Charlotte on May 27. The Xfinity series will race 200 miles at Darlington on May 19, with a 300-miler on May 25 at Charlotte. The lone Truck race on this mini marathon is scheduled to run 200 miles at Charlotte on May 26. These races will run without spectators, and all necessary precautions will be taken including testing everyone who enters the track (drivers, crews, track personnel, journalists, etc.). Both tracks are within easy driving distance of most teams’ race shops and will be one-day events with no practice and no qualifying except for the Coke 600. NASCAR has worked with CDC, OSHA, medical experts, and state and local governments to follow a modified regimen of using protective equipment and maintaining social distancing as much as is practicable.
NASCAR has not yet made public any plans beyond May 27 but has indicated their intention to run a full 36-race schedule for 2020. Expect to see more doubled-up races and mid-week racing at certain tracks. By the way, NASCAR will be the first major sports organization to re-start their season after the mid-March coronavirus shutdown.
As NASCAR drivers gear up to get back in their cars, there will be one significant gap in the field. While iRacing a couple of weeks ago, Kyle Larson was heard using a racial slur. The fallout from this saw Larson’s sponsors, including Chevrolet, drop him immediately. Faced with this situation, Chip Ganassi Racing first suspended, then fired Larson. NASCAR followed suit with an indefinite suspension, requiring sensitivity training as a condition of his eventual return. With Chevy’s action, Larson will have to look at Ford or Toyota teams if and when he does return, but there are no top tier rides available for this season on any team. For his part, Larson has gone on social media to apologize, but the damage has been done. It remains to be seen whether he will also be banned by USAC, World of Outlaws, and other sanctioning bodies where he runs Midgets and Sprint Cars. Matt Kenseth will take over driving duties in the No. 42 Camaro for Ganassi. The 48-year-old Kenseth is a veteran with 665 Cup starts, 39 wins, 20 poles, and was the 2003 Cup champion. He last drove a full-time Cup season in 2017.
In other news it appears that the Austrian Grand Prix the first weekend in July will be the first Formula 1 race of the season, likely without spectators. The sanctioning body is hoping to salvage a 15-18 race season. According to regulations, a minimum of eight races must be run to constitute a championship season.