NASCAR to resume season May 17 with seven races in 10 days

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Martin Truex Jr., Jimmie Johnson

FILE – In this Sept. 30, 2018, file photo, Martin Truex Jr., (78) and Jimmie Johnson (48) crash on the final lap during the NASCAR Cup series auto race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C. Charlotte Motor Speedway will host the Coca-Cola 600 on May 24, 2020, to mark 60 consecutive years the longest race on the NASCAR schedule will be held on Memorial Day weekend. The track in Concord will then host a Wednesday race three days later. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton, File)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — NASCAR announced Thursday that it will resume its season without fans starting May 17 at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina with the premier Cup Series racing three more times in a 10-day span.

NASCAR joins the UFC as the first major sports organizations to announce specific return to play plans since the coronavirus pandemic shut down U.S. sports in mid-March.

“NASCAR and its teams are eager and excited to return to racing, and have great respect for the responsibility that comes with a return to competition,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer. “NASCAR will return in an environment that will ensure the safety of our competitors, officials and all those in the local community.

NASCAR’s revised schedule goes only through May and has a pair of Wednesday races, fulfilling fans longtime plea for midweek events. The first race is scheduled for Darlington, NASCAR’s oldest superspeedway, followed by a second race at the 70-year-old, egg-shaped oval track three days later.

Charlotte Motor Speedway will then host the Coca-Cola 600 on May 24 to mark 60 consecutive years the longest race on the NASCAR schedule will be held on Memorial Day weekend. The track in Concord, outside NASCAR’s home base of Charlotte, will then host a Wednesday race three days later.

There will also be lower-tier Xfinity and Trucks series races at the two tracks.

“This has been a proactive effort to put our motorsports industry back to work and boost the morale of sports fans around the world, while at the same time keeping the health and safety of all who will be on site the top priority,” said Marcus Smith, president and CEO of Speedway Motorsports. He said “sports fans around the world need this, a return to some sense of normalcy with live sports on TV, and NASCAR is uniquely positioned to deliver it from a competition standpoint.”

NASCAR has set guidelines to safely hold the events using CDC guidelines on social distancing and personal protective equipment. Only essential personnel will be permitted to attend the events, and cloth face masks will be required.

NASCAR suspended its season March 13 with only four of its 36 scheduled races completed. The stock car series, heavily reliant on television money and sponsor payments, has vowed to complete its full schedule. The revised schedule for now stays at tracks within driving distance of Charlotte-based race teams and in states that have started reopening.

Almost all teams began returning to their race shops this week with either a reduced initial workforce or in split shifts. Now that NASCAR has told the teams where it will be racing this month, they can start preparing cars suitable for the two tracks.

Although Florida and Texas have invited NASCAR to compete in those states without spectators, the sanctioning body is holding off on scheduling events at tracks that require air travel and hotel accommodations.

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