NASCAR returns with masks, temperature checks, empty stands and our undivided attention

CHARLOTTE, North Carolina – The NASCAR season began with the Secret Service, doing a security check on the Daytona 500 nanny and thousands of fans waiting in line for hours to pass a metal detector.

When the season begins again on Sunday, 13 weeks later, drivers will have their temperatures measured when they enter the Darlington Raceway in South Carolina, and will wear masks as they leave their motorhomes isolated and head to their cars. There will be no fans allowed inside.

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Faced with many of its teams in financial ruins, NASCAR is waving the green flag in a plan it believes will allow the series to safely return to racing. Only essential personnel will be allowed to enter the internal field, with strict guidelines on social distance, access and protective clothing.

There will be no one to boo the current champion of the series, Kyle Busch, or concerts before the race, pomp and probably no overflights.

The first seven races in May are at Darlington and Charlotte Motor Speedway, trails within walking distance of the teams' bases in North Carolina. Four are in the elite Cup Series and the other three are lower level, Xfinity and Truck Series.

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NASCAR hasn't run since March 8, so Wednesday night events in Darlington and Charlotte are the only way to pile up on some of the missed events.

These races will have nothing to do with NASCAR's weekly traveling circus and participants will discover a new normal when they arrive at the Darlington gate.

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NASCAR hoped to announce a renewed 2021 schedule in April, which included midweek runs, more short tracks and routes on the roads and other efforts to shake things up. These plans have been postponed, as completing the 2020 puzzle is now the priority; NASCAR said last week that it will not race this year as scheduled on the Chicagoland Speedway or on the road circuit in Sonoma, California. The spring run in Richmond, Virginia, will also not be rescheduled.

Jeff Gordon and Mike Joy, Fox Sports broadcast partner, will call the race from a studio in Charlotte and Regan Smith will be the only reporter on the track for the broadcast team, working in the pits.

With NASCAR being the first major sports league with a nationally televised event, Gordon recognizes the responsibility he and Joy have to set the right tone. Gordon was a driver in the first NASCAR race after the September 11, 2001 attacks, when Dale Earnhardt Jr. won in Dover, Delaware, and established an iconic image for the country, waving the American flag out the window during his celebration.

"These are unique and challenging times, and I hope that the people who are tuning in will tune in because they recognize the importance of sport in our everyday lives," said Gordon. “I think it can show hope. I think there will be many eyes at this event to see how it will happen and how it will be able to continue after that, and what it means for our country while people are trying to find out how they are doing. go back to work or normalcy or school and what life will be like next year. If such a sporting event can happen, what is the next step? "

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