US NASCAR auto racing returns in May on empty ovals

NASCAR logo (Twitter)
NASCAR logo (Twitter)

US stock car auto racing, a closed-cockpit style that is America's most popular motorsport series, will end its coronavirus shutdown in May with four oval races over 11 days.

The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) announced Thursday it will return on May 17 at Darlington Raceway, joining UFC mixed martial arts among the next live US sports offerings in the wake of the deadly virus that has shut down sports.

All NASCAR Cup races will be staged without spectators, including 17 May over 400 miles and 20 May over 500km at Darlington near Florence, South Carolina, and 24 May over 600 miles and 27 May over 500km at Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina.

Empty tracks will also host events in NASCAR's second-tier auto series as well as truck racing in the first on-track NASCAR events since 8 March at Phoenix.

Charlotte's first race is one of NASCAR's major events, the Coca-Cola 600, in its traditional Memorial Day weekend spot for a 60th consecutive season.

No further schedule was announced, although NASCAR has said it plans to complete a full 36-race Cup slate in 2020.

"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," NASCAR executive vice president Steve O'Donnell said.

"NASCAR will return in an environment that will ensure the safety of our competitors, officials and all those in the local community... we look forward to joining our passionate fans in watching cars return to the track."

NASCAR said it has implemented a health and safety plan after talks with public health officials and medical experts, aiming to run races and follow rules of state and local governments plus recommendations by the Centres for Disease Control.

Social distancing protocols will be in place and using personal protective equipment will be mandatory during the event. So will health screenings for all individuals as they enter the racetrack, while they are inside and when they depart, with the number of people strictly limited.

Practice will be eliminated at all events and qualifying staged only at the Coca-Cola 600.

NASCAR also intends to stage the Southern 500 at Darlington in September to launch its 10-race post-season, although the playoff format and tracks remain uncertain.

Races were postponed at Atlanta, Miami, Fort Worth; Dover, Delaware and the Virginia tracks of Richmond, Bristol and Martinsville.

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