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NASCAR’s Steve Phelps: ‘I don’t foresee any further shutdown for us’

Steve O'Donnell joins Rick Allen and Nate Ryan to discuss the biggest challenges leading up to the sport's return, how race control will work during competition, and how they can pave the way for other sports to return.

As NASCAR prepares to return Sunday at Darlington Raceway, a question often asked of series officials is what happens if someone, whether a driver or crew member, tests positive for COVID-19.

NASCAR President Steve Phelps, appearing on NBC’s “Today” show on Saturday said to that question: “We’ve looked at scenario planning for hundreds of different things happening, including, obviously, someone showing symptoms of having the virus. Protocols are in place that would allow for us to have that person removed. I don’t foresee any further shutdown for us. We had a 10-week hiatus. I don’t see (another shutdown) happening.

“There are replacement crews, there are all kinds of different scenario plannings that we have done for both ourselves, our own officials, as well as the race teams and production people.

“It takes a village to put on a NASCAR race, but it will be a smaller village and one we’re excited to get back to.”

Phelps said that about 900 people are expected to be on site Sunday at Darlington, including drivers, team members, series officials, safety crews, medical providers, TV production members and media.

The event is being limited to essential personnel. Phelps said he is not deemed essential personnel for the event and won’t be at Darlington.

Teams will not have as many crew members at the track as they normally would. They often would have more than 20 people but will be limited to 16, including the driver. Teams had to set their rosters earlier this week and each member going to the track had to complete a health form.

Everyone who enters the track will go through a health screening and temperature check. If there are any issues, those people will go though a secondary screening. A doctor then would determine if someone can be allowed in the infield. Once a person passes the screening, they will go to their particular area. For drivers, they will go to their motorhome and remain there until reporting to their cars shortly before the race.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, addressed Friday on NASCAR America at Home what would happen if a driver is not allowed to compete.

“If, unfortunately, we had to face that scenario, we have communicated with all the race teams and the drivers we would provide a waiver” to be eligible for the playoffs, he said. “We’d ask them to self-quarantine.”

Crew members who pass their health screening outside the track Sunday will go to the garage. Teams will be separated from each other, even if in the same organization. Teams also are being told to limit contact between their pit crews and other crew members.

Everyone in the garage must wear a cloth mask.

Spotters will be not be allowed in the infield. They will be positioned in the stands to abide by social distancing guidelines as opposed to being packed on the spotter’s stand.

John Bobo, NASCAR vice president of of operations, told that “we’ll have thermal cameras set up in the infield where we will be randomly taking people’s temperatures and making sure they are compliant.”

NASCAR has stated that it will not administer a COVID-19 test to those entering the track, citing the limited number of such tests in the country at this time.

As for when fans can return to races, O’Donnell told NASCAR America at Home:

“We’d love (the fans) there this weekend,” O’Donnell said of Sunday’s Cup race at Darlington Raceway, “but we also understand that we’ve got to do what’s right in the local communities in each state. Some of the calls we’ve had with governors have said, ‘Hey, we may be ready and we may be open to that,’ so I’m encouraged by those conversations. We’ve not heard a ‘no way’ for the rest of the year.”

NASCAR has set its revised schedule through June 21. Friday, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said during a press briefing that he has had talks with NASCAR but “Pennsylvania is not ready to make a decision” on if Pocono Raceway can host its NASCAR races June 27-28. Saturday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that racing at Watkins Glen International could take place without crowds starting June 1.