NASCAR's fast return from coronavirus pause will boost sport's visibility, Steve Phelps says

NASCAR Cup Series has not held a race since March 8.

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The business of NASCAR is poised for a rebound following its return to Darlington Raceway on Sunday for its first event after a two-month pause related to the coronavirus pandemic, according to one of the stock car circuit’s top executives.

Dubbed The Real Heroes 400, NASCAR’s race at the famed South Carolina track will be the first in the circuit’s 72-year history to take place without fans – a necessary precaution to protect public health during the pandemic. NASCAR President Steve Phelps acknowledged an inevitable loss of expected revenue due to an absence of ticket sales but argued the sport has a rare opportunity to connect with television viewers after weeks without sports.

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“Certainly [there is] lost revenue there, but the sponsorship for the teams, the sponsorship for the league, those will be intact,” Phelps told FOX Business Network anchor Liz Claman. “It really has to do about visibility of the sport. I would suggest the visibility of NASCAR will probably be even greater in this post-COVID world than it was pre-[COVID].”

NASCAR is among the first U.S. sports organizations to resume live activity since the pandemic forced leagues to shut down in mid-March. The NASCAR Cup Series has not held a race since March 8.

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Phelps said NASCAR officials worked closely with federal, state and local authorities to develop an enhanced safety plan that would allow races to safely resume.

Precautions include the elimination of all practice and qualifying rounds prior to Cup Series races for the foreseeable future. Team rosters will be limited to just 16 people apiece. Crew members and drivers alike will be subject to health screenings and required to wear masks.

About 900 NASCAR employees will be on the scene at Darlington on Sunday, down from a typical level of roughly 2,000 employees.

“The drivers are going to jump into their cars, put on their seatbelts, pull them tight and get onto the racetrack and start racing,” Phelps said. “But when the green flag drops, the thing that will look the same is great racing and that’s the promise we have to our fans.”

NASCAR owns many of the tracks utilized during its typical Cup Series season. As a result, a prolonged span without fans in attendance would mean a loss of meaningful revenue for the stock car circuit as it looks to connect with a new generation.

NASCAR is determined to continue with a TV-only format until the public safety can be assured.

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“A lot of that has to do with state and local governments. We will not go back racing with fans until we know it’s safe for those fans to return to our racing,” he said.

The first NASCAR Cup Series race in two months will air Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET on Fox.

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