CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - We are 11 days from the restart of the NASCAR season. The first major sport in the country to come back. There will be some regulations put in place to keep folks safe during this time of the pandemic and the big question will be, how will the racing on the track be?
Before we get too deep into that, the fact that racing is back is just incredible. To hear the words, “drivers, start your engines” and to hear those engines fire back up will be music to everyone’s ears.
“I think it is going to be one of the best sounds that people have ever heard,” said Doug Rice of the Performance Racing Network. “It’s going to be a signal that we’re back in business.”
Rice has covered races for 40 years with the last 33 spent at PRN. He says the racing shouldn’t be too much different than what we normally see once the drivers get back into the flow of things. But that may take a few hundred laps.
NASCAR has put a limit on the amount of member each team can have at the track. That number is 16 and that includes the driver, crew chief, owner and spotter. So with less members at the track, there will be no practice or qualifying. Especially for Darlington on May 17th, expect there to be a lot of feeling out on the track.
“The drivers and the teams are going to come out cautious,” said Rice. “They will try to tip toe through that first hundred, two hundred miles and then they will get down to racing. We were just four races into a new package and a new way of racing and then we take a hiatus for two months. Now we come back and now we try to crank it all up again so I can see the first third to a half of that race being a bit of cat and mouse.”
Of course, the powerhouse race teams like Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing, and Penske will have the big time advantage as usual, but Rice thinks this layoff could POSSIBLY even the playing field just a little because everyone has been on pause since the star of this pandemic.
“They (the powerhouse teams) have not been able to practice anymore than anybody else,” said Rice. Their driver has been sitting on the shelf just like every other driver. Maybe this will open the door up for a little more competition. There might be a little bit of equalization in this but the big teams are always going to have the advantage over some other teams."
After spending the first weekend back in Darlington, NASCAR will bring the show to it’s familiar Memorial Day weekend home of the Charlotte Motor Speedway. On May 24th, they will drop the flag on the Coca Cola 600. Normally that is a race close to 4 hours and it is an endurance race. For the casual fan, 4 hours might be a bit much, but on Wednesday, May 27th, CMS will host the Charlotte 310. It is half the distance and time of the 600 and could be a game changer for NASCAR in the long run.
“I think a two and a half hour to three hour NASCAR Cup race is perfect for todays audience especially people that aren’t fully engaged with NASCAR and they’re just catching it as a passing fancy,” said Rice. “I think that race is really going to be action packed. I think they are going to be going at it from the drop of the green because you’re not going to have much time. It’s going to be about the length of a current Xfinity race and I think that is going to light the fuse pretty quick.”
And for a sport that has had problems with viewership, this will be a big opportunity for NASCAR. Even more so than IRacing, that has drawn millions of viewers since real racing has been on the shelf due to the pandemic.
“The biggest game changer is going to be exposure,” said Rice. “I really think this is a tremendous opportunity for NASCAR to be in front of a national audience. I think people are going to be so starved. I think that if you give them something like NASCAR racing and it is happening in real time, there is an opportunity here to grab a whole new audience because you are competing against nothing."