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NASCAR will be the First Major United States Sport to Return to Action with a Race at Darlington on May 17

Charlotte Motor Speedway. Photo courtesy of NASCAR

By Nathan Ham

Drivers in the NASCAR Cup Series, Xfinity Series, and Gander Mountain Truck Series will all get back on the racetrack in May even if there won’t be fans in the stands.

Races start at Darlington Raceway with a cup series race on Sunday, May 17 in the sport’s official return to racing.

“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,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, in a statement. “NASCAR will return in an environment that will ensure the safety of our competitors, officials, and all those in the local community. We thank local, state, and federal officials and medical experts, as well as everyone in the industry, for the unprecedented support in our return to racing, and we look forward to joining our passionate fans in watching cars return to the track.”

It has been decades since the NASCAR Cup Series ran mid-week races, but the COVID-19 pandemic will force NASCAR to do just that if they want to come close to getting their original number of races completed. The Xfinity Series will resume their season on Tuesday, May 19 in Darlington, and then the Cup Series will race at Darlington again on Wednesday, May 20.

Next up, all three series return to Charlotte. The annual Coca-Cola 600 will take place on Memorial Day with no fans. The 600-mile race will be on Sunday, May 24. The Xfinity drivers will race in Charlotte on Monday, followed by the Gander Mountain Truck Series drivers on Tuesday and the Cup Series racing again at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Wednesday, May 27.

Both Sunday Cup Series races will be broadcast live on FOX while the other races will be broadcast live on Fox Sports 1.

NASCAR officials have collaborated with public health officials, medical experts, local, state, and federal officials to create a comprehensive plan to ensure the health and safety of competitors and surrounding communities at the above events. All races will be strictly tailored, in every way, to follow specific guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Event procedures will be significantly modified in accordance with CDC, OSHA, and state and local government recommendations — including hosting one-day shows at the above tracks, which are all within driving distance of North Carolina race shops to minimize travel and time spent in a community.

There will be no practice sessions for any event, and qualifying will only be held for the Coca-Cola 600.

Other adjustments include mandating the use of protective equipment, health screenings for all individuals before entering the facility and maintaining social distancing protocols throughout the event.

Of note, the May 17 race — and then the May 20 Cup Series race at Darlington — will not replace the scheduled Southern 500 on Labor Day Weekend, the opener of the NASCAR Playoffs. NASCAR intends to keep its 10-race postseason format and tracks involved unchanged, but the situation remains fluid.

No dates beyond May 27 have been announced, but NASCAR officials have said on multiple occasions that the sanctioning body intends to run a full 36-race NASCAR Cup Series slate in 2020.

Additional schedule updates specific to tracks that have had races postponed, and are not part of this new May schedule, will be revealed at a later date.