A NASCAR official said that its first race since all major sports was shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic went "smoother than expected," Racer reported. Drivers are also praising the organization's handling of the Darlington event.
NASCAR had been idle since March 8's FanShield 500 in Phoenix. The Arizona race took place just as the full gravity of the coronavirus pandemic was starting to be fully understood, and the racing organization decided to follow the lead of other sports and shut down until further notice.
After a two-month absence, the sport returned on Sunday, May 17, with The Real Heroes 400 at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina.The race, however, was unlike any other NASCAR event before it. There were no fans in the stands, and competitors raced in front of 47,000 empty seats. Teams were limited in the amount of personnel they could bring into the raceway. Everyone who entered the facility had to have their temperature taken before entering, and was required to wear a face mask. Inside, everyone was expected to maintain a distance of six feet apart.
After winner Kevin Harvick passed under the checkered flag, he was the only one from his team allowed to pose with the trophy.NASCAR executive Steve O'Donnell said that considering the extraordinary conditions under which the drivers, their teams, and the TV crews had to work, things went smoothly.
"Things actually went smoother than we could have expected getting all the teams in and inspection went well. All in all, a really good day for the sport. Excited to be back," he said.
He also noted that, though there were no spectators in attendance, he hoped the viewers watching the event at home had a positive experience watching the race.
"Hopefully, the fans enjoyed it on television. Surely, a little odd not having fans in the stands, but I know that the fans were with us in spirit for sure," he said.
Drivers are also complimenting the league on how well Sunday's race was handled, according to a companion report from Racer.
For example, Martin Truex Jr. said that he felt "100 percent safe" during the event, thanks to the extraordinary safety protocols put into place. Similarly, Kyle Busch said that he missed being around "[my] guys," but noted that, with fewer people inside the facility, there was less "chaos" than normal.
On Monday, NASCAR executives intend to meet to talk things over following Sunday's race. Meanwhile, races scheduled for the league's main and lesser divisions remain on the schedule for this week, under the same controls in place at Darlington.