May 22 (UPI) — NASCAR drivers say they feel safe as they prepare for their third Cup Series event since the season resumed Sunday after a two-month hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“I feel safer at the racetrack than at the grocery store at this point,” Joey Logano said in advance of Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600. “We had a big opportunity in front of us. We took it, and it’s paying off.”
NASCAR hosted two Cup Series races and an Xfinity Series race from Sunday through Thursday at Darlington Raceway in Darlington, S.C. — the first events since the sport suspended its season in March due to the pandemic.
No fans were allowed to attend those races. Drivers and team members are required to use personal protective equipment, such as masks, when they aren’t wearing helmets. Those who enter and exit the track also must have their temperature taken.
Garage and hauler areas were more spread out to adhere to social distancing guidelines.
The policies will remain in place when drivers fill up the track at Charlotte Motor Speedway this weekend in Charlotte, N.C.
NASCAR is one of the only active sports leagues in the United States, as others remain on hiatus due to the pandemic.
NASCAR events are carried on Fox Sports, and the Real Heroes 400 last Sunday attracted more than 6.3 million viewers, nearly 40 percent more than the network’s previous race March 8.
Logano attributed the sport’s success to everyone working together.
“When you look at the ratings, we are putting on good races and finding ways to race close to home,” Logano said.
Chase Elliott recently became a part of one of the most entertaining sequences since the sport’s return. Elliott was toward the front of the pack before he was forced to wreck by fellow driver Kyle Busch in Wednesday’s Toyota 500.
The wreck knocked Elliott out of the race, while Busch finished second. Elliott showed his frustration after the incident with an angry gesture directed at Busch.
The drivers have talked about the incident and appear to have moved on, but the dust-up could linger into the weekend when they share the track again for 600 miles.
“There is more room [on the track] at Charlotte than at Darlington, so you will see more aggressive moves,” Logano said of the 1.5-mile speedway.
Elliott said he thinks NASCAR drivers, fans and officials have learned drivers don’t need as much practice before a race as before. Drivers for the first two Cup Series events received their starting positions from a draw instead of achieving qualifying times on the track like they typically do.
“We don’t need to practice for three days before a Sunday event and we can still put on a really good show,” Elliott said. “I hope, as time goes on, we can race more and practice less and maximize the time the teams are at the race track.
“We can put on a full day of activities and events and still maximize the fans’ time at the track, too.”
Drivers will have a qualifying session at 2 p.m. EDT Sunday in Charlotte. The Coca-Cola 600 airs at 6 p.m. EDT Sunday on Fox.
“For us to find a way to get back to the racetrack as a sport and industry and get back to work before most was an amazing opportunity NASCAR saw,” Logano said. “It was important for all of our livelihoods. I’m proud to be part of this sport to be able to do that in the safest way we can.”