NASCAR President Discusses Rest of 2020 Season

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, March 19 2020

NASCAR President Steve Phelps says he still plans to hand out trophies again this season. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

NASCAR President Steve Phelps says the sanctioning body intends to complete its entire point-paying, 36-race Cup Series schedule this season once the COVID-19 pandemic is history.

NASCAR suspended its season last week until May as part of the CDC’s recommendation to postpone gatherings for the next eight weeks because of the pandemic. Seven event weekends have been postponed and yet to be rescheduled. Speaking during a national teleconference on Tuesday, Phelps said NASCAR plans to run all 36 races, as well as its non-point All-Star event in May.

These seven venues have been put in a holding pattern _ Atlanta Motor Speedway (March 15), Homestead-Miami Speedway (March 22), Texas Motor Speedway (March 29), Bristol Motor Speedway (April 5), Richmond Raceway (April 19), Talladega Superspeedway (April 26) and Dover International Speedway (May 3).

 NASCAR currently is looking to resume its schedule on May 9 at Martinsville Speedway in Virginia.

“We’re looking broadly about what our options are,” Phelps said. “At this particular point we would like to finish the season at Phoenix and keep the (10-race) Playoff portion intact.  With that said, it will require a lot of different opportunities for us to look at.  We’re in the process of doing that.”

Among NASCAR’s options, Phelps acknowledged, are running races mid-week and doubleheaders. “A lot of things on the table for us to look at,” Phelps said, “working with our race teams, working with our racetracks to make sure the things that we’re putting on the table are feasible for us to do.”

Here is an edited transcript of the Phelps interview, beginning with a statement to the media:

STEVE PHELPS:  “We know you have a number of questions, and we appreciate your patience as we work through what is an incredibly fluid process as I’m sure you can appreciate. Hopefully we can answer a bunch of your questions, but understand there are many more that we simply do not have answers for at this time.  We’re navigating this process with the entire industry and look forward to providing further details when they are finalized.

“We’re working through both the complexity of our sport and our many industry stakeholders as well as the complexity of this pandemic and its impact on our daily lives.  I would like to express my gratitude to you the media, our teams, our drivers, the racetracks and everyone in the industry for their incredible patience and cooperation over the past week.

“These clearly are unprecedented times with information changing by the hour.  Collectively our industry has made several difficult decisions, all with one thought in mind _ the health and safety of our fans, our competitors, employees and everyone in the industry. The situation we are facing transcends the world of sports.  What is most important now is we take precautions to keep everyone as safe as possible during these challenging times.”

QUESTION: About the teams, certainly there’s questions with the sport being shut down for a couple months about finances.  Is there a way to provide a subsidy for teams in any of the national series?  Has anything been discussed about helping teams financially through the next couple months?

STEVE PHELPS:  “I think what I would say there…no specifics around subsidies or anything of that nature.  We are working with our teams closely to have them industry-wide make sure we are all financially viable moving forward during this postponement of our races.”

QUESTION: How do you envision the process of deciding to re-start the season?  Is it possible you could start with events that do not have fans or do you anticipate waiting to start on a regular race weekend?

STEVE PHELPS:  “I think the way we view this is kind of how we view Atlanta, which is we need to make sure that we are keeping our competitors and those that are at the racetracks, our race teams, our officials, we need to have the health of those folks paramount for us.

“Would we consider racing without fans at some point to get back racing more quickly without fans?  That’s in the consideration set. I don’t know.  It’s changing so rapidly, what it means for mass gatherings, what’s that number?

“Again, we’ll work with our health officials.  We’re working with a number of infectious disease professionals that are going to help us through what that looks like and whether it makes sense for us to race without fans or have our first race be back with fans.”

QUESTION: Earlier (Tuesday) there was a bulletin issued about the banning of testing except for Next Generation-related car issues.  At this time do you anticipate any postponement to the Next Generation debut next season?

STEVE PHELPS:  “I think it’s just too early to tell.  We are working diligently to try to stay on schedule.  There continues to be barriers that are put in front of us.  We will have to adapt to those as they come.”

QUESTION: How much of (scheduling) is mandated or required by the TV networks; what are the obstacles generically to try to put this schedule back together?

STEVE PHELPS:  “We are working with our media partners, with FOX, with NBC.  If you kind of consider what is going to happen, we’re in this period right now where the major sports are shut down from participating.  At some point soon we hope to all get back to finding that escape that our fans are all looking for, in our case getting back to racing.

“We are working with FOX and with NBC to understand what windows might be available.  That will come as we develop this schedule.  It is complex, for sure.  But both partners have shown great willingness to try to work with us, with the other sports to find windows to get back to racing in our case.”

QUESTION:  The fact that lots of sports will come back suddenly, does that make it really tough?  With the two-week period off for the Olympics (Sunday July 26 and Aug. 2), will that be open to you?  Or, would the network (NBC) require that you not do that?

STEVE PHELPS:  “I would say, again, nothing has been decided at this particular point with respect to those two weeks.  Will it be a crowded landscape, television landscape, with a lot of different sports on?  Yes, it’s going to be. I think, again, we’ll work with our television partners to find the appropriate windows so we can get back racing and make sure our fans get the opportunity to see that racing.”

QUESTION: Give us some insight into how much NASCAR looked at the landscape of what other sports were doing in terms of postponements and cancellations.  How much did what those specific entities’ decide play into your announcement of no fans and then postponement of the season?

 STEVE PHELPS:  “We have a lens to what other folks are doing.  But we needed to look through our own lens of what was going to make the most sense for our fans, then ultimately for our competitors, the folks that work on the race teams, our own employees, our own officials.

“Do we have an understanding that these things were happening with other sports?  Of course.  But we need to look at it as it relates to our specific facilities.  The first example being Atlanta, then Homestead-Miami.  That’s what we looked at. We tried to run it without fans, then made a determination that, you know what, it’s probably not in the best interest to do that, which is why we postponed those two events.”

QUESTION: Can you prioritize what you are looking for when trying to reschedule events, as mid-week races might be more of a hassle for teams, versus doubleheaders, correct?

STEVE PHELPS:  “I wouldn’t say ‘prioritizing’ as much as we have to look at it based on so many different variables, so many different factors that will come into play. I wouldn’t say it’s a prioritization.  It’s understanding what is available to us.  It’s understanding the races that we’ve had to postpone and what is the best way to get them fit back into a schedule. We’ll take a holistic view of what it is, not specifically how are we going to prioritize one versus another.”

QUESTION: How much are you working on potentially having to postpone more races and/or how confident are your experts telling you you should be able to be back racing by early May?

STEVE PHELPS:  “I think for us, we’re concentrating on getting back to racing at Martinsville.  We’ll have to do scenario planning that will look different than that.  Right now our priority is to get back to racing at Martinsville.”

QUESTION: On subsidies for the teams, Roger Penske assured INDYCAR team-owners they’re going to get the first payment of their Leader Circles money.  NASCAR teams are worried about making payroll, they don’t know if sponsors are going to ask for money back, what kind of force majeure is going to come into play.  Is NASCAR concerned its teams are going to go out of business during this time?

STEVE PHELPS:  “No specifics around the financials about what will happen with our race teams and how we’re going to work with our race teams at this time. Are we concerned about teams broadly and their financial health?  Of course we are.  We want to make sure that each of our teams gets through this, each of our stakeholders in the industry gets through this crisis as well as we all can.

“Lots of things on the table.  No specifics at this point that we are prepared to discuss.  We need to make sure that our financials are handled with obviously the stakeholders separately, make sure that we are all aligned with what that’s going to look like. As of right now, nothing to share.”

QUESTION: You have all these elements in play.  One of those is sponsors.  Obviously some sponsorship went out the window with individual race packages.  What message are you talking to sponsors about?

STEVE PHELPS:  “I think from a sponsor standpoint, each of the sponsors is different, what their needs, wants and desires are, what it says contractually. No real broad overview or a way to think about where things are with sponsors broadly.  We’ll handle those on an individual basis.

“The racetracks that are not our racetracks, they’ll do the same thing.  The race teams and their sponsors will do the same thing. Nothing specific at this particular point. We’re looking broadly.  When we talk about stakeholders, sponsors are a huge portion of who those stakeholders are.  We need to make sure we’re adapting smartly with what we’re doing with our sponsor partners and the industry broadly.”

QUESTION: Take us through the decision-making process last Friday at Atlanta.  It seemed like there was some mixed messaging coming out. First we heard there was going to be condensed racing, then that changed. Was there one thing that made it change from we’re going to race this weekend, condensed schedule without fans, to we’re not going to race at all for the next two races?

STEVE PHELPS: “Obviously it was a very fluid situation.  I will say this _ the industry, the teams, the track, in this case Atlanta Motor Speedway, was everyone working together to try to come to what was going to be the right decision for us and our fans, then us and the safety of our crew and personnel.  It was fluid.

“It did change.  We were prepared first run on Sunday, then we were going to pull it to Saturday.  It was decided quickly that we would make a change and postpone both the Atlanta race as well as the Homestead-Miami race.”

QUESTION: What is the primary motivation and objective behind wanting to make sure that you’re postponing the races and running them later rather than canceling them in some scenarios?

STEVE PHELPS:  “Probably depends on who you ask about this.  For us, we have a commitment to our fans that we’re going to run all the races.  We have a commitment to all our competitors that we run all the races.  We have a commitment to the stakeholders broadly that we’re going to run all the races. We are going to do everything in our power to get these races in.  If there are other variables that happen that would suggest we can’t do that, we’ll look at those at that time.”

QUESTION: Four of the seven tracks you have postponed (Texas Motor Speedway, Bristol Motor Speedway, Richmond Raceway and Talladega Superspeedway), also have races in the Playoffs.  Is it your wish that the 10-race Playoff system not be tinkered with, that you would not want to run a doubleheader for any of those four tracks that have races both outside and inside the Playoffs?

STEVE PHELPS:  “I would say the answer to that is yes, we are interested in getting these postponed races done prior to our Playoff starting, so not running doubleheaders in those races that have been postponed during the Playoffs.  That is the goal that we’re working towards right now. Again, if there are other variables that change in the future, we’ll adapt to those as well.”

QUESTION: NASCAR already has so much going on for next year between rolling out a new car and revamping the 2021 schedule.  Now you have this to deal with for 2020.  Are you punting right now on everything for next year?

STEVE PHELPS:  “Trying to be as honest as possible.  This is not easy, right?  It’s not easy on anyone who works in this industry.  It’s hard.  We’re not the only ones this is hard on, right? You have people who are contracting this illness.  You have people who are sadly, dying from this virus.  We’re trying to keep it all in perspective with what it is that we do.

“To your point, we are still pushing forward right now with the Next Gen car.  We are still pushing forward with changes to our schedule.  We’re trying to do it as smartly as we can. The variables keep changing, right?  The hurdles keep being put in front of this industry, and this industry keeps jumping over them, then there’s another, it jumps over that, then another and another.

“It’s not an easy situation for sure, but it’s one that this industry is managing together.  Really proud of how this industry has come together to try to support each other and to try to get through this as best we can. Again, it’s a difficult situation.”

QUESTION: How much is NASCAR intending to rely on iRacing and pivoting to other means of entertainment for its fans during the postponement?  How much are you going to rely on iRacing?

STEVE PHELPS:  “I think in general we are interested in trying to satisfy our fans with different content, whether that’s through Esports, iRacing. But there are other things, too.  There are discussions we’re having with FOX about what things we can do, discussions we would have with NBC, things that we can put through our own channels that satisfy our fans. Our fans are obviously thirsty for this content.  We want to provide it to them smartly and have interesting content as opposed to just repurposing some of the content that’s already been done.

“More to come on that.  We want to make sure we’re servicing the fans as best we can.”


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, March 19 2020
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