NASCAR first major sport to be held since COVID-19 via NASCAR

On Sunday, Denny Hamlin got the win at Homestead-Miami. NASCAR returned to action on May 17th, after a +70 day hiatus due to the Coronavirus pandemic. NASCAR is the first sport to return to action, but life at the track has been very different. Being that first sport to return, NASCAR is blazing the trail for all of American sports. One of the restrictions NASCAR has inserted is mandatory temperature checks for every driver, pit crew member, and all media personnel who enter the track. In addition, all drivers and pit crews must wear a mask or other face covering. Pit crew members and drivers are exempt from wearing masks when their helmets are on, and covering their face. And, of course, all must remain 6-feet apart at all times.

Most drivers do not believe these restrictions are an issue for performance. Matt DiBenedetto, driver of the #21 Ford Mustang, was asked after the Real Heroes 400 if he felt these changes affect performance.

“No, I don’t think so.” DiBenedetto said. “I hope they work, and that people continue to take them seriously.”

However, what seems strangest to see, is the winning driver in victory lane, after the race. While a driver would normally exit their car to a shower of champagne, confetti, and their team cheering behind them, that is no longer the case. Only the winning driver is allowed in victory lane after the race to maintain the CDC’s social distancing guidelines.

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Kevin Havrick celebrates with his team in 2019
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Kevin Havrick celebrates alone in Victory Lane, 2020

In addition, these restrictions are making the TV and radio broadcasts much different as well. Only radio and some print/social media media members are allowed to be on-site for races. FOX Sports broadcasters Mike Joy, Jeff Gordon, and Larry McReynolds have conducted all broadcasts remotely, from Charlotte, NC. Many people are noticing differences in energy levels from the announcers, as they are not taking in the action at the track.

One thing NASCAR is improving since resuming the season, is overall TV ratings. The Folds of Honor QuickTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway earned 3.957 million views. Last season, Atlanta Motor Speedway earned 5.1 million views, but it was, and usually is, the first race after the Daytona 500–NASCAR’s premiere event. Overall, FOX Sports is getting a near 35% increase in NASCAR viewership since resuming on May 17th.

NASCAR heads to Talladega this weekend, where NASCAR is opening admission to 5,000 fans, spaced out to adhere to social distancing.

My name is Jake Bartecki, and I am a senior Broadcasting/Sports Communication major at Nebraska. I am one of the two sports directors for 90.3 KRNU, the student radio station for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and I have experience in Play-By-Play broadcasting, Sports Writing, and Reporting. So far, I have worked with the Nebraska News Service as a news and sports reporter, serving as one of the two lead motorsports reporters for UNLimited Sports.