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NASCAR’s return on May 17 will kick off seven races in 11 days

David Goricki
The Detroit News

The NASCAR Cup Series will return May 17 with a 400-mile race at Darlington Raceway, starting a unique schedule that also includes mid-week races, along with one of the marquee races in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway over Memorial Day weekend.

NASCAR will kick off at Darlington on May 17.

The NASCAR Cup races will be run May 17 (3:30/Fox) and May 20 (7:30/FS1) at Darlington, and May 24 (6/Fox) and May 27 (8/FS1) at Charlotte, the home base for the series.

Each of NASCAR’s return events will be run without fans in attendance. No practice or qualifying will take place for Darlington, but there will be pit stops during races. Qualifying will be based on driver points for the opener at Darlington.

NASCAR said it will have a 16-member roster for each team, including driver, owner and spotter.

The series was put to a sudden halt in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Denny Hamlin won the Super Bowl of the series, the season-opening Daytona 500, with Joey Logano winning at Las Vegas, Alex Bowman at Fontana, and Logano again March 8 in Phoenix.

Where does that leave the regularly scheduled FireKeepers Casino 400 race at Michigan International Speedway on June 7?

“NASCAR will continue to take a measured approach and will announce the future race dates and locations when appropriate,” said Karlie Newman, marketing coordinator at MIS.

NASCAR officials said they wanted to have the earliest races as close to the shops in North Carolina as possible to avoid overnight stays, meaning the MIS date on June 7 could be replaced with a race at Atlanta.

NASCAR said it plans to announce more races prior to the event at Darlington.

“We’re incredibly excited, the teams, the tracks, TV partners and OAMs to return to racing, but to also understand the tremendous responsibility that’s going to come with that return,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR vice president and chief racing development officer, during a NASCAR teleconference Thursday. “Our return at Darlington is going to be an environment that we need to make sure that we’re taking all measures available to us for the safety of our competitors and certainly for the local community.

“As we developed the return to racing schedule, we understood that it’s going to be a fluid situation and we’re going to need to factor in many variables, and most important for us at the onset was the development of a plan that was discussed with public health officials, medical experts and state and local officials. And then it was important for us to work with all of our stakeholders, and that included the teams, the tracks, the OAMs, engine builders, our suppliers, TV partners, all of those folks had to weigh in and talk about what was possible in this environment.”

John Bobo, NASCAR vice president of racing operations, said events will be far different than in normal times.

“Events are going to look different than they have in the past, the way we travel to the event, the way we enter the event, the way we move about an event and the way we leave an event is going to be different,” Bobo said. “We’re asking teams and all of our other participant’s organizations to self-monitor people for five days for symptoms before they arrive.

 “We’ve been working with the teams and our roster system to make sure the event is very limited in to who can attend. Everyone that is going into the infield is going to wear masks as they move about, and since there will be no spectators and no fans in the infield we will be able to use the entire infield to space out social distance.

“We will be able to space out the car garages. We will have drivers’ motor coaches there, but they will not be in the driver/owner lot. We’re spreading those motor coaches out to provide a place for drivers to self-isolate for the day.”

NASCAR schedule

Sun., May 17: Cup Series, Darlington, 400 miles, 3:30 p.m. (Fox)

Tue., May 19: Xfinity Series, Darlington 200 miles, 8 p.m. (FS1)

Wed., May 20: Cup Series, Darlington, 500 miles, 7:30 p.m. (FS1)

Sun., May 24: Cup Series, Charlotte, 600 miles, 6 p.m. (Fox)

Mon., May 25: Xfinity Series, Charlotte, 300 miles, 7:30 p.m. (FS1)

Tue., May 26: Gander Trucks, Charlotte, 200 miles, 8 p.m. (FS1)

Wed., May 27: Cup Series, Charlotte, 500 miles, 8 p.m. (FS1)