3:41 PM ET
Ryan McGeeESPN Senior Writer
- Senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com
- 2-time Sports Emmy winner
- 2010, 2014 NMPA Writer of the Year
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said he expects one of NASCAR’s crown jewel events, the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, to take place on its traditional date, Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, “unless health conditions go down.”
Cooper made the comments on Tuesday afternoon during his daily media briefing on the coronavirus pandemic.
Cooper said NASCAR and Charlotte Motor Speedway officials had submitted a plan to North Carolina’s health and government officials that would implement social distancing among participants and have no fans in the speedway grandstands for the May 24 race. The governor said the plan had been reviewed by Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, and State Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Tilson, who “looked at them, made some suggestions, but will approve those.”
Cooper added, “I think NASCAR will be making that announcement, but I believe that is what will happen.”
“On behalf of our team at Charlotte Motor Speedway, I’d like to thank Gov. Cooper and all of our state and local government officials who are working with us to get NASCAR back on track with the Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend where it belongs,” Speedway Motorsports president Marcus Smith said in a statement. “We’ll have more details to share soon in conjunction with NASCAR’s release of a revised event schedule.”
This momentum of returning to the racetrack began last Thursday. That’s when Cooper, while announcing an extension to North Carolina’s stay-at-home order until May 8, also confirmed that he had designated NASCAR race shops as an essential business and that team members could return to work if they maintained social distancing guidelines and adhered to local government stay-at-home policies. The vast majority of NASCAR organizations are located in the Charlotte area, as well as a handful of IndyCar, NHRA and Sports Car teams.
ESPN has confirmed that NASCAR is working toward announcing a revised 2020 schedule that could start early as mid-May. A potential new schedule was sent from the sanctioning body to NASCAR teams that includes six races, beginning with a 400-mile event at Darlington Raceway on May 17 and visiting racetracks throughout the Southeast into mid-June.
Certain locations — such as Darlington, South Carolina; Charlotte; Bristol, Tennessee; Martinsville, Virginia; and Atlanta — are attractive because of their close proximity to the race shops, and because COVID-19 restrictions have been loosened more quickly in their home states. Homestead-Miami Speedway is also on the initial list of potential first racetracks back.
NASCAR was last at the track on March 13. Teams were preparing for practice at Atlanta Motor Speedway when the sanctioning body announced the postponement of the race due to the pandemic.