NASCAR says 2020 “single most difficult year we’ve faced”

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“The year has been in short I would say extraordinary, although I could probably use 15 or 20 other words to try to get to something,” Phelps said at Phoenix Raceway. “It’s just unprecedented in the history of our country, in the history of sports, and certainly in the history of our sport.

“I would suggest this is the single most difficult year that we’ve faced as a sport. But through it all this industry, I’ve said this before, I believe this industry does adversity better than any sport.”

NASCAR will officially close its 2020 season on Sunday with the season finale of the Cup Series. When that race is over, NASCAR will have successfully run the entire number of races it had originally planned for its three national series this year – Cup, Xfinity and Trucks.

Back in March, when the sport – and much of the country – shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic that seemed a very lofty goal.

“What we have done during this global pandemic is I think nothing short of remarkable,” he said. “We can’t do what we did as a sport without coming together.

“I want to thank the race teams, the race tracks, both those that we own that are part of NASCAR, but importantly the folks at Speedway Motorsports, Pocono, Dover, Indianapolis – everyone that really banded together to create something that was really something to be proud of.”

NASCAR implemented several new procedures and tried new ways of holding events – many used for the first time.

There were mid-week races, doubleheader events, practice and qualifying was eliminated and races were run in large part as one-day shows.

“When we shut down heading into Atlanta, we had no idea when we were going to get back to racing,” Phelps said. “It was our goal, and a stated goal, that we were going to run all races.

“We did it through ways that frankly probably we didn’t think we could do, right? For us to be the first sport back without fans initially on May 17 in Darlington, to the first sport back with fans, I think it’s an extraordinary achievement.”

Even with the close of the 2020 season, many questions remain about how 2021 will be run.

New COVID-19 cases are surging across the country and there is every chance the sport will begin the 2021 season at Daytona with some virus protocols and limited fan attendance still in place.

“The hallmark of our sport is about accessibility to the garage, accessibility to the drivers, the crews. We don’t have that,” he said.

“We don’t have that because we need to keep people safe. That’s the only way we’re going to run a race is if we’re going to keep people safe. I do know that we have every intention of running on February 14 the (Daytona) 500.

“Our plan is to race in front of fans.”

The 2020 season was also an important one for NASCAR in terms of its efforts to promote equality and combating social injustice.

Following the killing of George Floyd in late May, Bubba Wallace – the only fulltime African-American driver in the Cup series – called on the sport to remove the Confederate flag from race tracks.

On June 10, NASCAR officially banned the display of the Confederate flag from its tracks and properties.

“I think for us, it’s really about this notion of welcoming everyone to our sport. I think people are feeling welcomed to our sport,” Phelps said. “What we do from a social justice standpoint moving forward really to me is about human decency.

“We want to make sure that people want to come to our facilities. We want to make sure they want to participate in this sport on television, radio, digitally and socially. We want them to feel part of this community.

“It’s a fantastic community, it really is.”

Other topics Phelps touched on:

¨ Phelps said any new manufacturer coming to NASCAR would be 2023 at the earliest, which would likely align when a new engine package is introduced.

¨ There will likely by more qualifying and practice sessions in the Cup series in 2022 with the introduction of the Next-Gen car.

¨ Phelps said he was unsure whether the current 40-car limit on Xfinity and Trucks races would remain next season but “probably.”

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