In announcing another postponement to its Cup Series, NASCAR affirmed Friday that its goal is to return to racing without fans next month “at a date and location to be determined.” Gov. Ron DeSantis has said at least twice this week that he wants the nation’s most popular auto racing series to come back to Florida to provide entertainment to a content-starved audience.
Put the two together, and it’s worth asking: Could one of the state’s two NASCAR tracks serve as the return for the series and major U.S. sports?
We know now that it won’t be back May 8-9 at Martinsville Speedway, as previously planned. NASCAR announced the postponement of that event Friday.
“Our intention remains to run all 36 races, with a potential return to racing without fans in attendance in May at a date and location to be determined,” NASCAR said in a statement. “The health and safety of our competitors, employees, fans, and the communities in which we run continues to be our top priority. We will continue to consult with health experts and local, state and federal officials as we assess future scheduling options.”
DeSantis has made it clear he wants Florida to be considered in those future scheduling options.
“I think if NASCAR does a race and can televise it without having a large crowd, I think that’s a good thing,” DeSantis told reporters Tuesday.
A day later, DeSantis said he had spoken to NASCAR executive Lesa Kennedy about it.
“I want them to race…” DeSantis said. “You’re not going to fill up Daytona (International) Speedway right now, and I’m not suggesting you do. But I think if there’s content that can be created, I think that that’s a good thing.”
If that were to happen, it’d be at either Daytona or Homestead-Miami Speedway, two tracks with strong histories. The Daytona 500 is NASCAR’s biggest event, and Homestead has served as the series’ finale and championship weekend.
The Tampa Bay Times asked both tracks Friday morning whether they had discussed any possibilities with the governor’s office. Homestead referred the Times to NASCAR’s statement. So did a Daytona spokesman, who said NASCAR’s statement was “all that I can provide at this time.”
None of these statements mean NASCAR is headed to Florida anytime soon. It remains unclear when NASCAR will return to the track and when will return to the state.
And there are still potential issues, even with a fan-free event. When IndyCar called off the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg after only a few hours five weeks ago, series executive Mark Miles said there was still a risk associated with bringing several hundred team members together in the paddock area.
“Really there isn't a sporting event left that feels comfortable running even without fans,” Miles said then. “I just think that's reflective of what's going on in the country and in the world.”
Since then, the number of cases in the state have exploded, from 314 on March 18 to more than 24,000 as of early Friday afternoon. But eventually, Florida’s businesses and entertainment will start to return to the new normal.
Maybe NASCAR will be the first to wave the green flag.
• • •
Tampa Bay Times coronavirus coverage
HAVE YOU LOST SOMEONE YOU LOVE TO COVID-19?: Help us remember them
UNEMPLOYMENT Q&A: We answer your questions about Florida unemployment benefits
CONTRIBUTE TO THE SCRAPBOOK: Help us tell the story of life under coronavirus
BRIGHT SPOTS IN DARK TIMES: The world is hard right now, but there’s still good news out there
LISTEN TO THE CORONAVIRUS PODCAST: New episodes every week, including interviews with experts and reporters
HAVE A TIP?: Send us confidential news tips
GET THE DAYSTARTER MORNING UPDATE: Sign up to receive the most up-to-date information, six days a week
We’re working hard to bring you the latest news on the coronavirus in Florida. This effort takes a lot of resources to gather and update. If you haven’t already subscribed, please consider buying a print or digital subscription.