NASCAR races set for Kentucky Speedway in July without fans

Kurt Busch, driver of the #1 Monster Energy Chevrolet, celebrates with his crew members after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Quaker State 400 Presented by Walmart at Kentucky Speedway on July 13, 2019 in Sparta, Ky. (Daniel Shirey/Getty Images/TNS)
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Kurt Busch, driver of the #1 Monster Energy Chevrolet, celebrates with his crew members after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Quaker State 400 Presented by Walmart at Kentucky Speedway on July 13, 2019 in Sparta, Ky. (Daniel Shirey/Getty Images/TNS)

The roar of NASCAR engines returns to Kentucky Speedway for a four-day event July 9-12. The roar from NASCAR fans will have to wait.

Racing returns to the 1.5-mile, tri-oval speedway with one Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series race (July 11), two Xfinity Series races (July 9-10) and one Cup Series race (July 12). Like the previous five NASCAR Cup races held since the sport resumed May 17, Kentucky will do so without spectators.

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“It’s a decision we hate to have to make,” Kentucky Speedway general manager Mark Simendinger said. “We worked really hard on this plan with NASCAR and with the state. The number one thing is to make sure we can conduct the races, get back to business. NASCAR has been a leader in the country in getting back to business. … For us to do it in a safe fashion we’re going to have no spectators at the races.”

Also on Thursday, Indianapolis Motor Speedway announced the Brickyard 400 on July 5 would also race without spectators due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Simendinger said Kentucky Speedway officials had talks with governor Andy Beshear and state health officials about including spectators. He added those discussions did not progress to the point where inviting fans was considered feasible.

“We really wanted to be able to conduct the races. That was first and foremost. Once we figured that out obviously we wanted it to be as open for everyone to participate in as possible. It just didn’t get that far,” Simendinger said.

“We had discussions about it, but saying whether we were close or not close … I don’t think we ever had serious discussions. We submitted a detailed plan. We never submitted a detailed plan for fans in the stands because we never got that far.”

Spectators with tickets or camping reservations to Kentucky Speedway can request a cash refund or obtain a 120 percent credit for next season’s races. The 120 percent credit is also transferable to Speedway Motorsports’ seven additional tracks (Atlanta, Bristol, Charlotte, Las Vegas, New Hampshire, Sonoma and Texas). Additional information is available at kentuckyspeedway.com.

In an effort to keep fans engaged with the races – the Truck Series’ Buckle Up In Your Truck 225, Xfinity Series’ Alsco 300 and Cup Series’ Quaker State 400 presented by Walmart – Kentucky Speedway and sponsors plan digital promotions and events such as virtual driver meet-and-greets.

“That’s our way of saying we understand the position all of us are in. We hate it as much as you do,” Simendinger said. “We really want you to come back and want you to stay with us. We’re sorry you’re not going to be here. It’s our way of saying thanks for sticking with us. … I encourage fans to stay involved with Kentucky Speedway and all of our social channels.”

The four races will each be one-day events with no qualifying or practice. Team and crew restrictions include social distancing, wearing of masks and compartmentalizing to help with contact tracing should it be needed. Media will also be limited. At the previous five races one Associated Press reporter, two National Motorsports Press Association members and one local media member selected by the track have been allowed entry.

Simendinger said consideration was given to waiting a couple more weeks to make an announcement, possibly allowing limited spectators as COVID-19 restrictions ease.

“We felt like once the announcement was made (to race) we had to make a decision. We needed to let everyone know so they could make their plans,” Simendinger said. “I’ve got calls from a lot of fans who make their vacation plans (around Kentucky Speedway) … and it became pretty clear in our discussions with the governor’s office this was going to be the way we were going to be proceeding.”

The two Xfinity races will push the Cup race to a rare Sunday event for Kentucky. The race is normally scheduled for Saturday night. Simendinger anticipates a hot track the entire race that likely won’t offer as much grip. In past races drivers had to make adjustments once the sun went down and the surface cooled in the later laps.

“This one is going to be hot and slick all day long,” Simendinger said. “I think that hot, slick race track is generally – from a strict racing standpoint – is a good thing and will probably make for good racing.”


NASCAR at Kentucky Speedway

NASCAR Cup Series: Quaker State 400 presented by Walmart – Sunday, July 12 at 2:30 p.m. (FS1; PRN, Sirius XM NASCAR)

NASCAR Xfinity Series: Alsco 300 – Thursday, July 9 & Friday, July 10; 8 p.m. (FS1; PRN, Sirius XM NASCAR)

NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series – Buckle Up In Your Truck 225 – Saturday, July 11; 1 p.m. (FS1; MRN, Sirius XM NASCAR)

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