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NC governor OKs NASCAR to race Coca-Cola 600 in May at Charlotte without fans

Martin Truex Jr. celebrates after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 26, 2019, in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The governor of North Carolina said Tuesday that NASCAR can go forward with the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway without fans in attendance at the end of May unless health conditions deteriorate in the state.

Gov. Roy Cooper said he and state public health officials have had discussions with NASCAR and the speedway located in Concord regarding safety protocols for staging the race. Cooper said the state offered input on NASCAR’s plan, but he believes the race can go forward on Memorial Day weekend for the 60th consecutive year.

“We believe that unless health conditions go
down, we believe we can hold the Coca-Cola 600,” Cooper said. “I think
NASCAR will be making that announcement, but that’s what will happen.”

on Monday gave teams its latest revised schedule, which shows racing
resuming May 17 at Darlington Speedway in South Carolina, followed by a
second race at that track on May 20. The 600 would be held on May 24,
followed by a second race at Charlotte on May 27.

Most teams are
based in the Charlotte area and are expected to return to work this week
as essential businesses. Cooper last week extended North Carolina’s
stay-at-home order through May 8.

NASCAR completed four of its 36
races before the season was suspended because of the coronavirus
pandemic. The sanctioning body has vowed to run 36 races, although the
schedule will change dramatically and some tracks likely will be dropped
this season if their state does not permit a sporting event.

has yet to publicly release its safety plans but is expected to limit
team rosters, have one-day events and scrap qualifying and practice at
many places. A proposal to eliminate pit stops to reduce the number of
team employees at the track has stalled.

South Carolina has said
it will host a “spring” NASCAR race, while Florida and Texas have said
NASCAR is welcome to compete without spectators. NASCAR for now is
trying to schedule events only at tracks within driving distance to the
Charlotte region so teams can get to a track, compete and return home in
one day without needing air travel or hotel accommodations.

is owned by NASCAR, while Speedway Motorsports owns the Charlotte
track. Because tracks will now likely host more events than originally
scheduled, track operators will likely relinquish events at other venues
to make the 36 races fit.

Eight events have so far been
suspended, but NASCAR could have difficulty moving forward with some
events, like a June race scheduled at Sonoma Raceway in California. That
track is owned by Speedway Motorsports, which could shift Sonoma’s date
to another one of its properties.

That sort of shuffling is what
NASCAR is working through now, as well as who can enter the track and
how to socially distance the teams.