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Spike in NC COVID-19 cases moved NASCAR All-Star Race from Charlotte to Bristol

The Charlotte Observer logo The Charlotte Observer 6/16/2020 By Alex Andrejev, The Charlotte Observer

This year’s All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway will move to Bristol Motor Speedway, NASCAR and Speedway Motorsports, Inc. announced Monday night.

The race will remain scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 15, but will instead take place at the Tennessee-based track due to a recent increase in COVID-19 cases and an increased infection rate in North Carolina.

“While Charlotte will always be recognized as the birthplace and traditional home for the All-Star Race, the current data surrounding the pandemic in North Carolina makes Bristol a better option for fan access this summer,” said Speedway Motorsports, Inc. CEO Marcus Smith.

Bristol Motor Speedway is owned and operated by SMI, which is also the parent company of Charlotte Motor Speedway. Both Bristol and Charlotte have hosted return races amid the coronavirus pandemic, but moving the race to the Bristol track will allow 30,000 fans to watch the race in person.

“We love the history of the NASCAR All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway,” Smith said Monday evening. “But given the opportunities to be able to host the event at Bristol Motor Speedway just a short drive away — about a three hour drive from Charlotte — it gives the opportunity for fans to go and be able to enjoy a sporting event that they haven’t been able to do in quite sometime.”

Tickets for the race are already on sale at the Bristol Motor Speedway track website, and include COVID-19 Safety Information and event procedures, such as social distancing in the grandstands and in concession lines, a limited number of guests in suites, restrictions on items permitted inside the venue, as well as closing certain areas of the speedway, such as campground showers and the infield, to fans.

Fans who previously purchased tickets for the All-Star Race at Charlotte can exchange their tickets to attend the race at Bristol or they can receive a refund by calling the speedway, Smith said.

Bristol Motor Speedway executive vice president Jerry Caldwell said that Tennessee governor Bill Lee, the state’s Department of Tourism development commissioner Mark Ezell and Sullivan County mayor Richard Venable were instrumental in allowing fans to return to the track.

“We’re thrilled,” Caldwell said. “Thrilled and honored to be able to host such a legendary race. We also realize though that with this comes great responsibility to host a substantial number of race fans, but we know the team we have here at Bristol Motor Speedway and Speedway are up for the challenge.”

Two weeks ago, Charlotte Motor Speedway executive vice president Greg Walter set an optimistic tone for the race taking place at the Concord-based track, with fan attendance being a major discussion point. NASCAR already allowed a limited number of guests to return to events at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday, and will open the gates to more fans this Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway.

“We will work hard with our state and local officials to explore what options are available, if any, to have this race enjoyed by fans in person,” Walter said in a statement at the time. “Entertaining fans at the track is part of who we are, but we want to do so in a way that everyone feels comfortable with given current health concerns.”

The news of a venue change for the race comes as North Carolina continues to see increases in positive coronavirus tests. The state saw its second-highest increase in new cases (1,443) on Sunday. The highest number of new cases in a single day was 1,768, announced Friday.

“That kind of behavior in crowds really worries the health experts and epidemiologists and why we continue to tell people to avoid being in crowds if you can,” North Carolina governor Roy Cooper said Monday.

While the Department of Health and Human Services did not list Cabarrus County, home of Charlotte Motor Speedway, among those experiencing the highest growth in cases, nearby Mecklenburg County, which is home to some team shops, was deemed to be “of particular concern,” Cooper said.

Smith thanked Governor Cooper on Monday for allowing NASCAR teams to return to their shops in May. He also said he didn’t want fan attendance at Charlotte to become a “lighting rod issue” for the region that was already becoming a coronavirus case hotspot. Smith said while the sport consulted with the individuals in the governor’s office before making the decision to move tracks, it wasn’t necessarily elevated directly to Cooper.

“This wasn’t about leveraging North Carolina or Tennessee,” Smith said. “It was really about doing the best thing for NASCAR fans and the sport, and we felt like it was the right decision.”

NASCAR executive vice president Steve O’Donnell called the move “one of those curveballs” that came together quickly, but he said teams are excited to run the race on a short track for the first time.

“We are excited to take one of the most unique races in our sport to one of the most unique race tracks in our sport,” O’Donnell said. “Bristol Motor Speedway delivers classic short-track action every time we race there, and we’re anticipating an elevated level of intensity for the NASCAR All-Star Race.”

The non-points race has been hosted at Charlotte Motor Speedway every year of the event except in 1986, when it was hosted at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The race is open to full-time Cup drivers who have either won a race this season or last season, won a previous All-Star Race, or formerly won the Cup Series championship.

There are currently 15 eligible drivers, including Ryan Blaney, Alex Bowman, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliot, Justin Haley, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Erik Jones, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Ryan Newman and Martin Truex Jr.

The final four spots in the field are reserved for the two stage winners and race winner from the All-Star Open, which O’Donnell said will run at Bristol, as well as the winner of the All-Star Fan Vote. Fans can vote at www.nascar.com/fanvote and on the NASCAR mobile app before noon on July 14.

“With every challenge comes some opportunity and we could have kept doing the same thing,” O’Donnell said. “But I think all of the teams recognize this is an opportunity for us to showcase our sport, to do something we’ve always talked about and let’s take a chance. Let’s see how it works.”

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©2020 The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.)

Visit The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.) at www.charlotteobserver.com

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