Auto racing, at any level, has inherent dangers.
Multiple cars speeding around any racetrack — side-by-side, bumper-to-bumper — can be dangerous. One wrong move can cause an accident, serious injury or, sometimes, death.
The higher a driver climbs, the faster the cars speed around those tracks, increasing those dangers.
Drivers live with these concerns every time they get behind the wheel. But they have other things to worry about, too.
“Normal worries,” Cedar Rapids NASCAR Cup driver Joey Gase said last week. “Worry about performance and stuff like that.”
NASCAR returns Sunday with a 400-mile Cup Series race at Darlington Raceway in Darlington, S.C. (2:30 p.m., Fox). This is only the second professional sport in the United States to return — the UFC reopened last weekend — since the coronavirus pandemic shut down sports at all levels in early March.
There will be no practice for Sunday’s race, no qualifying. The starting grid will be determined by a random draw of “charter teams” based on owner points.
Drivers will show up at the track under a staggered schedule, head to their garages and get ready to race. Teams are limited to 16 crew members.
There will be no fans in the stands.
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But it will be racing, the first “normal” for these athletes — and many sports fans — in these unusual times. Gase, for one, can’t wait.
“It’s been kind of hurry up and wait,” he said. “Now we’re in the hurry process.
“We’re excited to get it going again.”
He only has those “normal worries” and thinks NASCAR is doing everything right to limit the COVID-19 concerns.
“I’m excited to get back going, get back racing,” he said. “It’s a good step in the right direction.
“We’ll be in great hands ... screened before and after the race.”
He did admit, though, there is some added pressure — “a lot of pressure,” he said — on NASCAR and, therefore, the drivers “not to mess it up.”
“They are expecting (big) TV ratings, better than they’ve been in a really long time,” he said.
Gase said the new rules in place will be interesting. With no practice, there is no testing of his equipment, no tweaks before the green flag falls. That’s not a big deal for the multi-car teams with big budgets and high-tech equipment that simulate do those test.
For teams like Rick Ware Racing, Gase’s team, it’s a different story.
The limit on crew size, however, won’t be an issue with this small team. They don’t even have 16 team members during normal times.
“Not really hurting us, that’s for sure,” he said with a laugh.
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Sunday will be the first of four Cup Series races in a 10-day span. There’s a 500-kilometer race at Darlington on May 20, and Cup races at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 25 and 27.
There also will be Xfinity and Gander Truck races spread throughout that 10-day span.
Gase said a schedule like that is “going to be easier, (but) some of it is going to be harder.
“We’re going to be doing a lot of miles,” he said. “It’s going to be interesting. You’re not going to be bored, that’s for sure.”
Gase said he’s been anything but bored during shutdown. He’s done a little iRacing, worked on securing and maintaining sponsors and, of course, being a father to young twin sons.
“In a lot of ways, I’m just as busy as I’ve always been,” he said.
He also was back in Cedar Rapids recently working on his Sport Mod and getting it ready for the season at Hawkeye Downs.
“Had a great time today coaching Jasec Holladay in our Sport Mod! First time ever in a full size car and already turning competitive times! Most importantly kept her in one piece! Look for him to be racing at times this summer,” he wrote.
Gase even got behind the wheel for the first time since the NASCAR season shut down.
“It felt good,” he said.
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