DARLINGTON, S.C. (AP) — This was a 400-mile drive unlike any other in modern day NASCAR.
The grandstands were completely empty. There wasn’t a single tailgate inside the track. Everyone wore face coverings — some with the team logos, others opting for plain disposable medical masks. It was nothing close to the corporate sponsorship, pomp and patriotic traveling circus that symbolizes NASCAR.
But when the engines fired at Darlington Raceway following a 10-week layoff during the coronavirus pandemic, it turned into a regular old race.
Kevin Harvick beat Alex Bowman to win NASCAR’s first race back, a spectacle closely watched to see if the largest racing series in the United States could successfully get back to work.
“I just want to thank everybody from NASCAR and all the teams for letting us do what we do,” Harvick said. “I didn’t think it was going to be that different, but it’s dead silent out here. We miss the fans.”
NASCAR developed a health plan approved by officials in both South Carolina and North Carolina and scheduled seven races over the next 11 days at two tracks. As other states began to open, the series tacked more races to fill the calendar with 20 events across seven Southern states between now and June 21. There will be no spectators at least through that date.
But to even get to the Coca-Cola 600 next week at Charlotte Motor Speedway, NASCAR had to get it right at Darlington.
Teams were required to submit rosters in advance with only 16 members allotted per car. Names were on a list at a checkpoint at the end of a gravel road just off Harry Byrd Highway and everyone who passed through had their temperature checked and logged before they could enter.
NASCAR did not have to turn anyone away, and all 40 drivers were cleared to race. NASCAR has declined to do COVID-19 testing to ensure those tests go to those in need.
Among those to make it inside were Ryan Newman, back for the first time since he suffered a head injury exactly three months ago in a wreck on the final lap of the Daytona 500. Newman missed only three races because of NASCAR’s shutdown and finished 15th in his return.
Also in the field was Matt Kenseth, who at 48 was the oldest driver at Darlington and he raced for the first time since the 2018 season finale. Kenseth was brought out of retirement by Chip Ganassi when Kyle Larson was fired for using a racial slur during an iRacing event that kept NASCAR occupied when racing was on hold. Kenseth finished 10th.
The odd and empty setting was the backdrop for some typical NASCAR mishaps. Seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson crashed while leading on the final lap of the first stage, a better result than poor Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who barely made it out of the second turn before he crashed.
Stenhouse never finished a single lap and finished last.
And even without fans allowed on the property, a small grass fire still broke out behind a section of the track. Gray smoke billowed during a caution, which isn’t that odd a sight at a NASCAR race.
Bowman, who signed a one-year contract extension with Hendrick Motorsports on Saturday, was second. Kurt Busch, winner of the closest finish in Darlington history, was third for Ganassi.
Chase Elliott gave Hendrick two cars in the top-four. Denny Hamlin was the highest-finishing Toyota driver at fifth for Joe Gibbs Racing, one spot ahead of teammate Martin Truex Jr.
Tyler Reddick, a rookie with Richard Childres Racing, was seventh at “The Track Too Tough To Tame.”
Erik Jones, winner of the Southern 500 here last September, was eighth and John Hunter Nemechek was the second rookie inside the top-10 at one of the most technical tracks on the circuit. It was the first top-10 for Front Row Motorsports on a track other than a superspeedway in three years.
It was the 50th career victory for Harvick, in a Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing. A previous winner at Darlington, Harvick led 159 of the 293 laps.
Harvick tied Hall of Famers Junior Johnson and Ned Jarrett for 12th on NASCAR’s all-time wins list.
NASCAR’s elite Cup Series next races Wednesday night at Darlington, which is hosting three events in four days before the sport shifts to Charlotte.
NFL stars ask league to ‘admit wrong’ in silencing on-field protests – Sportsnet.ca
More than 15 NFL stars say they are asserting their right to peacefully protest and are asking the league to “admit wrong” in silencing its players from peacefully protesting.
In a video posted on Twitter by New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley, players addressed the recent death of George Floyd, which has prompted protests across the world regarding racial injustices.
— Saquon Barkley (@saquon) June 5, 2020
Some players posed a hypothetical: “What if I was George Floyd?”
They proceeded to answer, “I am George Floyd,” followed by similar “I am” statements recognizing other African Americans who’ve died unjustly in recent years: Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Eric Garner, Laquan McDonald, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Walter Scott, Michael Brown Jr., Samuel DuBose, Frank Smart, Phillip White and Jordan Baker.
“We will not be silenced,” the players said in the video. “We assert our right to peacefully protest. It shouldn’t take this long to admit.”
Then, the players asked the NFL to “condemn racism and the systematic oppression of black people,” “admit wrong in silencing our players from peacefully protesting” and to state that black lives matter.
In 2016, Colin Kaepernick sparked a wave of demonstrations across the league after he kneeled during the national anthem to call attention to police brutality and racial inequality. Kaepernick has not played in the NFL since that season and settled a collusion case saying he was blacklisted because of the protests with the league last year.
The NFL released a statement five days after Floyd’s death that makes no mention of player protests. It also does not mention racism.
But the league’s statement closes this way: “We recognize the power of our platform in communities and as part of the fabric of American society. We embrace that responsibility and are committed to continuing the important work to address these systemic issues together with our players, clubs and partners.”
NHL teams get ready to reopen rinks as part of Phase 2 – NHL.com
NHL teams are preparing to begin limited workouts with small groups at their team facilities next week, the start of Phase 2 of the Return to Play Plan.
“Having access to the rink and the ice and being around teammates again is a big deal,” Tampa Bay Lightning forward Blake Coleman said Friday. “Talking to the guys, everybody is excited to get back out there. … I’m itching to get back. I’m sure a lot of guys are. I know that when you have that extra motivation to come back, there’s a lot more energy in the room and a lot more excitement around the games as well.”
The NHL season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus and facilities were closed. The League announced Thursday that beginning June 8, teams will be permitted to reopen their training facilities in their city to allow players to participate in individualized training activities (off-ice and on-ice). Players will be participating on a voluntary basis, and workouts will be limited to a maximum of six players at any time, plus a limited number of staff.
“Every bit of homework has been done including provinces, governments, states, counties, so that the comfort of going into it from my perspective is positive because we’re not going into something quickly,” New York Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello said. “The date was not put down as a target. It was only going to be done when everybody was comfortable doing it. So I’m comfortable.”
All teams must adhere to the Phase 2 Protocol that was released by the NHL and NHL Players’ Association on May 25. The 21-page document is intended to provide players with a safe and controlled environment to resume their conditioning.
Phase 3, which would be the opening of training camps, will not start before July 10, the NHL has said. A date for Phase 4, which would be the start of the Qualifying Round and Seeding Round Robin leading into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, has not been determined.
Toronto Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas said Wednesday teams have “no playbook” from the past to refer to entering Phase 2 because of the unique issues related to the pandemic in Canada, the United States and Europe.
“I agree with Kyle, we’re going into certainly something different,” Lamoriello said. “But what the League and the [NHLPA] have done is done as much preparation and as much research as possible and have consulted with the professionals, whether it be the infectious disease people, the medical people, the testing people.”
Dubas said about 13 Maple Leafs players remained in Toronto during the pandemic and four or five have returned to the city and are undergoing their 14-day quarantine. Lamoriello, who said the Islanders should have a better idea by Sunday how many of their players might take part, said that there is no pressure for anyone to participate if they have anxieties or concerns about coming back right away.
“We have approximately, I’d say, a third of the players in the area,” Lamoriello said. “But once again, it’s a very voluntary situation. I’ll be speaking to each and every one of them over the weekend. Everything has been satisfied for the players of what they had to do in preparation for it as far as the testing (for COVID-19).
“When they’re comfortable to come back, that’s when we’ll be ready for them. If they decide that it’s a little later, so be it.”
The decision when to open a facility will be made by the individual teams. The Islanders will start Phase 2 on Monday; the Washington Capitals, among others, haven’t announced when they will begin.
“I think the biggest challenge is going to be the limited amount that you’re able to stay at the rink or coaching and that kind of thing,” Capitals goalie Braden Holtby said. “That’s going to be something we’re going to have to play by ear. To be honest, I’m just kind of rolling with the punches right now. Whenever they tell me I can go on the ice, I’ll do the best to be safe and everything to get back on and go from there.”
NHL.com deputy managing editor Brian Compton and staff writers Tom Gulitti and Amalie Benjamin contributed to this report
Report: MLB, owners focused on 48-game schedule for 2020 – theScore
Find out the latest on COVID-19’s impact on the sports world and when sports are returning by subscribing to Breaking News push notifications in the Sports and COVID-19 section.
MLB’s discussions with owners about a shortened 2020 season are now focused on a 48-game schedule with full prorated pay for players, sources told Jeff Passan of ESPN.
Previous reports indicated the league was seeking between 50-60 games at the prorated level. The MLBPA proposed a 114-game schedule, which the league rejected, but the union is reportedly willing to play an 82-game season with fully prorated salaries.
The union “resoundingly” rejected further pay cuts for players Thursday evening.
The two sides are at a standstill in negotiations. When the league and owners rejected the idea of a 114-game schedule at full prorated salaries, they made it clear that they wouldn’t present a counteroffer. The league is in a position where it can implement a shortened season unilaterally, Passan notes.
The current collective bargaining agreement is set to expire after the 2021 season.
Owners have said that playing a longer schedule without fans in attendance would cause substantial losses that they are reportedly unwilling to absorb. The players have asked owners to open their books to show specific numbers related to the expected financial shortfall, but that request has not been granted.
Part of the stalemate has been attributed to the prior agreement in March where the MLBPA agreed to prorated salaries based on how many games were played. Owners feel that the agreement was made with the assumption that paying fans would be able to attend and that there would be room for further salary cuts if the seats remained empty.
There is some doubt surrounding whether or not the entire season would be played in front of empty stands. The state of Texas has already opened its sports venues to allow 50% capacity.
NFL stars ask league to ‘admit wrong’ in silencing on-field protests – Sportsnet.ca
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