The Latest: NASCAR traffic scarce, health checks plentiful

The first sign that Sunday’s race wasn’t a normal one for NASCAR was the lack of traffic on the four-lane highway outside of Darlington Raceway

DARLINGTON, S.C. —
The Latest on NASCAR’s return at Darlington Raceway (all times local):

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12:45 p.m.

The first sign that Sunday’s race wasn’t a normal one for NASCAR was the lack of traffic on the four-lane highway outside of Darlington Raceway.

Traffic is always one of NASCAR’s biggest issues as thousands of fans descend on often rural areas not equipped for the overflow of cars. Participants then turned onto a gravel road guarded by four state trooper vehicles and entered a health screening area. NASCAR officials there checked names, administered a temperature check with a device pointed at the forehead and logged the reading on a chart.

Ryan Newman was in the car behind The Associated Press in the screening line. He leaned out his window for the temperature check and removed his hat so the thermometer could scan his forehead. Newman, wearing a camouflage face mask, was cleared to enter the track to prepare for his first race since he suffered a head injury on Feb. 16 in the season-opening Daytona 500.

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12:30 p.m.

Darlington Raceway President Kerry Tharp says he’s amazed at how quickly every part of NASCAR came together to bring back the sport.

NASCAR’s top Cup series returns to the track later Sunday after 10 weeks off because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Tharp was visiting the Raceway Grill outside Turn 2, where team owners were setting up for a watch party. He says the cooperation in NASCAR was essential in setting up three races over four days.

Xfinity drivers race Tuesday night, with Cup series racers going again at Darlington on Wednesday night.

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11:30 a.m.

NASCAR Chairman and CEO Jim France is at Darlington Raceway and will remain outside the infield.

The 75-year-old France is considered high risk to contract the coronavirus. NASCAR executive Steve O’Donnell posted audio on Twitter in which France grabs the public address microphone in the scoring tower and thanks “the entire industry for their efforts to get us back racing.”

Roughly 900 essential people have been approved to be inside the gates.

NASCAR is returning to racing following a 10-week layoff amid the global pandemic. The Real Heroes 400 begins at 3 p.m.

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11 a.m.

NASCAR President Steve Phelps is promising “the best race and racing experience possible every time we hit the racetrack.”

Phelps released a letter to NASCAR fans Sunday, hours before the racing series returns to the track for the first time in more than two months.

“Our drivers, race teams and officials have been eagerly awaiting the opportunity to get back to the race track and we want to assure you that we have taken the return to racing very seriously,” Phelps wrote.

NASCAR chose Darlington, the oldest speedway on the Cup circuit, as the safest place to restart the season after eight events were postponed and the series sat idle for 10 weeks amid the global coronavirus pandemic.

NASCAR was facing a financial collapse if live races didn’t resume on national television. So the sanctioning body had its health plan approved in South Carolina and North Carolina and released an aggressive schedule that included 20 races across seven Southern states between now and June 21.

The first event is called the “The Real Heroes 400” and is dedicated to health care workers fighting COVID-19. Health care workers will give the command to start the engines.

Darlington is hosting three events over four days. Roughly 900 essential people have been approved to be inside the gates.

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