When it comes to pandemic sports, NASCAR is lapping the field

For those who barely made it through three days with no sports, let alone three months, here's a sincere suggestion - NASCAR.

"But I live in the North," you might say. That's OK. It doesn't really matter.

The point here is, NASCAR has clearly won the pandemic sports hiatus. Lapped the field a few times.

We're still more than a month away from the NBA and NHL playing real games. It might be a few years before baseball agrees on how to split up its losses.

NASCAR returned May 17. There have been eight Cup Series races already, including a few on weeknights.

If you own a television, chances are you've seen an interview with Bubba Wallace, the sport's only black driver. While protests filled nearly every city, he called for NASCAR to ban of the confederate flag at racetracks and president Steve Phelps quickly delivered.

Here's where the sport really shined. Outside of one low-level no-name from the truck series, the drivers stood behind the ban. When a helmet designer called Wallace's Black Lives Matter-themed car "garbage," fellow driver Jimmie Johnson quickly parted ways with the designer.

When relatively-successful driver Kyle Larson casually dropped the n-word during one of the televised video game I-races, he lost his ride and went back to driving on dirt tracks.

The NASCAR operation has taken social distancing seriously. Drivers wear face masks when not in their cars, interviews are done with a six-foot cushion. While some Americans have thrown tantrums about wearing masks, this sport promoted a common-sense policy: Why not wear one and be safe? You never know if you'll save someone's life or help end this pandemic.

Now, this isn't one of those, "You should have been on the bandwagon 20 years ago" stories. I barely paid any attention to NASCAR outside of maybe flipping over to the final few laps of the Daytona 500.

There were times when I'd cover a Bulls-Hornets game on the road, see a NASCAR story on the front page of the Charlotte Observer in January and think, "Imagine caring about that."

But about a year ago, I thought NASCAR might be a good daily fantasy sport (it was) and gave it a shot. My run of actually watching races just crossed the anniversary.

I've learned a few things along the way. Since Charlotte is the hub, they've kept the post-hiatus races in the Southeast, within a reasonable drive from where most participants live.

But this isn't strictly a Southern sport. There are races all over the country, drivers from most every region. It's reasonably competitive, with about 12 drivers in contention for the season championship.

There's an interesting variety of tracks - some road courses, shorter half-mile tracks like Bristol, Tenn., then the superspeedways like Daytona and Talledega that tend to be free-for-alls with multiple big wrecks.

This weekend was originally scheduled to be the local stop at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet. But the Chicago races were canceled and the circuit will be in Talledega, Ala., Monday after it was postponed Sunday due to rain.

There were supposed to be four races in Joliet. For those unfamiliar, there is typically an Xfinity race, which is like the Triple A minor league; a truck race and an ARCA race (Single A minor league).

Hopefully, NASCAR will return to Chicago next year, but it might not. There's been a Cup race here every year since 2001.

There were rumors of a warehouse development taking over the track, but the Joliet city manager said that is not true. I reached out to track president Scott Paddock, but he didn't respond to questions about the future of NASCAR races in Joliet. He's probably waiting for news on the 2021 schedule, like everyone else. Chicagoland Speedway is owned by NASCAR, so maybe that bodes well for its future.

But you can watch the race Monday from Talledega. Seriously, what else have you got to do?

Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls

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