Gov. Tom Wolf indicates no-fan NASCAR race at Pocono is OK, if Monroe County hits yellow

(Scranton) Times-Tribune (TNS)
Tom Wolf

One day after NASCAR returned to action from a 10-week layoff because of the coronavirus pandemic, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf provided some encouraging news to enable the circuit to come to Pocono Raceway next month.

During his news conference Monday, Wolf said the June 25-28 doubleheader weekend can take place at Pocono provided that Monroe County, where the 2.5-mile triangular track is located, is in the yellow phase of his three-color plan to reopen the state.

That was a change from last Friday, when Wolf said Pennsylvania was not yet in a position to make a decision on the race weekend since Monroe County was still in red status.

“If Monroe County goes to yellow before that race happens and NASCAR, in fact, has the competition without spectators in the stands and they follow other guidelines to keep competitors safe, then yeah,” Wolf said.

Monroe County just above threshold: As of Monday, Monroe County remained just above the state’s threshold to move from red status, which has a stay-at-home order through June 4, to yellow status, which has looser restrictions.

The threshold is 50 cases per 100,000 over a two-week period. Monroe County was at 51 on Monday.

Some surrounding counties — Wayne, Susquehanna and Wyoming — are moving to yellow status Friday because they are well below the threshold.

Others are above the threshold. Lackawanna County was at 165 cases per 100,000. Luzerne County was at 87 and Pike County was at 95.

Doubleheader set: After hosting two NASCAR race weekends each year since 1982, Pocono this year is scheduled to be the site of the first doubleheader in the history of the modern era (since 1972). There are five races in four days, starting with the ARCA Series on June 25, the

NASCAR Truck and Cup Series on June 27 and the NASCAR Xfinity and Cup Series on June 28.

“Pocono Raceway is aware Governor Tom Wolf’s response regarding the status of our NASCAR-sanctioned races scheduled for late June,” the track said in a statement. “We are very appreciative of all the collaborative efforts of the Governor’s office and NASCAR. Our staff continues to work with both parties and hopes to have additional details shortly. Once those final details are known, we will inform our fans directly.”

NASCAR response: Asked to comment on what Wolf said Monday, NASCAR officials simply referred to a statement made last week by executive vice president and chief racing development officer Steve O’Donnell in a news release.

“We are eager to expand our schedule while continuing to work closely with the local governments in each of the areas we will visit,” O’Donnell said. “We thank the many government officials for their guidance, as we share the same goal in our return — the safety for our competitors and the communities in which we race.”

Triumphant return: NASCAR made a triumphant return to the track Sunday at historic Darlington Raceway in South Carolina, becoming the first North American sports league to resume its season. There were no fans in the grandstands and teams adhered to strict health and safety guidelines put in place by NASCAR.

Television ratings soared.

Kevin Harvick won the race and wore a mask in Victory Lane.

“We enjoyed watching NASCAR’s return to racing (Sunday) at Darlington Raceway,” Pocono Raceway president Ben May said in an emailed statement. “We applaud all the efforts of NASCAR, the drivers, teams and tracks for working collaboratively with state officials, following the necessary guidelines and putting on a fantastic show for race fans new and old.”

Future schedule: Six more races involving NASCAR’s three national series are scheduled over the next nine days. Darlington also has an Xfinity Series race tonight and another Cup Series race Wednesday. Charlotte Motor Speedway then hosts two Cup races May 24 and 27, an Xfinity race May 25 and a Trucks race May 26.

Five more tracks will then hold races: Bristol on May 30-31; Atlanta on June 6-7; Martinsville on June 10; Homestead-Miami on June 13-14; and Talladega on June 20-21.

Pocono would then be up next on the schedule.