NASCAR is the first sport to come back – and I’m not sure how I feel about it

I never thought I’d be advocating for NASCAR to not host races, but here I am.

I, like the rest of you, miss sports. That’s an understatement, especially when your livelihood revolves around it.

I made it clear that I think the NHL should just call it quits on 2019-20 and focus on coming back strong in 2020-21. And now, I’m left wondering if NASCAR is making the right decision by becoming the first sport to return to our television sets.

Frankly, that doesn’t sound like a sports fan – why would I not want something to come back? I’m just worried that maybe NASCAR is coming back too early before the world is ready for it. On one hand, NASCAR can use any promotion it can. As much as I’ve loved watching the iRacing events as an iRacer myself – and, apparently, a million people a week seem to agree – it’s far from the real thing and not a proper replacement.

But it’s going to be so weird having the sport come back in the way it is. I’m not going to any of the races (obviously), but after NASCAR’s conference call with media members on Thursday, it feels like there are more things you can’t do than you can. And that makes sense and I’m glad NASCAR is taking safety seriously.

But it just doesn’t feel right. Going back racing is a great way to bring normality back in the fold, but everything else is still on lockdown. We can’t go to the races. We can barely go to the grocery store. Does it really make sense to have nearly 40 teams at a track, cramming in three races in just a handful of days to make up for all the lost time? Don’t get me wrong, I’m absolutely pumped for on-track action to return. But what if a driver gets sick? What about Martin Truex Jr. and his girlfriend Sherry? Is he going to have to give up seeing her for months at a time now to continue racing due to her prior health issues? Are whole teams going to be wiped out because of one guy getting sick along the way, and potentially passing it on to more people? Is the risk of a potential fallout of NASCAR being the first sport to return, only to get people sick in mass, worth taking the chance at this point?

I’m glad I’m not the one making the decision and I know NASCAR has taken it’s time and done the due diligence to make this happen. But racing in front of empty grandstands in shortened one-day events just feels like a cheap way of trying to fall back in the regular routine. Fans are robbed of the full experience I got to witness at Daytona in February, and while the odds of seeing packed grandstands again this season are lower than me winning the lottery this weekend, watching a race in front of nobody feels wrong.

When NASCAR, and the rest of the sporting world gets its sanity back, fans won’t be welcome across the board. That has to happen to limit the spread as long as possible, and most reasonable people have accepted that actuality. I’m not saying that’s the issue – I’m saying that returning so soon when people can barely leave their own homes doesn’t click with me. I’ll watch the races and be so glad they’re back, but I fear for what could happen if someone does fall ill through all of this.

We need the world to go back to normal, but I just hope this doesn’t backfire on NASCAR. I hope they get this right because the last thing the sport needs is another black eye after losing one of racing’s brightest young sports to an absolutely stupid move on his part. There’s a lot to be excited about when the series returns to Darlington, including the returns of veterans Ryan Newman and Matt Kenseth. So the last thing NASCAR needs is a scandal involving a mass spread of an illness that put the world and economy on edge for months just so we can go back to watching something non-essential like auto racing.

This is an opportunity to bring the sport back to the mainstream in a way we once saw before that fateful Sunday in February of 2001, so let’s hope NASCAR gets this right. I trust NASCAR is taking all the right steps to ensure safety, and as someone with friends in the garage, I hope everyone leaves the track without feeling ill.

There’s so much on the line with a return like this, so you can’t blame me for being worried.

Follow me on Twitter, @StevenEllisNHL.