Thun­der­storms push back Tal­ladega Cup Se­ries race

Event with 5,000 fans re­set for Mon­day af­ter two-plus-hour wait

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - SPORTS -

TAL­LADEGA, Ala. — Thun­der­storms Sun­day forced NASCAR to post­pone the Cup Se­ries race at Tal­ladega Su­per­speed­way that was to mark the re­turn of more fans to the track.

The race, which was pushed back to 3 p.m. EDT on Mon­day, is the first amid the coro­n­avirus pan­demic in which NASCAR opened the gates for up to 5,000 fans. Those in the grand­stands were urged to seek shel­ter roughly 30 min­utes be­fore the sched­uled start, lead­ing to a two-plus-hour wait.

The ad­di­tion of fans and the ban of Con­fed­er­ate flags weren’t the only changes set to be on dis­play in the race.

NASCAR im­ple­mented new

GEICO 500 NASCAR Cup Se­ries Mon­day: 3 p.m. TV: Fox

rules in re­sponse to Ryan New­man’s har­row­ing ac­ci­dent when rac­ing for the win on the fi­nal lap at Day­tona in Fe­bru­ary.

The changes in­clude the elim­i­na­tion of aerod­ucts at su­per­speed­way tracks, a re­duc­tion in size of throt­tle body and re­quir­ing slip tape to be ap­plied along the en­tire length of the lower rear­ward fac­ing sur­faces of the rear bumper cover.

Teams headed to Tal­ladega without any prac­ti­cal knowl­edge of their ef­fect. Then there’s the still-min­i­mal but in­creased fan pres­ence.

NASCAR al­lowed 1,000 mil­i­tary mem­bers to at­tend last week­end’s rain-dis­rupted race at Homestead-Mi­ami Speedway. The event was stopped sev­eral times for more than three hours of to­tal de­lays.

NASCAR has banned the Con­fed­er­ate flag from be­ing dis­played at its events, but sup­port­ers of the sym­bol still man­aged to be seen Sun­day. Ve­hi­cles lined the boule­vard out­side the speedway wav­ing the flag and a plane flew above the track pulling a ban­ner of the Con­fed­er­ate flag that said “De­fund NASCAR.”

NASCAR has not stated how it

plans to stop fans from dis­play­ing the flag on track prop­erty and none of the in­stances Sun­day at Tal­ladega were in­side the fa­cil­ity.

Vir­ginia driver Denny Ham­lin and Joe Gibbs Rac­ing were set to run with an all-black paint scheme hon­or­ing the Na­tional Civil Rights Mu­seum, with the mu­seum’s logo on the hood. Spon­sor FedEx won’t be dis­played on the car.

The com­pany also do­nated $500,000 “in sup­port of the mu­seum’s mis­sion,” which chron­i­cles the his­tory of the civil rights move­ment in Amer­ica. FedEx is head­quar­tered in Mem­phis, Tenn., where the mu­seum is lo­cated.

FedEx is one of the few true full-time pri­mary spon­sors re­main­ing in NASCAR, mean­ing the com­pany backs Ham­lin in nearly ev­ery race. In 519 races, a FedEx paint scheme has been on his Joe Gibbs Rac­ing en­try all but 17 times and Sport Clips was fea­tured in 14 of those events.

The flag ban is an­other state­ment for NASCAR.

Fan David Rad­van­sky, who started com­ing to Tal­ladega in the 1990s when his father parked cars at races, was among fans ap­plaud­ing NASCAR’s de­ci­sion to ban the Con­fed­er­ate flags.

“I don’t think there’s a place for it in NASCAR, to be hon­est with you,” the 32-year-old said. “That doesn’t sit well with all the good, ole boys, but it is what it is.”

But the Con­fed­er­ate flags were still sell­ing at Ed Sugg’s mer­chan­dise tent across from the track.

“They’re do­ing very well,” said the He­lena, Ala., res­i­dent, who has been sell­ing an ar­ray of wares at NASCAR races for 21 years. “Peo­ple are dis­ap­pointed that NASCAR has taken that stance. It’s been around for as long as all of us have been. I don’t think any­body re­ally con­nects it to any kind of racism or any­thing. It’s just a South­ern thing. It’s trans­par­ent. It’s just a her­itage thing.”

Fans had to go through screen­ing and wear masks to get in for the race, though a few were walk­ing around in­side without theirs on. But lines seemed to flow quickly and the sun was shin­ing un­til about an hour be­fore the race, when rain and light­ning started.

Bath­rooms had ar­rows di­rect­ing pa­trons which way to en­ter or exit, and at­ten­dants held signs urg­ing them to “please wear your masks.”

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