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COLUMN: NASCAR sure could use a breather right now

COLUMN: NASCAR sure could use a breather right now

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Another week, another wild controversy in NASCAR.

It’s the new norm.

Since becoming the first sport to crank up again after the pandemic hit, the sport has been front and center for a lot of reasons, some good and some horrendous.

So while all the attention has certainly landed stock-car racing in a brighter spotlight, what NASCAR craves more than anything is a quiet little week where nothing crazy happens.

The Kentucky weekend might offer that opportunity, but no one is holding his or her breath. The stunning news last week that seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson had come down with the coronavirus took the sport in a new and dangerous direction. NASCAR doesn’t actually test its drivers. But it might have to consider it now.

The process each week is simple really. Drivers, crew members, NASCAR and track officials and even the media go through a health screening outside the track. You get your temperature taken and you answer five or six questions about exposure, symptoms and potential contact.

NASCAR might have to revisit its approach to the virus. That could be down the road.

The other sports are having far more issues than NASCAR, which seems to suggest that the drivers and their families are indeed better bubbles than trying to bring together entire rosters of players and hoping for the best.

Stock-car racing families have long been independent contractors, even with most of them scattered around Charlotte and Lake Norman. It’s not like Kyle Busch wakes up in the morning, goes out to get the paper and waves to Joey Logano across the street or Kevin Harvick walking his dog.

They all meet at the track once a week, and then they go home to their wives and kids and swimming pools and gardens.

Racing isn’t like other sports. Despite its loud and sensory overload sporting events, life is generally sedate and idyllic.

Until 2020.

Now, the sport is on TMZ and CNN. Now the issues NASCAR deals with are national controversies. Now the president weighs in on their lives.

This is indeed a new era for racing, one that comes with challenges no one in the sport has ever dealt with, ever even dreamed of dealing with. As the nation goes through painful episodes that were never on NASCAR’s radar, the sport has suddenly become the needle that moves everything else.

And that’s uncomfortable for the sport, its sanctioning body and its drivers. Let’s face it, for all the scandals and crimes and bad decisions and statements associated with so many athletes in so many sports, when do we ever hear of a stock-car racer involved in anything like that.

It’s like never.

These aren’t just good ol’ boys. These are genuinely good people.

So now that they’re dealing with so much turmoil, it’s both an inspiring time and an edgy time for the sport.

They need a nice calm week.

They need a week without news. They need a negative week.

Being a leader, as it turns out, is harder and busier than they ever imagined.

Contact Ed Hardin at 336-373-7069, and follow @Ed_Hardin on Twitter.

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