NASCAR has a decision to make. The Governor of the State of Texas, Greg Abbott, has lifted all COVID-19 related restrictions and opened his state to business as usual despite objections from health officials. In response to that action, one of its baseball teams, the Texas Rangers, quickly announced it would take advantage of the Governor's decision.
On Wednesday, the Rangers said that two exhibition games against the Milwaukee Brewers on Mar. 29-30 will be open to full capacity. They also announced that their Apr. 5 Opening Day versus the Toronto Blue Jays would also be open to full capacity. The team’s new ballpark, Globe Life Field, seats more than 40,000 fans.
What allows the Rangers to take such bold action is two-fold. The governor’s new guidelines, and Major League Baseball allowing teams to make their plans per local health regulations that would include social distancing and the wearing of masks. The Rangers are tossing social distancing aside for those three games; however, masks will still be required. Additionally, after those three games are in the books, it will revert to the MLB distanced seating requirements.
The events in Texas puts the onus on NASCAR and what it will do when all three divisions - Camping World, Xfinity, and Cup Series - land at the Fort Worth venue the weekend of June 12-14. Texas Motor Speedway will host the Premier Series All-Star Open and Race for the first time since NASCAR shuffled its 2021 schedule.
While NASCAR and Texas Motor Speedway still have a lot of time to determine attendance numbers for their weekend, you can bet both entities will be laser-focused on COVID-19 cases after the three games in Arlington. Major League Baseball will also be keeping an eye on the numbers.
Race fans await a decision from NASCAR
Upon hearing what the Rangers are doing, NASCAR fans are likely salivating at the thought of a packed house at Texas Motor Speedway. If the track sells every ticket, that’s more than 180,000 people not socially distanced. Even if there is a mask mandate, there is no guarantee it will not be a superspreader event.
To date, Texas has had more than 2.7 million positive cases, and according to the New York Times, there is a downward trend. Hospitalizations and deaths are also down; however, on Mar. 10, there were 5,350 new cases and 202 deaths. This shows that the pandemic crisis is far from being contained. Any spike following baseball could force NASCAR to keep limiting the number of spectators at TMS.
Both Globe Life Field and Texas Motor Speedway are in Tarrant County, and while the numbers have leveled off, there is still a 14-percent positivity rate. The first baseball game is a little more than two weeks away, and that three-game set will likely determine if Gov. Abbott rolls back his decision to open the state as if nothing had happened.
Based on what we have seen so far, a rollback is unlikely. If there is a spike, NASCAR is in an unenviable position in deciding what happens at Texas Motor Speedway. If there is no significant change in the numbers, trying to figure out how many fans will be able to see the race live will be an easy one for NASCAR.