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Time Out For Sports: Coca-Cola 600; HS Sports, NBA And NHL Plan Returns

Brad Keselowski poses after winning the Coca-Cola 600 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway on Monday.
Charlotte Motor Speedway/Twitter
Brad Keselowski poses after winning the Coca-Cola 600 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway on Monday.

NASCAR came back to the Queen City with its longest race, the Coca-Cola 600, at Charlotte Motor Speedway over the Memorial Day weekend. Meanwhile, in the NBA, there’s chatter about the league returning to play at a magical place. And locally, state officials have made some rulings on youth and high school sports. Will they or will they not return in the fall? Joining WFAE's "All Things Considered" host Gwendolyn Glenn to discuss these headlines and more is Langston Wertz Jr. a longtime sportswriter for the Charlotte Observer. 

Gwendolyn Glenn: Hi Langston.

Langston Wertz Jr.: Hi Gwen. How are you?

Langston Wertz Jr, a longtime sportswriter for the Charlotte Observer.
Credit Langston Wertz
Langston Wertz Jr. a longtime sportswriter for the Charlotte Observer.

Glenn: I’m great and Happy Tuesday. Well, let’s start with news from the state giving the OK for some youth and high school sports to come back. What are those sports and what does the timeline for a return look like?

Wertz: Well, right now, they've been OK'd to start next month, June for noncontact sports. We're talking baseball, softball, cross country. Contact sports -- they're allowing for group workouts. They want you to kind of work out in the same small groups with no contact, no actual participating in that sport. North Carolina's High School Athletic Association had a press conference where they're going to announce that they're going to push back their dead period to June 15th, meaning high schools can’t start workouts until June 15th. It looks like there'll be some sports returning on the high school level very soon. 

Glenn: OK, a big step indeed. And keeping it local, the NASCAR Coca-Cola 600 race was held this past Memorial Day weekend at the Charlotte Motor Speedway -- without fans. Now, everybody had to wear a face mask and there were no cheers from the stands during the race or when the winners were announced. Langston, who took home the big prize?

Wertz: Brad Keselowski won the race. He was driving the No. 2 for Team Penske, and he won in overtime. He barely finished ahead of Jimmie Johnson. Jimmie Johnson ultimately failed the post-race inspection, so Chase Elliott finished second. And Jimmie Johnson was really close to ending a 102-race losing streak. But he's won seven championships in NASCAR -- it's not like it was his first rodeo. But it was an interesting race. A little controversy early in the race -- Denny Hamlin’s team was suspended until June 10th because a piece of metal fell off his car during the pace lap. The tungsten is used to meet the NASCAR minimum weight requirement and the rules say if it’s separated from your car at any point you get a four-race suspension.   

Glenn: And how is racing doing with its comeback, especially with no fans in the stands? Any updates on television ratings for this one and the first one that was in Darlington earlier this month? 

Wertz: The race you mentioned in Darlington did numbers that they would see for the Daytona 500, which is like going to the Super Bowl in NASCAR. They had a midweek race last week that did 2.1 million viewers; I mean, everybody's really excited about it. And then this past weekend, you know, the Coca-Cola race, which is a big event on the schedule, did about 3.8 million viewers on FOX. That just shows you how starved sports fans are. 

Glenn: Also on the negative front in terms of how starved people are for their sports events: I saw reports of people in Alamance County at the Ace Speedway near Elon, defying the governor’s orders on social distancing and showing up in the thousands for a race there. The pictures I saw showed no social distancing as they waited to enter the race area, and few masks.

Wertz: Fans lined up at that racetrack for two hours before that race started. Very few wore masks. And fans came from all over the state it wasn’t just from the two neighboring counties. They came from everywhere -- Winston Salem, Charlotte.

You know, Kyle Busch, one of the NASCAR guys, he won the Alsco 300 Xfinity race in Charlotte on Monday night. And after he won, he talked about the benefits of wearing a mask. He talked about the people going to the race here in North Carolina. He didn’t chastise them for going. He just asked, "Can you guys wear masks and look out for your neighbor?"

Glenn: Right. Well, hopefully that will have some effect and people will be more responsible. So let's shift to hockey. The National Hockey League has started talks of a return. What's going on there? 

Wertz: Yeah, they're going to begin Phase 2 of a possible return in June. They’re going to allow a group of players, I think six players, to come back on the ice to work out at a time. And players can use the weight room and the facilities. They have to have a test 48 hours before they come in. And it looks like they're going to come back and start playing games in August. I think they have like 190 regular-season games left to play. But, from what I'm seeing is they're going to skip those and kind of just jump straight to the playoffs.

The NBA is also making similar plans. They're talking about going to Disney World, which was something we talked about before. And right now they're talking to all the players and teams to kind of gauge the interest. And the guys really say they want to come back. So I would look for the NHL and the NBA to come back in August. I think the NBA is going to try to finish their season. But definitely we'll have some pro sports coming very, very soon. 

Glenn: And any idea why they are thinking about doing it in Orlando, at Disney World? What are the pluses there? 

Wertz: Well, the pluses are you can get everybody into one place. Disney World has lots of hotels, (they) have lots of playing facilities. You can have multiple games going on at the same time in different places. And the families can all stay on the campus, so to speak, to kind of get everybody into one area, as much as you can keep them there. And I think it's a very smart move by the league and I think it is going to be necessary if they come back. 

Glenn: Well, Langston, thanks for being with us today.

Wertz: Absolutely. Thanks for having me. 

Glenn: Langston Wertz Jr. a longtime sportswriter for the Charlotte Observer.

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