While some motorsport series are testing all drivers and team personnel for COVID-19 before each event, NASCAR is one of the series operating almost entirely on the honor system: If you feel ill, it’s up to you to report it. And it’s still a terrible idea.
“It would suck, but they understand this is bigger than they are,” former driver Jeff Burton told FOX Sports regarding how seriously drivers are taking the honor system. “It would be a hard conversation with yourself but at the end of the day, you have to look at yourself in the mirror and do the right thing.”
While Burton is confident that NASCAR drivers will do the right thing—get tested if displaying COVID-19 symptoms, report the results, and remain out of competition until having tested negative—it’s a hard system to regulate. Asymptomatic carriers are always possible, and there’s no way to prevent those people from spreading the virus to others.
In that same FOX article, Brad Keselowski had some fairly concerning comments when asked about the possibility of the coronavirus being present in the paddock:
As far as somebody getting sick and hiding it, I don’t know. I don’t believe necessarily at this moment that the testing is strong enough for me to have confidence that somebody does or doesn’t have it more times than not.
So I guess it’s a really open-ended question that I don’t know if I have an answer for.
It’s unclear how many other drivers share the belief that testing may be faulty or that it’s possible for ill drivers to hide their symptoms.
Other drivers, like Clint Bowyer, took a more joking stance, saying that he probably won’t be going to a college party keg stand any time soon. While Bowyer is something of a party icon in the NASCAR paddock, it is disheartening to see a threatening virus treated as a chance for humor—especially when no one is certain of its longterm health implications.
And it isn’t like NASCAR has introduced policies that would encourage a driver to be open about positive test results. Following a large outbreak, the World of Outlaws series introduced a formula that essentially awards drivers who miss races with interim points based on their average finishing position. NASCAR hasn’t implemented anything like that, which means drivers like Jimmie Johnson and Austin Dillon—the two NASCAR drivers to miss races due to COVID-19—are, to put it simply, shit out of luck.
“The precedent has been set and you’ve got to see it through,” Johnson said with an easily imaginable resignation. The driver missed the playoffs by a mere six points. Had he been awarded hardship points for missing out on the Brickyard 400, it’s possible he could have made it in.
Johnson seems to think that NASCAR couldn’t have retroactively awarded points, but it could have been done prior to the playoffs.
Trusting your fellow drivers is important both on and off the race track, but it’s also fair to assume that many drivers will do whatever it takes to hit the track. NASCAR should have taken the responsibility to ensure that its competitors and personnel would be safe rather than relying on everyone else to carry that burden on their shoulders.