NASCAR Darlington Auto Racing

Driver Ty Dillon (right) stands for the national anthem before the start of the Toyota 500 NASCAR Cup Series auto race Wednesday, May 20, 2020, in Darlington, S.C.

So what happens now?

NASCAR has elbowed its way into the national sports conscience, introducing itself to a nation of sports fans, some of whom had never seen a stock-car race before this week.

They saw a classic race on the sport’s first super-speedway, saw a sport that in the midst of a pandemic showed the rest of the sporting world how to run an event without fans and still grab the attention of a country starved for competition.

Golf believes it’s ready to try now, and other sports feel empowered to at least plan for comebacks. But are they really ready?

What if NASCAR is uniquely prepared for this with its massive compounds, raceways built with acres and acres of space all around? These aren’t ballparks or stadiums. Even tiny little Bristol and Martinsville are huge layouts on huge tracts of land.

There are no dugouts or sidelines. There’s just asphalt and open air.

We’re easing back into the new normal, not just in sports but in every walk of life. In the coming weeks and months, we’ll argue and debate whether Little League can safely be played, whether football players can begin colliding again, whether our schoolkids should be in classrooms or our moms in beauty parlors.

We’re still in May, and already the NFL and college football officials are “planning” to restart in fall, which is a long, long ways off.

The big question might be yet answered by NASCAR

North and South Carolina and Virginia all have different levels of Phase 2 realities. But we’re taking the show to Georgia and then Alabama and Florida, where governors are out of touch with people calling for caution. And don’t be surprised if they get the wrong message about NASCAR’s wildly successful restart.

What if they decide to allow fans back in. Not all of them but just enough to ruin everything?

What if we get to the middle of July and everything has changed?

We don’t know the answers to these questions, which is why it’s so strange to hear sports organizations talking about starting up with fans. There’s trouble ahead. You can feel it.

NASCAR sent all of sports a message this week. Television ratings were off the chart, and 30 percent of the audience for the first race back at Darlington were people who had not seen a race on television before Sunday.

So it was a big day for NASCAR.

But was it a big day for sports? Did they really learn anything?

We’re about to find out.

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