NASCAR To Endorse, But Not Require Driver Vaccinations

In just under two weeks, NASCAR will begin the process of reopening the garage area to select VIPs but the sanctioning body is also choosing to walk a figurative tight rope between encouraging COVID-19 vaccinations while also respecting personal choice.

NASCAR president Steve Phelps says vaccinations will remain optional for competitors as mandating them would be ‘a bit of a slippery slope,’ even if he personally endorses the practice.

“It is important, in my opinion, that people get vaccinated,” Phelps said on a Zoom call prior to the Cup Series race at Talladega Superspeedway. “We will continue to monitor and change our policy as necessary in order to make sure that people are safe. We are certainly monitoring. I won’t get into the numbers specifically, but the number of people who are in this garage that have been vaccinated continues to steadily rise.”

Phelps was also on a company call with employees over the past week encouraging them to receive a vaccination. NASCAR has established a vaccination clinic for industry members and their families this week at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

23XI Racing has partnered with Novant Health to address public vaccination hesitancy. The team recently held a vaccination event at its North Carolina shop with Denny Hamlin and Bubba Wallace receiving the Pfizer shot alongside roughly 50 employees.

Hamlin and Wallace are the only drivers to publicize receiving a vaccination.

Conversely, reigning Cup Series champion and most popular driver Chase Elliott has stated that the decision to receive a vaccination is a personal choice and one he would not discuss publicly. Brad Keselowski has issued a similar stance.

“I’m not trying to shove it down people’s throats,” Wallace said last week. “I’m just saying I’m comfortable taking this route to get us back to a normal capacity in all aspects of life.”

Phelps said the sanctioning body is working towards ways to engage with teams and drivers on the subject.

“As it relates to the driver corps, I think you’ll probably see more and more, and we’ll ask the drivers frankly to try to promote the vaccination process,” Phelps said. “I think it’s really important.

“They have a voice. That voice carries a lot of weight. To the degree that we can help with folks who are uncertain about whether they want to get the vaccine, I think it would be critical to have those with the loudest voice within the sport talking about their vaccinations.”

NASCAR will move one step closer towards a sense of normalcy when it permits a limited number of VIPs and media into the garage area next weekend at Darlington Raceway. Any guest permitted into the infield will be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. NASCAR is expected to leave the process of validating VIP vaccinations to the teams.

Those guests will be required to wear face coverings and will not be permitted onto pit road. Victory Lane will be open to sponsors should that entity’s team win on a given day. For now, drivers are expected to remain in their motorhomes up until opening ceremonies.

Competitors are required to state if they have received a vaccination in the questionnaires that must be digitally submitted prior to every event. Phelps would not disclose the percentage of drivers and crew members to have received a vaccination but offered that the number is steadily rising.

Meanwhile, IndyCar is also encouraging competitors to receive a vaccination.

That sanctioning body has revealed that 90 percent of its paddock has received at least the first shot. Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson has said he’s received the vaccine, as had Colton Herta and four-time champion Sebastien Bourdais.

The month of May leading up to the Indianapolis 500 will require either a completed vaccination or a daily negative COVID-19 test.

Team Penske crew chief Jeremy Bullins says both the NASCAR and IndyCar portions of his shop have been encouraged from the top — Roger Penske himself — the owner of both the IndyCar Series and Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“It’s one of those things where it’s encouraged,” he said. “It seems like it’s going okay and there’s no reason not to get it, so it’s something we’re encouraging everybody to do. But it’s a choice and I understand if somebody doesn’t want to get it.”

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