NASCAR
Kurt Busch (1) said NASCAR drivers will be able to feel the presence of fans during Sunday's race in Darlington, S.C, despite spectators being banned from the facility as a precaution during the coronavirus pandemic. (Mike Gentry/UPI file photo)

DARLINGTON, S.C./DORTMUND, Germany/JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (UPI) — NASCAR drivers will race Sunday in one of the first major sports events in the United States since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. The Bundesliga on Saturday will be Europe’s first major sports league to return.

Cup Series drivers will start their engines at 3:30 p.m. EDT Sunday at Darlington Raceway in Darlington, S.C. Fans will not be allowed in the grandstands. The Real Heroes 400 will be the first NASCAR race since mid-March, when the season was suspended.

“We know we are on a big stage this weekend,” said Erik Jones, driver of the No. 20 Toyota. “There is not really any other sport out there. … “We have a huge opportunity Sunday to bring a new group of fans in, people who maybe have never watched NASCAR.

“The pressure is there to keep it clean and put on a good show,” Jones said.

Drivers will have modified competition cautions in the early portion of the race. The field will be frozen to accommodate longer pit stops. Pit road will open to the top 20 before it opens to the next 20 on the following lap.

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Limitations on NASCAR team travel

Also, teams will be limited in how many members can travel, each of whom must complete health questionnaires and have temperatures taken. Drivers, staff members and other race personnel will be asked to log their activity and with whom they have interacted.

NASCAR notified teams in late March that an employee who was at the Atlanta Motor Speedway tested positive for the coronavirus. The positive test came days before NASCAR planned to have races on March 14 and 15 there and some team personnel already had arrived at the facility.

“As you go into this weekend, our competitors, crew guys and everybody at the race track needs to remind themselves when they leave the house that the world is watching,” said Kevin Harvick, who leads the Cup Series standings.

“Our country, especially, is watching. We need to make sure we make all the right moves. When you look at all the procedures and precautions taken so far by NASCAR, our teams understand there is a personal responsibility that comes with each one of us that make sure it goes as well as possible.

“There will be a lot of things that are right and probably some things that are wrong.”

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NASCAR on the card: Real Heroes 400

The Real Heroes 400 will be the first of three races scheduled in four days at the track. The NASCAR Xfinity Series will return at 8 p.m. EDT Tuesday. A second Cup Series race is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. EDT Wednesday at the South Carolina track.

NASCAR named the race the Real Heroes 400 in honor of healthcare workers and those fighting against the coronavirus pandemic.

Sunday’s race will air on Fox.

“It’s going to be an empty set of grandstands,” said Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 1 Chevrolet. “It’s going to be all eyeballs watching through the Fox network and we will be able to feel them.

“We will have a whole different set of feelings and circumstances around us, but we know everybody will be through that camera lens.”

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Bundesliga soccer weekend

A trio of German soccer games at 9:20 a.m. EDT Saturday will mark the return of the Bundesliga, one of the world’s most popular soccer leagues.

Borussia Dortmund will face Schalke on FS1. RB Leipzig battles Freiburg on FS2. Fox Soccer Plus will air Augsburg vs. Wolfsburg. The final game of Saturday’s soccer slate will be a clash between Eintracht Frankfurt and Borussia Monchengladbach at 12:20 p.m. EDT on FS1.

Koln has a game against Mainz at 9:20 a.m. EDT Sunday on FS1. Reigning Bundesliga champion Bayern Munich battles Union Berlin in the final match of the weekend at 11:50 a.m. EDT on FS1.

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UFC Fight Night

The Ultimate Fighting Championship schedule continues with UFC Fight Night on Saturday at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Fla. Alistair Overeem will battle Walt Harris in a heavyweight bout in the main event. A total of five fights will be on the main card.

Claudia Gadelha will fight Angela Hill in a women’s straw-weight bout. Dan Ige will fight Edson Barboza in a featherweight bout. Eryk Anders will fight Krzysztof Jotko in a middleweight bout. Song Yadong will fight in another featherweight bout against Marlon Vera.

Preliminary fights will start at 6 p.m. EDT. The main card will start at 9 p.m. EDT. All fights will air on ESPN+.

Reporting by Alex Butler

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