What was already expected to be a busy race weekend at Pocono Raceway got a tad busier.
It is now five races in three days instead of four days.
The 2.5-mile triangular track in Long Pond on Thursday announced the reworked schedule for its historic NASCAR doubleheader weekend later this month.
On Friday, June 26, the ARCA Series General Tire #AnywhereIsPossible 200 is at 6 p.m.
Saturday, June 27, will see the NASCAR Truck Series Pocono Organics 150 race at 1 p.m. and the NASCAR Cup Series Pocono Organics 325 follow at 3:30 p.m.
Finally, on Sunday, June 28, the NASCAR Xfinity Series Pocono Green 225 will be held at 12:30 p.m. with the Cup Series Pocono 350 starting at 4 p.m.
Originally, the ARCA Series race was supposed to be Thursday, June 25, and Friday, June 26, was going to feature Cup practice and Truck practice and qualifying.
However, as has been the case for all but one race since NASCAR returned May 17 from a 10-week hiatus because of the coronavirus pandemic, no practice or qualifying will be held at Pocono.
Plus, all races will take place without fans in attendance in accordance with Pennsylvania’s reopening guidelines and restrictions. Pocono made that announcement last week.
“We’re heartbroken about the fans not being here,” Pocono Raceway president Ben May said on a Zoom videoconference. “It’s disappointing for our partners, disappointing for those who had those camping spots or grandstand tickets. There was even a wonderful woman who had planned her wedding. Those are the things that really hit us as a staff and a company.
“We had this great opportunity, seized it, but unfortunately the state of affairs in this world took it away from us.”
This is the first doubleheader in NASCAR’s modern era (since 1972) and there was a lot of excitement and anticipation for it.
Pocono CEO Nick Igdalsky said on the videoconference that ticket sales for the weekend were astounding.
“We were seeing growth we hadn’t seen in 15 years,” Igdalsky said. “It’s safe to say that we saw growth for both Saturday and Sunday races of well over 30 percent. We were trending to absolutely selling out the infield well in advance of the event and we added 800 new spots in 2020. So it’s disappointing obviously.”
Igdalsky said it would have been difficult to come up with a plan to allow fans to attend if Monroe County, where the track is located, moved into the green phase of Gov. Tom Wolf’s plan to reopen the state before the race weekend.
He also said there was no thought to postponing the race weekend to a later date.
“If you postpone the event in the hopes that you might be able to do it, then what if you don’t do it?” Igdalsky said. “Let’s just get the races in and give the fans an opportunity to have some entertainment at home on TV.”
When Igdalsky’s grandfather and track founder, the late Dr. Joseph Mattioli, was trying to get Pocono up and running in the early 1970s, he went bankrupt on several occasions and survived. Igdalsky said the track will survive this financial hit.
“Tough times are something we’ve had to deal with before and we’re prepared to deal with them again,” Igdalsky said. “We’ll be back next year stronger and better than ever.”
In several weeks, NASCAR is expected to unveil its 2021 schedule, Igdalsky hopes the organization will give Pocono another chance to host a doubleheader weekend.
“It was an amazing experiment that started off unbelievably, then obviously went cold once the pandemic hit,” Igdalsky said. “But we saw numbers that were stunning and we were really blown away with. We’re hoping NASCAR will give us the opportunity to run this format again in ’21 because it had tremendous promise.”
Besides Pocono, NASCAR announced its next installment of races involving its three national series as well as ARCA through Aug. 2. Tracks included are Indianapolis, Kentucky, Texas, Kansas and New Hampshire.
Also, Charlotte will host the Cup Series All-Star Race on July 15.
This weekend, NASCAR is at Atlanta Motor Speedway for Trucks and Xfinity races Saturday and the Cup race Sunday.
During more than 30 years at The Times-Tribune, Scott has covered everything from high schools to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. His current beats include motor sports, local colleges, high school cross country and high school baseball. He also is a copy editor and page designer. His articles have won awards from the Associated Press Sports Editors, American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association, Eastern Motorsports Press Association, the Society of Professional Journalists Keystone Pro Chapter and the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association Keystone Press. He also has been honored by the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League and the Minor League Football Alliance. In 2016, he was presented the Media Service Award by the Northeastern Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame. A Long Island, New York, native, Scott graduated from the University of Scranton in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in communications. He lives in Peckville with his wife, Andrea, and daughters, Bridget and Emily. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9100, x5109; or @swalshTT on Twitter