CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Kyle Busch says he supports wearing a mask in public so “we all can take care of our neighbor” amid the coronavirus pandemic, a rare instance of the two-time NASCAR champion wading into a social issue.
The reigning Cup champion rarely speaks on non-racing issues, but Busch entered the debate after images from short tracks over the weekend showed packed grandstands with little social distancing and few people wearing masks.
Busch retweeted a photo from South Alabama Speedway in Ozark, Alabama, and added his own message Sunday before the Coca-Cola 600. He applauded fans for supporting their local short tracks but suggested mandatory masks for admission for “healthier practices.”
The responses were mixed, not unexpected when it comes to the most polarizing driver in NASCAR. Busch is beloved by his “Rowdy Nation” base but loathed by others for his overwhelming success and confident, sometimes confrontational manner.
After winning the Xfinity Series race Monday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway — his 97th career victory in that series — Busch was asked why he stepped into the debate on mask usage.
“With where we’re at today, people are saying that masks don’t mean anything,” Busch said. “I still think there’s a sense of human hygiene and taking care of your neighbor. You go to a racetrack and you cough because you get water down the wrong pipe or whatever it might be, or if you sneeze or whatever, at least you are keeping some of that to yourself rather than just spraying, right?”
Busch added he doesn’t think masks can fully stop the spread of the coronavirus but believes they are useful when social distancing can’t be practiced. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the use of cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.
“I saw the grandstands packed and just figured, ‘Hey, you know, we all can take care of our neighbor,’” he said. “That’s just kind of my idea. It’s arguable whether or not they really work. I just think it’s common courtesy.”
Under the health plan NASCAR is using since resuming its season on May 17, masks are required for all personnel on track property. Spectators are currently not permitted and NASCAR does not expect that to change through Talladega on June 21, which is as far as the schedule has been revised to date.
Everyone permitted to attend a race is on a pre-approved list and must pass through a health screening area before they can enter the venue. Masks must be worn starting at the health screening area, and NASCAR has said anyone not following guidelines is subject to a $50,000 fine and removal from the property.
There have been no flagrant violations, but fans did note that Busch and Chase Elliott were not wearing masks or socially distancing when Busch briefly consoled Elliott on pit road moments after Elliott had lost the 600. In that instance, both had just removed their helmets and climbed from their cars and neither had yet retrieved his mask.
Since NASCAR’s return, Busch has worn a variety of colorful masks that often pair with his firesuit. His mask Tuesday night at Charlotte had the Appalachian State logo as he honored the 2020 graduating class. The North Carolina college was also featured on his winning car.
On the track, Busch finally got to victory lane with the win in his fifth race since he returned from the 10-week shutdown. He entered all seven of the races NASCAR announced in its first revised schedule, a span that concludes Wednesday night with the fourth Cup race in 11 days.