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About 20,000 attend NASCAR event in what is likely the biggest sports crowd of the pandemic

All-Star race winner Chase Elliott said of the crowd: “Tonight felt like an event again and I felt like we’ve been missing that piece for a couple months."

About 20,000 fans filed into Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee on Wednesday night, likely making it the single biggest crowd since the coronavirus pandemic halted U.S. sports four months ago.

Chase Elliott won NASCAR’s annual All-Star Race and earned the $1 million prize in front of a socially distanced audience at the fabled track — known as “The Last Great Colosseum” — that can pack more than 140,000 spectators.

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“Tonight felt like an event again and I felt like we’ve been missing that piece for a couple months,” said Elliott, whose father, Hall of Famer "Awesome Bill" Elliott, won the All-Star Race in 1986.

Since the restart of NASCAR, Elliott has won Cup Series and Truck Series with no fans in the stands.

“It felt good to have NASCAR back. NASCAR is about the fans," Elliott said. "I felt like the vibe was back.”

NASCAR and local governments have been allowing small numbers of fans into tracks and the state of Tennessee gave Bristol race organizers the green light to sell up to 30,000 tickets, with spectators spread out for social distancing.

Privately held NASCAR venues, like Bristol, are not obligated to publicly disclose ticket sales.

A Bristol Motor Speedway spokeswoman on Thursday declined to say how many tickets were sold, but estimated the crowd to be between 25,000 and 30,000.

Observers at the venue on Wednesday night estimated that about 20,000 people appeared to be spread throughout the stands in northeast Tennessee.

Image: NASCAR Cup Series All-Star Race
Fans look on during the NASCAR Cup Series All-Star Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on July 15, 2020 in Bristol, Tennessee.Patrick Smith / Getty Images

The only other event that could possibly rival Bristol's crowd Wednesday was Road America, an IndyCar race held over the weekend on a 4-mile course in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.

That event likely drew more than 10,000 fans. A Road America spokesman on Thursday declined to reveal the number of tickets sold, but told NBC News that Bristol's NASCAR race surely topped IndyCar attendance in Wisconsin.

“There’s nothing like Bristol,” the Georgia native Elliott said. “There’s no feeling like it. This speaks for itself, Bristol is an electric atmosphere. We’ll take that million dollars back to Georgia.”

The coronavirus pandemic stopped all spectator sports in the United States in the second week of March. MLB games are slated to start next week, while competitive NBA and NHL contests are set start again in two weeks in neutral locations.

All of these baseball, basketball and hockey games are set to have no fans in attendance.

The NCAA's wildly popular annual basketball tournament, known as "March Madness," was cancelled and schools across America are still not sure if college football can be played this fall.

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