As the 2013 season creeps closer and closer to the end, it’s time to start thinking about next year. Sure, we haven’t even crowned this year’s Truck Series champion; however, the 2014 schedule has started coming together as individual tracks release their dates. Most recently, New Hampshire Motor Speedway announced on Wednesday that the trucks will return to the Magic Mile for the first time since 2011. That’s certainly a step in the right direction when it comes to repairing a schedule that’s been lacking — the series has had just 22 dates for a few seasons now.
However, there’s far more that can be done to ensure the long-term success and health of NASCAR’s most competitive division. First and foremost, it’s important to mention that there’s no reason for Eldora to not remain on the schedule, especially with how much of a hit it was with the fans and the sellout crowd that filled the stands. I’d be shocked if there were any changes there for 2014. But if teams are already forced to set up trucks for a dirt race like Eldora, why not add another dirt track or two? After all, the Truck Series was built on smaller facilities, so let’s throw in Knoxville Raceway in Iowa. While I haven’t been able to catch the Nationals from the half-mile track, I’ve already heard plenty about people who really enjoy the racing there. That should be the perfect solution to the costs teams already need to invest for Eldora. There’s a limit to how many dirt races you could add – otherwise, the events won’t quite have the shine that Eldora did this season. But two would hardly be tipping the scales.
Next, I’d look at doing the same thing for road courses, considering some of the same reasons listed above. Another new track for this season came in the form of Canadian Tire Motorsports Park (Mosport), and despite the controversial ending, with an added slap for good measure I’d call it a success. There was no shortage of on-track battles and the rivalries that tough side-by-side racing produces. But again, we run into another cost issue for teams that needed a specific road course truck for a single event.
The solution? Add in a second road course, something that would be great for the series, and rather than picking a new one, let’s bring the trucks into a companion weekend with the Nationwide Series at either Mid-Ohio or Road America. I think I’d lean more towards adding Mid-Ohio to the schedule, since the trek there would be a bit shorter for organizations that already operate on a shoestring budget.
Aside from adding another dirt track and road course, NASCAR would be wise to bring back Darlington. The series raced at the 1.366-mile oval from 2001 through ’04 before being dropped, but it returned again for 2010 and ’11. The problem here is that Darlington was ever dropped in the first place. With the exception of 2011, three of the five races run at the facility featured a margin of victory of less than a half-second; there was also plenty of beating and banging, close-quarters competition throughout the field. Last time I checked, that beating and banging is what brings fans to the track and watching on television. So NASCAR, please bring back the standalone weekend that allowed Truck Series drivers to be featured without Cup interlopers stealing the show.
Of course, adding tracks to the schedule could come at a price for some already on there. But which ones would be the biggest candidates for removal? This part is where it gets a little tricky, because NASCAR obviously believes the tracks that are on the schedule deserve to be there.
With the exception of maybe Martinsville, I can’t see any facility that should have two dates, especially with how short the schedule already is. With that said, even though it’s my home track, I’d take away one of the Truck Series races from Texas Motor Speedway. Sure, the series has put on decent shows at the facility, but they are often overshadowed during the November Chase weekend. Instead, even though it’s horribly hot in June, let’s keep the IndyCar companion weekend that allow drivers from both series to be spotlighted.
The next candidate for removal would be another mile-and-a-half track. Chicagoland Speedway didn’t put on much of a show this year, and there are already plenty of cookie cutters on the schedule. Places like Kansas, Charlotte, Kentucky, and Las Vegas are all safe since they put on a decent show when the Truck Series heads there, so Chicagoland ends up on the chopping block this time around.
Last but not least, as much as I like to see the big Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Raceway, putting an exclamation point on the season, it’s hard to make a case for the facility to stay. Again, it’s a case of not putting on the best show and the Truck Series being overshadowed by the Chase, even though all three series spend the weekend crowning the champion. Instead, how about ending the season with Las Vegas Motor Speedway and moving the banquet out there, too? After all, it’s a safe bet that the racing would be better all around.
Putting together a NASCAR schedule obviously has more to do with logistics than planning, rather than what everyone really wants to see. However, the overall health of the series would benefit if the sanctioning body even considered some of the suggested changes. One thing is for sure, though: it will be disappointing if the schedule once again features a slim 22 events. These long, open breaks in the racing kill the momentum for both drivers and fans alike.
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