The Frontstretch: Proposed 2011 NASCAR Schedule: More A Band-Aid Than "Impactful" by Danny Peters -- Tuesday August 10, 2010

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Proposed 2011 NASCAR Schedule: More A Band-Aid Than "Impactful"

The Yellow Stripe · Danny Peters · Tuesday August 10, 2010


When NASCAR’s head honcho Brian France announced there would be “impactful” changes to the 2011 Sprint Cup schedule, I stupidly permitted myself a moment to get excited. Following the encouraging introduction of double-file restarts and the multiple green-white-checkered rule, I hoped that, perhaps, the changes made would really make a difference, aiding in the battle against the sport’s waning popularity compared to the previous calendar.

Stupid, stupid me.

Whilst the complete announcement is still to be made, let’s summarize what we’ve heard so far from all the rumors and innuendos: Atlanta and Fontana each lose a date, Chicagoland becomes the first Chase race, Kentucky is awarded their first ever Sprint Cup date, Kansas picks up a second race, Texas becomes a night race, and finally, various date flip-flops – most of which seem largely irrelevant and cosmetic rather than “impactful.”

Hopefully, Mr. France will be able to explain the “impact” that his changes to the 2011 Cup Schedule will bring about…

To figure out why, let’s take a detailed look at each of these individual changes in turn, starting with the venerable old Atlanta Motor Speedway — which made its Cup debut all the way back in July 1960. The 300-mile race, just for the record, was won by the legendary Glenn “Fireball” Roberts, the first of what would be two dates on the calendar for one of NASCAR’s oldest ovals. Now, some 102 races later, Atlanta will switch from two dates to one for the first time in the track’s illustrious history. To a certain extent, there is some logic behind this move – crowds have been dwindling, traffic is an unholy nightmare and Atlanta is, arguably, one of the toughest towns in which to sell a sports ticket. On the other hand, AMS is a track that nearly always provides excellent racing. This, oh powers that supposedly be, is what the sport needs. It doesn’t need more cookie-cutter banality, follow-the-leader type tedium which leads me nicely onto the type of track that’s been granted a second date — Kansas.

Kansas Speedway, home of title sponsor Sprint, first appeared on the Cup schedule in late 2001 and has hosted one race a year since its debut. In the past six seasons, the event has had the added luster (such as that’s not a complete and total oxymoron) of being part of the all-hallowed Chase. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve seen some good albeit spotty competition at times out there – who can forget Carl Edwards’ brave but stupid banzai move on the final corner two years ago? But for the most part, races at Kansas do not quicken the blood, and clearly, this is a move designed to placate the owners of what will be the shiny new $521 million casino. Let’s be fair; that’s “cough, cough” surely a good reason to give a second date… right?

Moving on from that bad decision, let’s look at another mystifying move, namely giving the first race of the Chase to Chicagoland Speedway. As with Kansas, Chicagoland first appeared on the schedule in 2001, and David Reutimann’s recent win was the tenth race completed at the Joliet, IL venue. This move just baffles me. If you’re going to move a track into the Chase, then why not somewhere like Darlington? Adding another blah cookie cutter does absolutely nothing to “spice up” the ten-race playoff; in fact, I’d posit it does the complete and utter opposite. This decision is just bizarre, no question, especially considering the new date could wind up opposite a Bears home game – further diluting the attendance this suffering track so desperately craves. Perhaps there’s a casino planned at Chicagoland, as well?

It’s not all doom and gloom, however, as finally light has dawned and time is being called on the second race date at Fontana. I’ve long argued that going from the Daytona 500 to Auto Club Speedway is about as big a comedown from the excitement of the biggest race of the season as you could possibly have. Now, at least, we’ll be spared two excruciatingly dull, follow-the-leader races in front of ever-decreasing crowds, and we’ll just have to suffer through one. Frankly, it will be great to see ACS removed from the final 10 weeks; it was about as worthy of a Chase date as I am a date with Megan Fox.

Meanwhile, on the positive side, Kentucky picks up a long-awaited Sprint Cup race. With the lawsuit now settled, the road is cleared for the mile-and-a-half track to finally play with the Big Boys after a decade of filling up for Nationwide crowds. Bruton Smith has pledged an increase to 120,000 seats from the current 65,000 maximum, and I’m pretty certain this will end up being a solid addition to the Sprint Cup schedule. But it’s neither a huge surprise, nor is it especially “impactful.” Put another way, it’s a 6 or a 7 out of 10 move: good, but not great considering the length and type of racing is the same as several other speedways.

As for the other changes – moving to one night race at Texas and various flip-flopping of other dates, well, color me utterly uninspired. Now, of course, all of this is mostly conjecture, and there may yet be further changes, but considering the tight nature of the NASCAR community, I can’t help but feel we would have heard if there were going to be other major alterations. That said, I’m still more than a little nervous the venerable old Martinsville is in danger of losing a second date over time; it’s not this year, but I still fear the worst at the end of the 2011 season. I have to say the thought of this happening just fills me with dread. It’s bad enough that Darlington – a track that almost always produces compelling racing – only has one race, but if the little old paperclip — one of NASCAR’s original tracks — ever loses one, too, it’s clear (if it wasn’t already) that the inmates are truly running the proverbial asylum.

Now, as I said earlier, some of the above is based on incomplete reports and speculation, but with these sort of decisions, the drip-drip of information tends to be more accurate than not. Yes, there still might be some surprises I’ve not considered (or heard about), so if you have a scoop feel free to share below in the comments section. Overall, though, I guess I’m just massively underwhelmed by the reported changes which are largely “much ado about nothing.” I don’t see many folks becoming NASCAR fans because Kansas has a second date, or because we’re starting the Chase at a 1.5-mile cookie-cutter most so definitively despise. So when push comes to shove, impactful is completely the wrong word to describe what’s happened and candidly, NASCAR has missed a great opportunity to really shake things up.

On a brighter note, it was great to see the No. 42 car win this past weekend at the Glen. Not for the boorish Colombian with his amazing sense of self-entitlement, but rather, for the very popular Brian Pattie who recorded his first Cup victory as a crew chief. Pattie has also won races in both the Trucks and the Nationwide Series and after a trying few weeks – including the fiasco at the Brickyard – you can’t help but feel he’s more than deserving of a long-awaited maiden win.

Tuesday on the Frontstretch:
It’s Official: Kasey Kahne to Red Bull
Five Points to Ponder: The Cup Series We Know So Well… Stupidity And Mistakes Repeating Themselves
Who’s Hot / Who’s Not In Sprint Cup: Watkins Glen – Michigan Edition
A Great Year Disguised As One Of The Worst For One Of NASCAR’s Best Owners
Talking NASCAR TV: ESPN Cup Coverage At Watkins Glen Wins

Contact Danny Peters

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Did You Notice? … Breaking Down A Sprint Cup Season Eight Races In
Beyond the Cockpit: Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. on Growing Up Racing and Owner Loyalties
The Frontstretch Five: Flaws Exposed In the New Chase So Far
NASCAR Writer Power Rankings: Top 15 After Darlington
NASCAR Mailbox: Past Winners Aren’t Winning …. Yet
Open Wheel Wednesday: How Can IndyCar Stand Out?


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08/10/2010 10:00 AM

I agree, none of these changes are particularly groundbreaking. I’m not sure NASCAR is willing to do the big things that should be done, like dropping the Chase and building some exciting tracks to race at. That would do more than double-file restarts would.

08/10/2010 10:48 AM

Technically, Atlanta lost its date to Kentucky, not Kansas. Otherwise, I basically agree. I’m glad Fontana finally lost a date but that’s about the only good thing that came out of all of this. Atlanta deserves two races. At least Martinsville should be safe for now, with the Kansas date coming from California. That was the big question mark for a while.

08/10/2010 11:24 AM

This is for Kevin in SoCal. I do not see much of an improvement moving from ACS to Kansas. A 2 mile cookie cutter for a 1 1/2, the only true advantage is the extra miles the teams do not have to travel.

I am not a fan of the 1 1/2 – 2 mile tracks, there are just too many of these races. Back when there was only Charolette and Michigan this was not bad, but now you have 10 of thes tracks and around 15 of these races. Just too much of the same thing.

While I’m not the biggest road course fan, I do like the change of pace and before the chase it help make sure the True Champion was a little more well rounded as a driver.

08/10/2010 11:27 AM

If this info is correct regarding next year’s schedule, then expect even more empty seats next year. And if they do take a race from Martinsville, there is a solid reason for your dread. nas$car sold it’s soul to the highest bidder ten years ago and it’s turning into a pale wraith now. Chicagoland speedway in the chase indeed.

08/10/2010 11:37 AM

Emperor Brian is continually trying to fix a broken leg with a splint. He is forever saying it’ll be all right as NASCAR falls further into the abyss and ignoring all the signs. He won’t do what needs to be done and it is probably too late anyway.
I hope he is enjoying counting the money while it disappears.

Don Williams
08/10/2010 11:52 AM

Well they can do away with Chicagoland Too for all I care. What the sport needs now is like Tony Stewart said “ wee need a date with a dirt track for the cup cars” NOW THAT WOULD SELL TICKETS!! It would also put the driving back on the drivers. Can anybody say Eldora?

08/10/2010 12:04 PM

The COT did Atlanta in. While Atlanta still has good racing compared to the other boring tracks, it used to have INCREDIBLE RACING until the COT came along. They need to do something with that car. I really believe if they did change the car, the racing would improve even at the crummy tracks. They actually thought cookie cutter cars on cookie cutter tracks would be interesting. Instead it’s a bunch of guys that can’t pass anymore.

08/10/2010 01:00 PM

Rob, I think you are absolutely right. I have been saying it for a long time. Fix the product on the track and the racing will improve everywhere. Although, I am not convinced the racing will be any better on the cookie cutters. It wasn’t before the new car.

Nascar used to have a nice variety of short tracks, intermediate and super speedway. Each one was unique and posed a different challenge every week. Not anymore. They are all the same mostly. They got away from the short tracks because most of them don’t hold 100,000 people and went more with the cookie cutters that did all in the name of money. Money they are losing by the day now. Trouble is, the best racing is always on the short tracks. I’m not sure why Nascar doesn’t see this. After all, 60,000 people at The Rock or North Wilksboro is much more exciting racing than 60,000 that only show up at Fontana.

Nascar is reaping what they sow right now and this lack of changes in the schedule is not winning them any fans back.

I’m still waiting for someone to tell me how before Bruton bought Kentucky that the owners couldn’t get a race. Then Bruton buys it and all of a sudden it is now worthy.

Kevin in SoCal
08/10/2010 02:11 PM

Is it possible to write an article without an insult to Fontana? I expect it from the comments section but not from the “professional” writers of this website. But I’m used to it by now.
I am just as happy as the rest of you that Martinsville didnt lose a date to give Kansas a second one. Fontana deserves one date the whole time and not two, and now we should see a huge improvement in attendance next year. If we dont, pass the crow.
With NASCAR owning half of ISC, there is no way they are going to give up one of their dates to a competitor’s track. Its just simple business, people. If Kentucky gets a Cup date, it had to come at the expense of one of the other tracks on the schedule. Since Bruton Smith bought it, that means it has to come from one of his tracks. With Atlanta’s attendance problems as bad as Fontana’s in recent years, they lost the race date lottery. At least we’re switching from one 1.5 miler to another, and not losing a track such as New Hampshire for another 1.5 miler.

Doug In Washington (State)
08/10/2010 02:13 PM

Bruton got the date at Kentucky only at the expense of a date at one of his other tracks. The prior ownership group had no track date to give up, and ISC wasn’t giving up one of their dates to another company. Simple as that.

08/10/2010 03:21 PM

Yes, Illinois is in the process of approving casinos.

08/10/2010 05:53 PM

NASCAR had a car in the Nationwide series that was a race car. They “raced” a bumper car in Cup. Instead of turning the Cup car into a Race car, Brian in his infinite wisdom decided to turn the Nationwide racer into a cup clone. And he wonders why everything is going wrong. Third generation provides further destruction.

Is there a more drugged-up-looking CEO than Brian France? He takes a great picture and his words have such a wonderful understandability.

08/10/2010 06:51 PM

Wonder why they put the Indy and Ky races so close together in July….? The pocket of racing fans in that area is only so big & probably few can afford 2 races in a month.

08/10/2010 08:20 PM

They have tried to get a casino in chicago but it didn’t work cause the people don’t want it

08/10/2010 09:00 PM

How come Pocono still has 2 dates??

08/11/2010 12:01 AM

Kevin in SoCal…Nope
I don’t get how the move to Kentucky is good at all. Isn’t it still just another 1.5mi cookie cutter?
Want to shake up the Chase? Add the Glen, have at it boys. At least the Chase would include all types of tracks in the series.

08/11/2010 12:06 AM

Pocono will keep two dates as long as the Mattioli family is in bed with NA$CAR.

08/11/2010 04:18 AM

Pocono will keep 2 dates until they want to give up one because they were there when Na$car needed them. Bill France Sr talked the Mattioli family into not closing the place when they were losing money because of the Cart/ Usac fight and at the time there was not a lot of money being made on Na$car races and there were not many racetracks around the country like there are now. Pocono was part of the Indy car series triple crown with Indy and Michigan and that is where they were making their money until the first open wheel split happened.

Kevin in SoCal
08/11/2010 01:07 PM

mkrcr, I agree that adding Kentucky is not a positive move, especially losing a track with history such as Atlanta. But its better to swap one 1.5 miler for another rather than lose New Hampshire, in my opinion. And its better to swap Fontana for Kansas than lose Martinsville.

08/11/2010 10:47 PM

I agree, Kevin, with not losing dates from good tracks. It just slays me how obvious NA$CAR goes about it’s business nowadays. I just wonder what Bruton used to get the taste of France’s butt out of his mouth. My guess is he used a hundred dolla bill.

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