NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Happy Hour: A New Kind of Schedule Proposal for NASCAR

Official Columnist of NASCAR Kurt Smith has the week off, while he seeks the sand, waves, and adventures of Wildwood, N.J. In his absence, he’s updated one of his favorite commentaries – the first version of which was published at That’s Racin’ – a suggestion for completely revamping the NASCAR schedule to fix some of the sport’s problems. It wasn’t well received at the time – in fact, one reader demanded to know what substance’s smoke Kurt had been inhaling – but maybe the passage of time has allowed some to warm to his ideas. Either way, we hope you enjoy what he has to say!

As NASCAR faces a dilemma with Bruton Smith’s purchase of Kentucky Speedway, it’s the perfect time to fix a Cup schedule badly in need of repair. While they’ve handled the concept of compromise poorly, there are some difficult decisions that the sanctioning body has to make at times, and you have to at least respect them for that. But with the current conflict, I’ve thought of a change in the schedule that could solve a few of NASCAR’s current problems. It’s radical, but maybe it would work…

Most fans don’t like the idea of NASCAR holding a race in New York City, especially at the expense of a long-famous short track. But with sponsorship becoming increasingly expensive, sponsor-friendly driver Jeff Gordon has suggested that it might not be a bad idea to have a race somewhere near Wall Street, perhaps in the Meadowlands. Well, that’s not too far from me, and I would like that. I’m kind of excited about the track being built in Millville, personally; but self-interest aside, that could draw revenue for teams if the circus actually came to the Big Apple.

Don’t get the wrong idea, of course. That doesn’t mean that I wasn’t distressed to see the Carolinas lose five races in a short period of time, especially at a few of NASCAR’s classic tracks. I would like to see two Darlington races. I would like to have The Rock and North Wilkesboro back, too.

Here is what I propose:

  • Have two races every Sunday, or one on Saturday night and one on Sunday afternoon. Whatever – as long as there are two Cup events every weekend. They could use a format similar to the NFL where it works very well. Start the East Coast race at noon (remember when that was the norm?), and start the Midwest or West Coast race at 4 p.m. or immediately after the East Coast race has ended. Imagine it; as the fans are watching a Dover race finish, the pre-race show for Vegas is on a rival station.
  • Reduce the number of cars in a race to 30-35. This would obviously eliminate the Top-35 rule. Maybe allow some provisionals, but no absolute guarantees for a certain number of drivers. With 60-plus cars racing each week, NASCAR will have some field-fillers again. But even with the ratings and ticket sales dropping, NASCAR has reached a point where a 43-car field every week will sometimes exclude popular teams, especially considering the number of teams that will possibly self-promote themselves up from the Nationwide Series next year. With this proposal, these teams race every week, at least until the sport expands some more, and then it could be grown into a 35-37 car field, which is still safer and more competitive than 43.
  • Each driver/team will have their own schedule, made available to fans, where they would race at all of the tracks in the bigger markets, and they would touch most of the tracks on the circuit at least once. Each driver would have to prove his worth on the speedways, short tracks, road courses and Pocono. With more variety in the schedule, there could be proportionately more short tracks, road courses and 1-milers, and fewer 1.5 and 2-mile speedways. Fans in California, Kansas, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Alabama would all still get to see their favorite driver race in their backyard at some point in the season. Drivers would not race against the same drivers every week, so they could battle all of their rivals, and they would be more likely to engage in such battles during the race with fewer cars on the track.
  • Cut the drivers’ (and teams’) season schedule to 28-30 races per year, increasing the number of off weeks and allowing them more time to spend at home with their families. This move would reduce the considerable fatigue on both man and machine. And since they are going to the major markets anyway, fans will still get a chance to see them.
  • I have toyed with the idea of having separate divisions, but haven’t thought of a method to divide them. But suppose there was a way to separate the drivers into two divisions – Maybe Chevy/Ford and Toyota/Dodge, or the Nextel and Winston divisions, or odds and evens – just for the sake of argument. This way, the sport really could have a meaningful, less contrived playoff – closer to the Hooters Pro Cup than the dozen or so supporters of the Chase insist it mirrors. (It doesn’t.) The top-six drivers in both divisions could compete in an eight-race “Chase” for the title. No other drivers on the track; just the 12 playoff guys. Maybe it still places too much emphasis on luck, but at least the championship races won’t be influenced by non-playoff drivers.

Think of the problems this could solve. NASCAR could expand into the wine and cheese markets without abandoning the rural Southern tracks where the sport spent its childhood. It could bring back The Rock and North Wilkesboro. Kentucky, Milwaukee, Memphis, Gateway, even Montreal and Mexico City could all be added to the schedule if they had such a need. You could worry less about smaller tracks like Martinsville – where a big concern is hauler and pit road safety.

Those chances could also enable a Labor Day race at Fontana AND Darlington… a Labor Day racing doubleheader, something else to celebrate on the holiday.

The “Kurt” schedule could also help put a stop to the practice of Nationwide-whacking, or “Purse-snatching” as some in our message board have called it, since Nationwide races could be at different tracks. It would be more difficult for a Cup driver to follow a full-time schedule, giving the young hotshot Nationwide drivers as much seat time and exposure to make it to the big leagues as their open wheel counterparts… clearly, there would be room for all of them.

The Chase provides a playoff that excludes teams that were not good enough during the season and just matches the best of the best. But the sponsors of non-playoff teams have still been on TV for 30 races. With fewer cars on the track, they might have been on TV more often. The playoff races would consist of just 12 cars, giving sponsors of those teams plenty of exposure. There won’t be complaints about networks not showing non-Chase cars on TV, because there won’t be any. And the playoff with fewer cars racing would have a different feel to it, making it actually seem like something special rather than just a resuming of the schedule after redistributing the points wealth.

NEFF: SHUT UP AND DRIVE

The shortened schedule for individual teams would, as suggested, reduce the wear and tear on them and their families. It might even help save a marriage or two. More importantly, it would also reduce teams’ expenses, which would help smaller teams and lesser known sponsors. At the same time, NASCAR has expanded – win-win, as your boss probably often says.

The fans would have a choice, too. Hardcore fanatics of just one driver could watch fewer races and spend more time with other things… or, they could have NASCAR on TV all day Sunday if they want, but like football, they can watch at least one event without the heart damage from rooting for their favorite driver.

The only people who would probably not benefit are people like me, who now have to give up a bigger chunk of their weekend to report on the goings-on. But that’s OK with me. It’s all in a day’s work for the Official Columnist of NASCAR.

These changes are radical and would be difficult to implement. But why limit these great events to just one race a week?

Kurt’s Shorts

  • Michigan isn’t the most exciting of speedways, but its location near all of the automakers in Detroit is a good thing. Anyone going to a race there can visit the city of Detroit and check out Comerica Park, Greektown, the Renaissance Center and the Henry Ford Museum. Detroit’s not all bad… it just needs to get the rest of its act together.
  • Following JJ Yeley’s big win at Pocono last week… what? He didn’t win? Sorry people, this is being written before the Pocono race and I have to make an educated guess… never mind.
  • The first NASCAR race I ever attended was at Michigan in 2002. Back then, people were still being silent on lap 3. During driver introductions, Dale Earnhardt Jr., of course, received a hero’s welcome, and you couldn’t hear anything above the boos when the announcer stated: “No. 24…”
  • Speaking of Detroit, the Red Wings took yet anther title, outlasting the Penguins in a thrilling finish with the puck crossing the Detroit crease. So, Michigan fans should be in a pretty good mood for the race…

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