Editor’s Note: Jeff Meyer needed a break from Voices, so he did what any diehard NASCAR writer and fan would do on his week off… travel to Bristol! Look for him to return next Thursday; for this week, Bryan Davis Keith fills in.
Well, the 2009 schedule is up, and with the date shifting that was done attendance may well go up for some races – but numerous other issues were left unresolved. The Labor Day weekend race is still not back at Darlington – though I’ll admit having that race at Atlanta instead of Fontana is a significant improvement both in terms of location and of on-track product (assuming Goodyear does its job). Fontana still has two race dates (too many), and the Chase for the Cup still does not have a road course in its 10 races. But most disappointing of all – at least for me – the Cup Series will tackle no new venues in 2009.
Like so many other NASCAR writers out there, whenever the news starts talking schedule I start fantasizing about tracks I’d love to see the Sprint Cup Series tackle – so this week, I offer up five tracks I really wish the Cup Series would visit. Attendance, facility, practicality, etc., are of no concern here.
5. O’Reilly Raceway Park – While this track has always served as a sideshow to fill out NASCAR’s annual visit to Indianapolis, this area has not one but two tracks that should be hosting Cup events. Though Kyle Busch dominated the Nationwide Series race at ORP this season, the racing for positions 2-43 was excellent all night long, featuring side-by-side battles for the event’s entire duration. With multiple grooves, a 0.625-mile configuration currently not featured on the Sprint Cup slate, and a location in the heart of serious racing country, ORP is among the best short tracks in the nation not currently contested by the Sprint Cup Series. Plus, with the Nationwide Series gaining a short-track event through the addition of Iowa Speedway to its slate, it would be awful nice to see the Cup Series get additional short-track dates as well.
4. Rockingham Speedway – In an era where many fans have noted how disappointing the on-track product of NASCAR actually is, a return to the Rock would be more timely than ever. The track’s 1.07-mile configuration combines the irregular corners and abrasive asphalt of Darlington with the high banks and speed of Dover. The facility, nestled in the countryside of North Carolina, is comfortably rustic while providing excellent vantage points for any and all of its race fans. The NASCAR history behind the track is rich and undeniable – and the racing is as good as it gets. For those who weren’t fortunate enough to see the Carolina 500 in person earlier this season, go back and check out the tapes of the last Cup race run at the Rock in 2004. After watching that, I defy anyone who wouldn’t want to see the Cup cars back at this facility.
3. Road Atlanta – I have never gotten to see a race in its entirety at Road Atlanta, but from what I have seen and been told, I’m sold on the potential of Cup racing at this road course. Besides being a modern, top-notch facility, the 2.54-mile Grand Prix track has all the hills and tricky technical sections of Infineon while also including long, fast straightaways. I first heard about Road Atlanta at Caraway Speedway, of all places, from two men who had been following racing since before I was born. Hearing these men completely distracted from a fantastic late model race to tell stories of how awesome the views of sports cars coming up and down the hills of Road Atlanta are for fans tells me that this Southeastern road course may well have something to it. And considering that the current configuration of Infineon Raceway has all but eliminated passing zones, I’m all for shopping for a new road course… or even adding a third.
2. Eldora Speedway – I have about as hard a time watching the Prelude to the Dream as any other race during the season. Not because the racing is hard to watch, but because just the thought of seeing the Cup Series really get back to racing’s roots and tackling the dirt is tantalizing. Eldora, like any other dirt track out there, puts on an absolutely fantastic show, regardless of who or what is driving on it. And, much like the ARCA Re/Max Series proved that Rockingham is still fully capable of putting on a fantastic stock car race, the ARCA regulars also reminded race fans just this past weekend at the Springfield Fairgrounds that NASCAR-style stock cars can and will put on a great show on the dirt. Don’t let thoughts of splitters digging divots distract you from just how awesome the Sprint Cup Series on dirt would be. In all honesty, it wouldn’t have to be Eldora – any dirt track would do.
1. Bowman Gray Stadium — I know, I know, 43-car fields can’t run on a quarter mile. But there is a reason that the “mad house” is NASCAR’s longest running weekly track. The racing is as close quarters as it comes anywhere, and never fails to be exciting. The facility doubles as a football stadium, allowing for the closed coliseum feel of Bristol and fantastic vantage points for the fans. And I would put the fanbase of Bowman Gray up against any track’s anywhere in the country. In an economically tough time for racers and race fans, the facility is still pulling in over 10,000 fans every weekend for its weekly program. One thing is for sure: there won’t be an attendance problem should any series choose to make a stop at Bowman Gray Stadium. There would not be a truer return to NASCAR’s roots than to bring its premier series to its longest running weekly track.
There are tons, and I mean tons, of tracks that also deserve to make this list and would make for excellent Cup racing. Consider this food for thought, a taste of just how diverse and exciting the Sprint Cup schedule could be – if only the powers that be would allow it.