Race Weekend Central

Full Throttle: 2011 Schedule Changes Aren’t What They Should Be

The 2011 NASCAR Cup schedule is still a work in progress, but part of that progress is that track owners have to submit requests to realign dates among tracks – or move dates. NASCAR has confirmed that both SMI and ISC have submitted requests for realignment date changes for the upcoming racing season. The rumor is that ISC is going to take the spring race date from Fontana’s Auto Club Speedway and move it to Kansas. The other rumor is that SMI is going to take the spring date from Atlanta and move it to Kentucky Speedway while taking the first date in the Chase from New Hampshire and moving it to Las Vegas.

The moves from Fontana and Atlanta make sense because both tracks have struggled with attendance, but the New Hampshire move is not nearly as justifiable because the track has always had outstanding attendance and is the only track that serves New England and the true Northeast.

The problem with the schedule assignment for tracks is that ISC is owned by the same people who own NASCAR. There is an inherent conflict of interest in that relationship, but the judicial system in America has decided that it is acceptable, so we are stuck with it. The end result is that even though the schedule has some flaws that could be resolved by moving dates from one track to another, they are not going to be moved because it would involve moving a date from an ISC track to an SMI track.

NASCAR and ISC has proven for years that its focus is about making money and there is no way that the parent company is going to move a date away from its subsidiary to a rival company. The end result is that, if Las Vegas or Kentucky is going to receive a race date, it is going to have to come from another SMI track or from a non-ISC track that is purchased by SMI.

Pocono Raceway and Indianapolis Motor Speedway are privately held racetracks that are not for sale – or at least not obtainable for a price that is acceptable to SMI. Dover International Speedway is a publicly-traded company, so the possibility exists that SMI could purchase majority ownership in the corporation and then move the date, but that would be a long process and could not be accomplished in time for the 2011 schedule.

Therefore, if Vegas and Kentucky are going to get races, they are going to have to come from existing SMI tracks, and the two mentioned are the only two that can logically have dates moved.

SMI owns seven racetracks that currently have Cup races: Atlanta, Bristol, Charlotte, Loudon, Texas, Infienon and Las Vegas. Texas isn’t likely to lose a date after the fight to score a second event combined with the outstanding attendance. Bristol is untouchable because, until this year, it has been an attendance machine. Charlotte is the mothership of the organization, so there’s no chance it will lose a date, and Infineon only has one date so they aren’t going to lose that. Vegas, however, is another attendance factory and is going to get a second date, so it is a moot point to discuss it for moving a date. Therefore, the only tracks left are Atlanta and Loudon.

Atlanta has struggled with attendance for years, so taking a date from there is not really a surprise. Unfortunately for Loudon, it’s the other track in this equation, and will be the odd man out. Even though the track has shown outstanding attendance over the life of the track, it doesn’t have the history of Bristol, so it is most likely going to be the one that gives up the date. And that is a shame because there are other options available if NASCAR were truly looking at the schedule objectively and not at the bottom line.

ISC has two tracks that are far more obvious selections for moving dates than Loudon, but they are safe because NASCAR is only going to move tracks within ownership organizations, and Fontana is the choice for ISC. Michigan and Phoenix are both tracks that have had weaker attendance figures than Loudon and should be further up the list of potential tracks to lose dates. A second date at Phoenix was a surprise when it was rewarded in 2005 and remains so today. When the date was moved it didn’t make sense because no one had even been clamoring for a second race date at Phoenix. It is certainly a good track and offers some fine racing, but there is no need for a second date in the desert.

Michigan has also struggled to fill two dates over the years, and with the economic downturn in the region, the stands have shown a bit of a hit, although the attendance this year was respectable considering the unemployment in the region. That said, either of these tracks would be far better choices for losing a date than Loudon, which has great attendance and is the only track that truly serves the Northeast, although Pocono, Watkins Glen and Dover do draw from the region.

The other card in this reshuffling that doesn’t really make sense is moving a race to Kansas. Similar to Phoenix, there has not been a real uprising to have a second date in the heart of the country. Apparently there was a handshake agreement that, should the track be able to construct a casino, it would be given a second date. The casino is now in place, so NASCAR has decided to move a second date to the track. The date should be moved because of attendance that screams for a second date, not because a casino was constructed next to the track.

If the heartland of the country deserves a second date, the race should be moving to Iowa Speedway, not Kansas. Iowa has shown that the fans will turn out in droves and the competitors who have raced there rave about the track. Unfortunately, ISC doesn’t own Iowa, so unless the group that does sells out to ISC, there is most likely not going to be a Cup race at the track in the near future.

Sad as it is, the folks in New Hampshire are most likely going to be losing a race date so that Las Vegas can have a second date. Vegas certainly deserves it because the facility is first class, the attendance justifies a second date and it will be a good choice for a Chase race with that kind of fan following. Unfortunately, the date should be coming from Phoenix or Fontana and not from a loyal fanbase that has supported NASCAR from the first day it raced in New Hampshire.

The real change that should take place is all tracks should be given one date and the rest of the dates should be spread around so that other venues can host a Cup race and the series can race on different track surfaces to a diverse following.

There are currently 14 tracks on the schedule that have two race dates. If those dates could be moved to other tracks, the schedule would be much more entertaining and would be able to include more short tracks as well as allow the series to move back to dirt, which would be a huge boost to the interest in the sport.

Road Atlanta, Elkhart Lake, Mid-Ohio, Iowa, Rockingham, North Wilkesboro, Pikes Peak, Kentucky, Eldora, Knoxville, Devil’s Bowl, Irwindale, Laguna Seca, Hickory and South Boston are just some ideas of tracks that would be great hosts for Cup races if NASCAR would give them a chance. There are other tracks around the country that would definitely love to have a race if the sanctioning body would look at the racing rather than the bottom line. Unfortunately for race fans, it is all about the money and not about the racing, so we’re going to have to live with what we have now until the mindset of the owners of the series change – or the owners themselves are replaced.

About the author

What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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