After a Saturday night rainout, the Bank of America 500 ran on Sunday afternoon. Should NASCAR consider making it a day race, as it was through 2002?
Mike Neff, Short Track Coordinator: At this point, I don’t know. I hate night races. There should be two night races per season: the Bristol night race and the All-Star Race. Every single other race should take place during the day. With that said, we’ll have to see what the low downforce package provides. If it is no better than the crap we’ve seen the last few years, it won’t matter. The single-file snooze-fest that has zero on track passes for the lead can take place at any time as we saw on Sunday.
Matt McLaughlin, Senior Writer: Yep, my vote goes to making this event a Sunday afternoon race, as temps can be a bit uncomfortable at night even in North Carolina during the autumn. I think track general managers are getting the idea fans don’t like shivering in the stands to watch a race as evidenced by Atlanta’s new ticket policy that if daytime highs are below 50 degrees, you can sit out that race and exchange your ticket for next year’s event. But I’m going to go contrarian (big surprise) and say I’d like to see MORE night races. During July and August in the sweet, sweet summertime, I’d like to see races run at night on a weekday to free up the summer weekends for the fans and keep them from the worst of the afternoon heat. I don’t know, maybe call it Thursday Night Thunder and broadcast races against re-runs on the big four networks? I don’t see how the ratings could be any worse.
Mark Howell, Senior Writer: I for one am tired of night races. Not that my social life is all that wild, but dedicating a precious non-school-night of my week to hunker down and watch commercials mixed with often lackluster competition is not high on my to-do list. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I think Sunday afternoon races are just fine. I know NASCAR and its network partners are concerned about going up against football during the fall, but Saturday night races seem overdone and overlooked.
Aaron Bearden, Assistant Editor: This one’s a no-brainer, and Sunday’s day race proved it. NASCAR already holds both the All-Star Race and the World 600… Err, Coca-Cola 600 at night on the 1.5-mile oval. Just because a track has lights doesn’t mean they should use them every time. Move the race back to the daytime, in a traditional 1-3 p.m. ET start.
Phil Allaway, Senior Editor: Yes, it should be during the daytime. Having the race during the day would better differentiate the October race from the Coca-Cola 600. However, I’m pretty sure that football is the main reason the race is at night. At best, you’re looking at a scenario in which the race alternates between NBC and NBC Sports Network for the next few years (coverage of the President’s Cup was the reason the race got bumped to cable after the rainout). The new rules for 2016 will make for a better race as well.
After Charlotte, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Ryan Newman are in danger of Chase elimination. Who is most likely to rebound, and who’s done?
Bearden: The popular picks to overcome the odds might be 2000 Rookie of the Year competitors Earnhardt and Kenseth given the first’s recent dominance on restrictor plate tracks and the latter’s ability to win on any given weekend, but the smart money should be on Busch and Newman. Why? Because of the amount of ground they have to climb. Busch has only a 10-point gap to make up on eighth-place Brad Keselowski to work himself into the next round. Newman’s in even better standing, only six points out. The climb for Earnhardt and Kenseth will be a bit more steep, 19 points for the first and 32 points for the latter. Sure, either driver could win their way out of the round, but could and will are two different stories. Expect Rowdy and Newman to strike should any of the top eight have any issues.
Allaway: With the current rules, no one is “done” until Talladega. If you win, you advance no matter what. That said, they’re all in trouble. I’m not really concerned about Busch right now. He’s only a few points out and can get back in. Newman’s the closest to getting back in on points, but he might need both races to do it because he likely won’t be able to make big gains. Earnhardt Jr. and Kenseth pretty much need to win, or hope that a couple of the top-eight guys have issues. With Talladega in play, that could easily happen. Regardless, the two of them could win the next two races and it’ll be like Charlotte never happened.
Neff: Kenseth and Earnhardt Jr. will most likely win the next two races, so they will be OK assuming they accomplish that. Busch is only 10 points out, so he should be able to rebound from that. If those bold predictions all come true then it will be Newman who has the most difficult row to hoe and will most likely be done out of these four.
McLaughlin: Kenseth took one below the water-line on Sunday. Busch’s autumnal meltdowns are a matter of record. Earnhardt still has Talladega as a last-ditch chance, sort of like Harvick at Dover. Newman really hasn’t been that impressive all year. As long as we’re gambling with pocket change I’d put my money on Earnhardt making the cut and Kenseth and Newman missing the next round.
Howell: Of the four drivers, I believe (although I hate to admit it) that Newman is in real danger of being left behind. Given the strength of Joe Gibbs Racing this season, I’m thinking Junior is also in a tough spot. Kenseth and Busch seem best poised to make the Elite Eight after Talladega.
Lots of fans talk about changing the points system and Chase, but what other rule should NASCAR be looking at changing?
Howell: NASCAR needs to knock out the knockout qualifying procedure. Nothing has made the sport look more gimmicky. I’ve never been a fan of the Lucky Dog benefit, and I’ve hated restrictor plates since their inception, but those changes look absolutely inspired when compared to the current qualifying debacle.
Bearden: I’m never going to win the uphill battle that is ending races on their scheduled distance, so I’ll throw a different one out there. For the love of all that is holy, just let the flagman start the field on restarts. No brake-checking, no nonsense, everyone maintains their speed until that green flag waves, and then it’s boys (and Danica Patrick) have at it. If NASCAR instituted that rule and then enforced any laying back or jumping early appropriately using the metrics and timing at their disposal, we could all quit worrying about who’s going to lose the race on a jumped restart this weekend.
Allaway: Getting rid of the splitters. They should go back to valences in both Sprint Cup and the Xfinity series. Sliding through the grass and not hitting anything should not force you to go to a backup car because the splitter getting ripped out junked your car in the process. It would go hand-in-hand with the elimination of the no-ride-height rule that did nothing but cut the workload of NASCAR officials.
Neff: NASCAR needs to change the qualifying rules. By default, that is going to change dramatically if this dumpster fire of an entitlement program goes through, and the vast majority of the field is guaranteed starting positions, then it probably won’t matter. We have had several instances this year where qualifying was rained out and a driver was fast enough in practice to make the race. There needs to be some kind of rule where practice speeds set the field in the purest of senses and not some combination of attempts to qualify and points position. Outside of that, they need to throw away 90% of the damn templates, all of the lasers, and make this sport about innovation again.
McLaughlin: Again, call it my contrarian nature but I don’t take issue with the first driver a lap down getting a free pass. I just hate the Lucky Dog name, which was a Waltrip-Aaron’s connivance. If the alternative is to have the drivers racing back to the yellow heedless of cars sideways on the track and safety workers, count me out. But I’d do away with the wave around. Yes, it was a bit confusing for newer fans as to why the leader was starting behind a bunch of cars on the tail end of the lead lap, but the dope is there are no new fans any more. If there are, they’ll figure it out eventually. We did. Having the race leader no longer having the benefit of clean air and having to make a charge through a bunch of drivers determined to stay on the lead lap would make for more excitement, and there’s been damn little of that in Cup racing lately.
Let’s talk NASCAR schedules. What one track would you like added to each of the Cup, Xfinity and Truck schedules in the future, and what tracks should go to make room?
Allaway: For the Xfinity and Camping World Truck series, I’d like to see them return to Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis. The track always put on good races and attracted good crowds. The NXS race would replace the Lilly Diabetes 250 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which has been a failure at the box office and, well, everything. I would be perfectly fine with NXS races at LORI being 250 laps. For Sprint Cup, maybe Road Atlanta. NASCAR hasn’t raced there since 1987, but the 2.54-mile road course always puts on an interesting show. The Road Atlanta Cup race would preferably replace one of the Kansas races.
Neff: Wow, we only get to pick one? OK, let’s see how much we can change the world with just three moves. First, Trucks. This is a layup. While many people are going to lean toward adding the Charlotte dirt track, we don’t need to do more of a good thing. My vote is for Hickory Motor Speedway. While the Truck schedule is too short as it is and doesn’t need to lose a track, Pocono would be my choice for the track to drop. The history of the NXS is filled with historic racetracks, but there is one track that was there from the beginning until four years ago when the date was unceremoniously ripped away and awarded to the big brother down the street. Indianapolis Raceway Park, or whatever name you choose to call it, was there from the beginning of the series in 1982. It had great fan support and the sanctioning body screwed them over. Put the race back at Raceway Park and take it away from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. There is a myriad of racetracks that should see a Cup race, while every track on the schedule who has two should lose one. However, that is not the premise of the question, so here we go with the parameters of the question. North Wilkesboro Speedway was on the very first schedule for NASCAR. It is one of two tracks from the original schedule that are still in existence. SMI owns the track and has the resources to revive it before the racing surface is too far gone, which it isn’t right now. Bruton Smith needs to step up and do the right thing whether it makes financial sense or not. It can take the place of any poorly attended Cup race.
McLaughlin: In the Cup Series, I’d like to see NHMS give up a date and a second race run at Darlington. (Or Iowa if need be. That track has proven its chops.) All the road-course races need to go in NXS, which would free up dates for North Wilkesboro and Eldora. I want to see the AAA league on a dirt track, and Stewart might just be able to scratch his itch annually since he owns the joint. And NXS racing at the Brickyard is not only dumb, it’s borderline sacrilegious to open-wheel fans. Back to IRP (or whatever it’s called now) with that one. As for the trucks, I think it’s silly to run them at the plate tracks. The average competitor in the series doesn’t have enough experience for that sort of racing, and my perceptions are colored by Geoff Bodine‘s wreck in the inaugural Truck race at Daytona. The trucks need more short tracks. Is Mesa Marin still around?
Howell: For the NCWTS, I’d say drop Pocono and pick up a revamped North Wilkesboro. For NXS, I think the schedule should drop Chicagoland and swap it out for a race at the Milwaukee Mile. As for Cup, dump one of the New Hampshire dates and exchange it for a race at the aforementioned revamped North Wilkesboro. Did I mention that North Wilkesboro should be revamped? I think it should be.
Bearden: Oh my, this is a good one. Bring the Cup field to the Circuit of the Americas – the new, supreme road course of North America currently traversed by MotoGP, Formula 1 and IMSA – and put the race in the Chase. It would kill two birds with one stone by adding another road-course and giving fans the much-sought after road-course playoff race. Just bring the NXS back to Lucas Oil Raceway, please. The current Indianapolis race at the Brickyard is downright atrocious, the amount of fans turning out for that race isn’t much greater than LOR supplied before closing, and – while this brings out the IMS purist in me – no minor-league series should really run on the hallowed ground that is the Brickyard. Yes, that means you, too, Indy Lights. Put every standalone short-track race run by the K&N Pro Series East into a jar and draw one for the Trucks. Oh, Bowman Gray? Sure, that’ll work. Other acceptable answers outside of KNPSE: North Wilkesboro, LOR, Winchester Speedway, Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville and, for a plot twist, Eldora Speedway.