Did You Notice? … The 2018 NASCAR Cup Series schedule features real change? The sport keeps saying they’re actively listening to fan feedback. Well, this time they’ve finally backed up those words with real action. I see some great long-term positives here that are hard to criticize after several years of nothing but the status quo.
By switching around the tracks within the sport’s 10-race playoff, NASCAR has answered the call for more diversity. For example, Charlotte the intermediate is out; Charlotte the road course is in. Not only is it a new track for drivers, it makes road racing a talent needed for long-term championship success. No longer are Sonoma and Watkins Glen two random, fun races that pose no true connection to the title chase.
Meanwhile, New Hampshire’s second race, disappearing from the schedule altogether gets replaced by a mid-level intermediate in Las Vegas. That’s fine, since Chicagoland gets booted out; what a mess that racetrack has been. In its place, you get a second short track in Richmond that has potential to be a real game-changer.
That’s the same Richmond, remember with the bad crowd but the incredible racing this spring. In fact, I’d argue that was the second or third-best race of the season outside of Daytona.
In summary, the 2018 playoff distribution now consists of the following tracks:
Intermediates: 4 (40%)
One-mile Ovals: 2 (20%)
Short Tracks: 2 (20%)
Road Courses: 1 (10%)
Restrictor Plate Tracks: 1 (10%)
Compare that to the percentage breakdown for the 2018 regular season:
Intermediates: 10 (38.4%)
One-mile Ovals: 3 (11.5%)
Short Tracks: 4 (15.3%)
Restrictor Plate Tracks: 3 (11.5%)
Road Courses: 2 (7.7%)
Other (Pocono, Darlington, Indy): 4 (15.3%)
That’s about as close, percentage-wise between the two as we’re going to get. The only better option is if you threw a second race at Darlington or one of the Poconos into the playoffs and threw out a one-mile oval like Dover or Phoenix.
So now, the playoffs become a true representation what we see during the regular season. I also think the intermediates you have remaining are the best NASCAR has to offer outside of maybe Atlanta. Kansas? That produced one of the strongest 1.5-mile races we’ve seen this season, Aric Almirola wreck notwithstanding. Texas? The way Eddie Gossage weathered in his new pavement was a stroke of brilliance. Homestead? What a great season-ending venue the past several years, variable banking producing consistent side-by-side action aside from restarts. Even Vegas, for all its faults, presents a larger crowd and better upside than Chicagoland.
The regular season shifts, while not as dramatic, produce an uptick in excitement as well. Indianapolis still has a problem with its NASCAR racing but making it the regular season finale ups the risks drivers are willing to take there. You now end with the Bristol night race, Darlington and Indy as a three-race momentum builder right into the playoffs.
Sure, the schedule still has its problems. It’s too long, is in need of a midweek race and potentially a game-changing alternative like a dirt track or street course. But after years of total inertia, hamstrung by television and track contracts, the sport has created some real movement.
It’s a start.
Did You Notice? … The one real mistake NASCAR left on its schedule? I honestly feel there should have been two versions created: one with the All-Star Race in Charlotte for 2018 and one with it moving to Bristol. The second should have been triggered in the event of a failure like we saw Saturday night.
That All-Star Race sucked, plain and simple and it’s high time for the sport to make a change. If they had such confidence in Charlotte why did they turn their second oval race into a road course? You don’t take away an event from a 1.5-mile track that’s producing sold out crowds.
No, NASCAR made the move, untested because they need to attract attention back to the sport’s “home track.” It’s an effort to revitalize Charlotte as it’s become increasingly marginalized due to terrible competition. As Matt McLaughlin so eloquently wrote yesterday, it’s addressing the symptom and not the illness.
Rather than fix intermediates, NASCAR is looking to increase races elsewhere and at other styles of tracks because they have an aero problem. If they know that’s the case, why subject everyone to another All-Star Race history tells us is going to be terrible? They threw everything but the kitchen sink at this edition: option tires, rules matching the 1992 miracle ending and an elimination-style format. I don’t know what more we could have done.
With great cars, it could have been a classic. Instead? We got this 2017 pass in the grass from Erik Jones that says it all. I leave it below, without comment compared to what we saw in 1987. No wonder why everyone from Dale Earnhardt Jr. on down said the sport needs to find a solution that gets the splitters out of intermediate racing ASAP (and a better handling chassis and package in its place.)
Splitters need to be phased out of stock car oval racing as soon as possible.
— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) May 20, 2017
P.S. – Yes, I know… they both weren’t really passes. Which is why it’s hilarious that there’s now two moves named after something that didn’t really happen.
Did You Notice? … Quick hits before taking off….
- Best wishes to Sebastien Bourdais in his recovery from injuries suffered during Indy 500 qualifying. It’s been a weird month for the open-wheel crowd, with that wreck and a robbery at Taco Bell the two biggest storylines out of Indianapolis. (Thank goodness Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti are OK). I’m sure the race Sunday will be strong but in the midst of Fernando Alonso’s experiment, we’ll ask the same question we do every year. Why are the IndyCar Series and NASCAR not working together to produce more drivers doing the double? Every time Tony Stewart or Robby Gordon or John Andretti or Kurt Busch did it produced more interest in racing, period. Wouldn’t all sides want to have that extra boost? And why can Indy only get 33 cars for a 33-car field (with a jalopy in there from Buddy Lazier) one year after a sold-out crowd of 300,000+? People tend to discount diluted car counts as a problem for both NASCAR and open-wheel but I think it’s a growing issue.
- Man, Chase Elliott is starting a real history of being a bridesmaid. He couldn’t even snatch a segment in the All-Star Race! How much longer before this winless drought really starts to get to him?
- Kyle Busch is the type of driver that could take this All-Star win, get over the hump and win three out of the next four. I don’t consider him the favorite this weekend but don’t put it past him.
- Red Horse Racing closing. What a shame. I don’t know enough inside information here but it’s always been my experience that when a team folds midseason, especially one as good as RHR has been (and around for 13 years) there’s more to the story. You don’t have a Penske background like Tom DeLoach does, then suddenly plan wrong and run out of money in mid-May. It just doesn’t magically happen like that. I’m hopeful they might still get on track at Dover but we’ll have to see.
- My biggest worry for the Coca-Cola 600: What we saw in the All-Star Race from Kyle Larson will be 2016 Martin Truex Jr. all over again. Larson should have won the $1 million, hands down, and that car looked like it was capable of spanking the field by several seconds. Then again, those four stages won’t let him get too far away…. (eye roll)
About the author
The author of Did You Notice? (Wednesdays) Tom spends his time overseeing Frontstretch’s 40+ staff members as its majority owner and Editor-in-Chief. Based outside Philadelphia, Bowles is a two-time Emmy winner in NASCAR television and has worked in racing production with FOX, TNT, and ESPN while appearing on-air for SIRIUS XM Radio and FOX Sports 1's former show, the Crowd Goes Wild. He most recently consulted with SRX Racing, helping manage cutting-edge technology and graphics that appeared on their CBS broadcasts during 2021 and 2022.
You can find Tom’s writing here, at CBSSports.com and Athlonsports.com, where he’s been an editorial consultant for the annual racing magazine for 15 years.