This week, NASCAR announced the 2018 schedule across all three national series, including a revamped 10-race playoff, featuring races at Las Vegas, Richmond and a Charlotte road-course. The schedule remains at 36 points races and the season will still stretch from February-November.
Is the length of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup season too long, too short, or just right?
Less is More
You may or may not agree with some of the changes NASCAR made to the MENCS schedule for next season, but there’s a bigger issue that is holding the sport back: the length of the schedule.
It’s not being talked about mostly because the tracks and major corporations that own them, International Speedway Corporation (ISC) and Speedway Motorsports Incorporated (SMI), have agreements with the sanctioning body that will not allow dates to be taken away from certain tracks for a certain amount of time. But hypothetically, in an ideal world, it doesn’t have to be like that. Hear me out.
NASCAR preaches catering and attempting to reach out to the new, young millennial audience. I’m a young millennial (although I turn 21 this summer and adulthood is coming at me fast) and I have talked to countless friends about what it would take to get them into the sport. They all say something approximating the same thing:
“I don’t want to watch cars go around in circles for three or four hours. It gets too boring.”
Once I convince them to give it a chance (which I do more often than not), they actually enjoy watching it. That is, until they’ve been watching the same thing for 30 minutes and they see “Lap 40 of 500” on the top of the screen. Then they become disinterested quickly. We have short attention spans.
I’m an outlier in this, because I’m a die-hard fan who will watch as much NASCAR I possibly can. But I’m also realistic. I think there’s a way that NASCAR can appeal to the younger and new fan base while retaining their core, long-time audience.
Shorten everything: The races, the stages, the time in between races and the season as a whole.
We don’t need to be racing at Texas Motor Speedway twice, moreover for 500 miles each time. How about we race there once a year and shorten the race to 400 miles? Maybe even 300? Look at Auto Club Speedway and Pocono Raceway. Fontana removed a date, shortened their event 100 miles and now it’s one of, if not the best track on the NASCAR schedule. And Pocono has recently turned from a scheduled nap on Sunday afternoons into competitive, compelling racing.
Keep the Daytona 500, Southern 500 and Coca-Cola 600, the crowned jewels. Keep the tradition. But there’s no reason why the other races shouldn’t be shortened.
Go from 36 races to a ballpark of 25-28 races to start. With the decreased quantity of events, more attention and importance will be placed on the events that remain. Fans will pay more attention, drivers will realize the significance of each and every race even more than before, which, coupled with stage racing, will result in a better product on track.
The better product will be showcased for a decreased amount of races, which means viewers will be forced to tune in and watch. There can only be a “next week” for so long. Look at the NFL for example. I know we’re comparing apples to oranges here, but each team has 16 regular season games and the NFL is the most successful sports entity in the United States. People crave football and they crave the NFL. The limited amount of games has a significant part in that hunger for more.
While we’re shortening the season and the races, let’s shorten the time in between races. Try some weeknight events. Sure, the attendance at the track might not be great, but I guarantee the television ratings will skyrocket in due time. There are so many more things to watch on TV, and do in life, on a Sunday afternoon compared to a Wednesday night. It’s bold, but NASCAR should try something.
Heck, this might be unpopular, but NASCAR should even shrink the playoff field since the schedule will be shrinking as well. Make the field 12, even 10 drivers. Honestly, there aren’t 16 drivers that can win the championship (no disrespect to Chris Buescher), so why even have them in the playoffs? Major League Baseball has only eight teams in its postseason: and the regular season is 162 freaking games! Yet, people still pay attention. Why? It’s short, and it’s meaningful.
I know that these opinions might be unpopular and they’re somewhat unrealistic. But think about it: you’d still watch all the races. You’d still get a great playoffs. You’d just get less of what you love, making you love it even more, making you want it to come back even more.
NASCAR has gotten caught up in giving more to its fans lately. But all they had to do was look in the mirror and they would have realized: less is more.
– Davey Segal
More is Always More
NASCAR should not shorten its schedule. In fact, I think that the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series could stand to add five to 10 races.
If you look at the MENCS schedule on a calendar then it seems long, as there are races on 38 of the 52 weekends of the year. NASCAR does not need to add more weeks to the calendar though––it needs to add more races during those 38 weeks to provide some depth to the lengthy schedule.
I want to see the addition of a few midweek races and double-header weekends added to the MENCS calendar. I do not want them at cookie cutter tracks, but rather at unique tracks across the country (and maybe even the world) where NASCAR does not currently race.
The reason that the schedule feels so long and grueling right now is because there are hardly any races that spice things up. With the exception of Kentucky Speedway, we have seen these same tracks in action for the past 17 years or more.
NASCAR is currently in a situation where it is locked into contracts with all of its current tracks, so it cannot move any races away from the tracks under contract to add something new to the schedule.
Even when those contracts expire, the schedule will not change much. International Speedway Corporation, which is run by the France family, owns more than half of the tracks on the circuit. I bet there could be one person sitting in the grandstands and one television viewer and the ISC tracks would not lose a single race date in exchange for a non-ISC speedway.
Therefore, the only way to spice up the schedule is to add more races so tracks that actually produce quality racing could be given a shot at NASCAR.
Races at new locations, or old and abandoned ones, could introduce new audiences to the sport, as people that know nothing about NASCAR will want to see what all of the hype is about when the tour comes into their neighborhood. It will also create an unknown factor that will peak the interest of longtime fans who have grown weary of the single-file parades at the mile-and-a-halfs.
NASCAR has a huge advantage over every other sport that it does not take advantage of in the slightest bit. In the National Football League, Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association, each team has a home stadium and the leagues are limited to having all of their events in the 30+ cities that host teams.
The NFL has found ways around this limitation by having a few teams play games in England and Mexico. The NFL has its hands tied far more than NASCAR, but was still able to find a way to expand to other markets. Why can’t NASCAR take a page out of the NFL’s book and try something different?
If there were five to 10 of these new events each year, and the tracks rotated each season, then it would serve as the perfect test session for what NASCAR needs to do to improve its product.
Having 45 races in a season would not be too much. There were 62 races on the schedule in 1964. The NBA and MLB have way more games than that in a season.
A lot of sports enthusiasts think that the NFL has the perfect model, with 16 games plus five rounds of playoffs. That is not the proper way to look at it though. There are on average 16 games a week in the NFL, which means there are 256 games in the regular season alone, yet we think 36 races is a lot.
Many NFL fans will sit and watch a game on Thursday, three games on Sunday and one on Monday. If a football fan can watch five games a week, then why can’t a race fan watch two races?
Having a MENCS driver compete in two races in a week for those five to 10 events would not be too much either, as a lot of them drive in the companion XFINITY or Camping World Truck series events as is. In fact, the racing in the lower tier series might get better with more Cup races being on the schedule, as Kyle Busch would not be able to ruin as many NXS or CWTS races.
Of course, these new races would have to be in fairly close proximity to whatever track the MENCS tour is racing at that Sunday. Also, the new races would have to come before the playoffs, as you want to add emphasis to how important the postseason is.
I would love to see more races added to shake things up a bit. NASCAR needs to quit being so stale and be more open to change. With attendance and viewership dwindling, what has NASCAR got to lose with my expansion experiment?
– Michael Massie
About the author
Davey is in his fifth season with Frontstretch and currently serves as a multimedia editor and reporter. He authors the "NASCAR Mailbox" column, spearheads the site's video content and hosts the Frontstretch Podcast weekly. He's covered the K&N Pro Series and ARCA extensively for NASCAR.com and currently serves as an associate producer for SiriusXM NASCAR Radio and production assistant for NBC Sports Washington. Follow him on Twitter @DaveyCenter.