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(Photo: Zach Catanzareti)

4 Burning Questions: What’s to Be Done With the Cup & Truck Schedules?

What will the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule look like in a few years?

In the past couple of weeks, a major topic on Cup fans’ minds has been the schedule. NASCAR is expected to announce the 2019 schedule in the coming weeks, and it’s one of the biggest problems the sanctioning body is facing right now. The mile-and-a-half-mile cookie cutter tracks, most being built in the late ’90s when track designers thought good racing meant high speeds, have become more and more unpopular as time has gone on.

The biggest problem with the schedule (the season is too long and needs to be cut to 30 races) cannot conceivably be solved, nor can actual track swaps. If Iowa Speedway or Canadian Tire Motorsport Park are added on to the Cup schedule, what gets cut? International Speedway Corporation, operated by the France family, isn’t going to cut a race and make its investors angry. On the other hand, Speedway Motorsports, Inc. and Bruton Smith would file a lawsuit the second NASCAR takes away any of their dates.

So that leaves three of the most unique tracks on the calendar. Dover International Speedway is a great track in a good location, but its facilities have fallen behind, and I don’t have faith in Dover Motorsports-operated tracks after it killed Nashville Superspeedway years ago. Indianapolis Motor Speedway is an institution, but something has got to give there between the boring racing and the terrible attendance. Finally, there’s Pocono Raceway, a strange racetrack that fluctuates in race quality but by all accounts has some of the best facilities and location on the schedule. If any race gets cut after the contracts run out in 2020, it would be one of these three tracks.

There are options at these racetracks to just run a roval or somehow make a short track in the infield, but these are short-term solutions for a long-term problem. It just feels like desperation on the part of tracks not to lose their dates.

Who will stop laying eggs after Easter?

With the Easter break upon us, it’s time for some of these NASCAR teams to take a step back and figure out what to do.

After months of hype and buildup, the new Chevrolet Camaro body has been a dud to begin the season. Chevrolet started off strong with Austin Dillon winning the Daytona 500, but it just hasn’t shown much speed since, with Kyle Larson the lone Chevrolet driver in the top 10 in points.

Hendrick Motorsports has been particularly embarrassing. There’s been a lot of talk about Jimmie Johnson‘s struggles this season, but William Byron and Chase Elliott aren’t any better, sitting 19th and 20th in points, respectively. Alex Bowman finds himself the second-highest Chevrolet driver in points in 12th. Somehow.

Stewart Haas Racing has been particularly phenomenal, with four wins in the first six races and all four cars in the top 11 in points. But the most consistent drivers in the field also finished the season 1-2 last year. Kyle Busch currently holds a slim two-point lead over Martin Truex Jr., who hasn’t finished outside of the top five since Daytona International Speedway but has somehow lost points to Busch over the past five weeks.

Although Team Penske hasn’t won yet this season, it looks to correct that in the very near future. Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney are third, fourth and fifth in points, respectively. It’s a big rebound for Logano, who struggled for the vast majority of 2017 after his spring win at Richmond Raceway was encumbered. SHR has stolen all of the headlines so far this season, but these three might end up being the real stars of the 2018 season when all is said and done.

Why does the Camping World Truck Series schedule suck so much?

The Truck Series starts off its season with three races in three weekends but then has just one race between the start of March and the start of May. It’s hard for the series to get any momentum as it is, but one race in two months doesn’t help matters.

When the Truck Series began in 1995, it was totally unique from the other two national series. The vast majority of racetracks on the calendar were short tracks or road courses. Today, 19 of the 23 races are companion events, and not particularly great ones. Why is there a race at Chicagoland Speedway, a race at Kentucky Speedway and two races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway when Richmond has none and Iowa Speedway has just one?

Of the 23 races on the schedule, only five are short tracks (four without counting Eldora Speedway). This makes no sense whatsoever. The trucks put on a much better show at short tracks than they do at tracks bigger than a mile, where often they barely even need to lift in the turns. There are also much bigger fields showing up to these short track races than at places like Texas Motor Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Why is there just one dirt race when there are plenty of other options around this country? Why is there just one road course event when there’s plenty of other options around this country? It doesn’t make sense when both Eldora and Mosport are usually the best two events on the entire calendar.

There’s been much ado about the Cup schedule, but the Truck schedule is in much worse shape.

Who will be the other four inductees in the 2019 Hall of Fame class?

On Tuesday, NASCAR officially opened up fan voting for the 2019 NASCAR Hall of Fame class. Unlike most sport halls of fame, NASCAR gives one ballot to the top five nominees for which fans vote.

Looking at the nominee list, there are still a lot of credible choices on the ballot. This is the 10th class, and with five going in every year, eventually the Hall will have trouble finding credible candidates under the current system. But, for now, the race to get in is still (mostly) wide open.

That “mostly” is mainly due to the presence of Jeff Gordon on the ballot. Gordon has by far the best resume of any candidate to go in since the initial 25 in 2010, and the only question is not if he makes it in, but rather how much of the vote will he commend.

Outside of Gordon, though, the other four inductees will be harder to pinpoint. The four I endorse represent a wide variety of drivers and mechanics from both national and local series.

Ricky Rudd was an ironman who had a remarkable career considering he constantly jumped from team to team and only spent two seasons in championship-caliber equipment. Joe Gibbs has better stats than any of the other nominated owners, and he hasn’t really had a bad year since 2004. Mike Stefanik was arguably just as good as 2012 inductee Richie Evans in the modified series. Finally, Alan Kulwicki was the last of the owner-drivers and also the only truly successful one in the last 30 years. Tony Stewart had plenty of success, but he didn’t build his own engines or his own cars with a tenth of the resources like Kulwicki did.

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About Michael Finley

Michael has watched NASCAR for 15 years and began covering the sport five years ago. He is a graduate of Salisbury University and a proud member of the National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA).

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13 comments

  1. I have an idea how to shorten the Cup schedule. Only a small handful of tracks really deserve a second race every single year (Daytona most obviously). The rest wanting a second race should only get it once every two years. For instance, pair Dover and Pocono. In even years, Dover gets 2 races and Pocono gets 1. In odd years, Pocono gets 2 and Dover 1. Where there was once 4 races between these two tracks on the calendar, now there would be only 3. Apply this within ISC and SMI and suddenly you have a shorter schedule.

  2. The Drivers Council needs somehow to wrest control of ISC away from the France family, or force the breakup of the ISC monopoly. ISC is a significant part of the ratings and attendance problem. Ticket prices are artificially high – proven by the ripping out of seats at so many tracks. Price fixing never works in the long term, and sooner or later it will catch up with ISC and Smith. Add to that the problem of lack of variety on the schedule and it looks like the sport is doomed – unless ISC is broken up and Smith takes the lessons learned at Bristol and improves some of his other holdings.

  3. The France & Smith families aren’t going to give up any of their races at their tracks. The networks are going to continue to dictate when and where and who they show and who they don’t and all the above are going to drive NASCAR into extinction very soon. The next tv contract deal will end it. When no one is willing to sponsor the series or cars then it’s over. Gene Haas is sponsoring half of Clints and half of Kurtz races. Petty has 6 races out of 36 sponsored. A dozen cup cars have next to no sponsorship and it will be real interesting to see what monster energy just paid to sponsor NASCAR for the next two years. Bet it wasn’t the $20 million a year they just paid, but we will probably never know the truth on this one.

    • As long as nascar is the highest rated sports show on a weekend (NFL excluded) the networks will keep showing it. Reduced rates I’m sure but it will be shown.
      IMHO the Frances, if they have other interests would be wise to sell out and do what they want but the sport isnt going away.
      But it will likely sink back to its pre Winston days.

      • With all of these sports networks and online services like Amazon, Youtube, and Twitter that should be viable options by the time the contracts are up in 2024, it’s safe to say there’s no fear about NASCAR ever going off the air

    • I agree about the tv coverage limiting the growth of NASCAR by focusing on too few cars/teams and taking half the interest and excitement out of the race for tv viewers.

    • It feels like 1970 right now. The team’s primary source of income (manufacturers back then, sponsors today) are all leaving and it’s getting harder for teams to justify staying in business with how high the costs have gotten. Back then one Junior Johnson deferred phone call from Winston that opened up corporate sponsorship to teams effectively saved the sport. The current financial system the sport has where tracks receive the vast majority of the TV money and teams have to make ends meet with sponsors that want to pay less and less needs to be changed radically if the sport wants to survive without hitting rock bottom.

  4. The next step to the schedule should be the track owning companies (ISC and SMI) looking carefully at their existing facilities for radical reconfigurations. I think Chicago should be top on the list. They should cut the length by .5 miles and make it a Rockingham clone. Jettisoning Indy and or a date from Dover should also be on the list when the current sanctioning contracts run out.

  5. Cup, Busch, and truck schedules have been discussed ad nasueum. What’s clear is nascrap doesn’t care. Nor do I; I’m tired of the fight.

    Huntsville speedway this weekend and back to Nashville fairgrounds speedway next weekend. It’s dirt cheap and better racing.

  6. Don’t know bout anyone else, but for awhile there, Craftsman Trucks and the Busch Cars were actually the stars to my weekend. Raw talent, hardest chargers both drivers and crew. Can’t remember where it went south, but these are sad times. Hope there is some way to save these series.

    • It went south when the TV and its money had a greater say. Too many companion races because the networks can have a crew at one track most weekends.

    • Toyota destroyed the Truck Series. Was a dedicated fan until I realized that nearly 100% of the competitive teams were Toyota. Lack of manufacturer competition and variety reduces the interest of the sport by a ton. I think Cup farm teams and ‘Busch-wackers’ from the Cup series helped ruin the Busch Series – but another factor is running the Busch cars at all the cup tracks. It was a better series when more of the races were run at smaller venues.

      • Maybe it’s not so much Toyota ruining the Truck Series as it is the other manufacturers (especially Chevrolet) not willing to invest much money in it. Which makes no sense at all once you think about it, because the truck market is a huge part of the American car industry and there are countless commercials for F-Series and Silverado’s during NASCAR programming.

        At this point the XFINITY Series is failing and needs to choose to go down one of two paths, because the one in the middle they are on isn’t working. One is to become Indy Lights and just follow the Cup series track-to-track as a true developmental series with no Cup driver involvement. The other is to run compact cars (Corolla, Cruze, Focus) on a schedule that is a mix of oval racing and road course racing. Costs to switch to either path would be enormous but it would be easier now than to do it later on down the road when there are even more noncompetitive cars than there are.