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4 Burning Questions: What Changes to the Cup Schedule Are Coming?

What changes are coming to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule?

All week, there have been a lot of whispers and chatter about what kind of changes could be on the way for the Cup Series schedule following the 2020 season.

It seems the only things truly safe are the Daytona 500 being in mid-Feburary, the Coca-Cola 600 staying on Memorial Day weekend and the Southern 500 sticking to Labor Day weekend. It would also be very surprising to see Bristol Motor Speedway not host a mid- to late-August night race, a summer race at ISM Raceway or a cold-weather track like Michigan International Speedway or Pocono Raceway having a race before May or after August.

The idea of NASCAR racing on a street course is… interesting. Same with the idea of doubleheaders, although that could work out really well if more tracks were to take up the ROVAL approach.

The season is way too long, and the playoffs are generally some of the lowest-rated events of the year, which is the exact opposite of just about every other sport. Part of that is that they are going up against the NFL, but another part of it is that asking fans to spend four hours for 40 weekends of the year gets tiring to follow.

The best course of action here would be to drop four races from the schedule outright, eliminate the first round of the playoffs and turn a few more dates into doubleheaders or mid-week races in order to give Cup both more off weeks and be done with everything by mid-October.

Really, at this point the only tracks that should have second races on the calendar are Daytona International Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway and the short tracks. We’ve seen with Auto Club Speedway just how great an otherwise boring track can be when it’s only being used once a year, and that would open the schedule up for more racetracks that could provide exciting racing such as Road America, Iowa Speedway or maybe even something more off-the-wall like Eldora Speedway.

Cutting races will probably mean a loss in television money, the main revenue stream for NASCAR. But if the TV rights sports bubble were to burst in the next five years and NASCAR doesn’t have a varied fan base outside of hardcore race fans, there won’t be much TV money left.

Will NASCAR’s new disqualification policy be accepted by the initial transgressor’s fan base?

We’re through week one of the NASCAR season, and so far the sanctioning body has not had to use its newest rule.

Prior to the season, NASCAR introduced plans to start disqualifying drivers if they fail post-race inspection. It’s not easy to get caught; the parameters NASCAR has set for the rule make it near impossible for it not to be deliberate. Nor is this the first time DQs have been enforced; the very first Cup race ended with Jim Roper being declared the winner after Glenn Dunaway’s Ford was found to have illegal springs in post-race inspection. Hubert Westmoreland, the owner of Dunaway’s Ford, sued NASCAR and lost the court case, thus legally empowering NASCAR to disqualify whomever doesn’t follow its rules.

While it’s not impossible to get something illegal out on an impounded restrictor plate race, it’s not very often something like that makes it all the way to post-race tech in that kind of situation. So it’s not a surprise that everybody was clear at Daytona.

While this policy seems overwhelmingly supported by the fan base, the test for this system will come when a particularly popular driver (say Chase Elliott) is disqualified due to being off by a fraction of an inch. But even if there is fan backlash, what can NASCAR really do? It can’t walk back on any of this. Imagine Steve O’Donnell explaining on Sirius XM NASCAR Radio why NASCAR is bringing back encumbered finishes. It just wouldn’t work.

NASCAR could loosen the leash on teams a bit more, but overall, this will probably be a good change that will only strengthen the sport’s credibility.

Just how fast will the No. 19 be this year?

This year, Cole Pearn will have to do something he’s never had to do as a crew chief: work with more than one teammate.

While there wasn’t a whole lot to take away from Daytona (the No. 78 always drafted with the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas, so there’s no reason for Martin Truex Jr. to stop after coming into the family), there will be a lot to take away from Atlanta Motor Speedway on this.

Instead of being the main focus of their organization, Pearn-Truex will now have to share the spotlight with the 2019 Daytona 500 champion (Denny Hamlin), JGR’s top championship contender for the past five years (Kyle Busch) and a rising star (Erik Jones).

How is this going to affect the chemistry between the two? Is Pearn still going to be able to get the most out of his racecars, or is he going to bicker with other pretty smart crew chiefs on the team such as Adam Stevens? There’s been a lot of talk this week as to whether Matt DiBenedetto’s run at Daytona was a fluke or a sign that Leavine Family Racing has arrived to Cup, but how Truex and Pearn are going to adapt to no longer being the only fish in the pond is also just as interesting.

Will this new aero package be a success or a failure?

So, in case anybody forgot, there’s going to be a dramatically different style of racing this year in the Cup Series.

Atlanta will not be run with the aero ducts, but there’s been a lot of hype regardless of what is going to happen there this weekend. With less horsepower due to the tapered spacer, teams should be able to run wide open throughout much of the track, until they get a couple of laps on their tires. Atlanta has become notorious as a tire grinder, so it’s uncertain just how this package is going to be there.

My prediction, however, is that the Cup race going to look a lot like the Gander Outdoors Truck Series event on Saturday. On mile-and-a-half racetracks, the Truck Series stays in the throttle for a significant chunk of the lap due to having less horsepower than Cup or the Xfinity Series. It’s also all about momentum in that series in order to make passes; with less variation in horsepower, it’s hard to just blow by people on the backstretch like at other tracks in other series.

If that is the case, that’s a bad thing; I’ve not been impressed with Trucks at speedways for a long time now, and creating less passing opportunities seems like a step in the wrong direction for the sport.

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About Michael Finley

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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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17 comments

  1. Avatar

    “All week, there have been a lot of whispers and chatter about what kind of changes could be on the way for the Cup Series schedule following the 2020 season.”

    After the 2020 season?!?! Does top management at NASCAR really believe they have the luxury of two more seasons to fumble around coming up with ideas to resurrect the sport? It’s unfortunate there is not a greater sense of urgency to right the ship. I just don’t see a great deal of stock in the sport right now. Don’t get me wrong, I’m an avid fan and I am not hating on the sport of stock car racing, just the people running it. Maybe it’s time some investors try a side series, similar to what The Alliance of American Football is doing alongside the NFL. This isn’t rocket science, all fans want is competitive racing on attractive venues; I for one would love to throw a blanket down at Road America as opposed to spending a weekend in Kansas.

  2. Avatar

    Interesting dynamic about Pearn-Truex. Living in Denver I of course have loved watching this team grow to the success that they have. I know why Joe Gibbs wanted them in his stable but I wonder how the other teams feel since they were better than all of the Gibbs drivers for two years straight.

  3. Avatar

    Everything is on the table probably means something radical like Richmond and Kansas switching spring dates.

  4. Avatar

    Nascar is a business. The France family/ISC control 75% of 8 billion dollars (TV money). They are not giving up any races till 2024.

    SMI/Bruton Smith is the next big player and he is not giving any money either.

    So I wish people would real journalists and ask that simple question when the topic of schedule changes is broached. Do you all not remember the track building boom of early 2000’s. It was all ISC/ France tracks.
    So they did all that to let money on the table.

    • Avatar

      So here’s the deal.

      For the longest time, while the France family would have lost money directly by taking a race away from ISC, their bigger concern was that taking races away would drive the stock down and make shareholders angry. After the France family buyout of ISC is completed, that is no longer the problem and their main concern will be to make sure the next TV contract is just as big/bigger than the one they currently have, and that’s not going to happen if they’re pulling 1s come 2023 (when the new deal is negotiated). And if that happens now, you can bet that NASCAR itself is going to get a bigger piece of the pie than the 10% they’re getting now.

      Bruton is Bruton, but he also only holds 12 dates on the schedule, which would be a decent number to work around.

  5. Avatar

    hopefully disqualification would happen through the field not just the winner. penalities should be done on the first green flag lap completed. not go to end of longest line. drive thru, stop and go, etc. this would make it a real penalty

    • Avatar

      I mean what else can you do, unless you want them to start kicking people out for going 2 MPH too quick in one section on pit road? I guess you could also go the 24 Hours of Lemons route and have the penalties go in a more ridiculous route (Like “Go get some Starbucks for the official” or “Get out and write a lengthy love letter to their Argentine mistress on the car”)

  6. Avatar

    As for schedule changes it all revolves, s it always does, around the tracks owned by ISC/Nascar and SMC. Those tracks all have to be utilized in one way or the other. Any reductions will come from those tracks not owned by one of those two entities.

  7. Avatar

    Give Rockingham the All-Star race and use it as a gauge if cup can come back for a points race

  8. Avatar

    Could the success of this or some other aero package ( stock bodies) make competition so close and compelling as to eliminate the need for playoffs? we can only hope

  9. Avatar

    i have a feeling that atlanta’s days are numbered. track needs to be resurfaced, and nothing is being said about that. they showed on the news here in atlanta the other day that they were digging up all the tar patches in cracks and replacing them before this weekend. if we have weather, will be factor friday and saturday, not as much now for sunday, and walk up attendance doesn’t put butts in seats for sunday, i have a feeling atlanta race will be on the block.

    • Avatar

      Nope. SMI wanted to repave the track last year and the drivers yelled enough to where they decided to postpone it. So if it gets bad enough, I don’t see the reason why SMI would decide to change their mind and not repave Atlanta, one of the original four superspeedways and in a great location.

      • Avatar

        Totally. More of the cookie cutters should have a tired worn out surface like Atlanta does. Drivers love it, they actually get to drive the car unlike the billiard table smooth tracks like Texas where they are just passengers.

  10. Avatar

    You mentioned that the ‘playoff’ races have the lowest interest of all, and blame it on the length of the season. Have you considered that it may be due to the fact that many fans don’t think a playoff is an appropriate way to determine a championship in racing? The entire gimmick hasn’t proven to draw a lot of fan interest if what you say is true. Interest has been going down hil steadily since the entire ‘chase, playoff’ scenario was introduced. One can only hope that Jim france brings some integrity back to the sport.

    • Avatar

      One of the issues with fans losing interest towards the end of the season perhaps is that there is too much emphasis on the championship from the drop of the green flag at the Daytona 500. I don’t know how many articles I have seen already since last Sunday asking if the 3 winners last weekend are championship contenders? Yes, they won Daytona (and I’m no taking anything away from any of them) but like everyone says, the real racing starts at Atlanta.
      It drives me nuts when they say in the middle of a race, if the race ended now, here are the points. Who cares? The race is not ending now and a lot can happen before the race ends.

    • Avatar

      Because it was like that in 2001-2003 compared to the rest of the season, especially in 2003 when Kenseth had the championship all but won entering October.

      And also, ratings went up in 2005, a year after the playoffs were introduced. Per Jayski via the Wayback Machine:

      NASCAR on NBC & TNT averaged a 4.7 rating and 10 share for its coverage of Nextel Cup racing, its best season-to-date rating for NASCAR since beginning their partnership to broadcast the second half of the NASCAR schedule in 2001, and a 74% increase from the 2.7/8 for the 2000 season, the last season before the current network television deal. NBC & TNT’s ratings for the ten races of the “Chase for the Nextel Cup” averaged a 4.7, up 2% from the inaugural “Chase” last year (4.6).

  11. Avatar

    I wonder if cutting the number of races in the season is even on NASCAR’s list of possibilities for the changes they are contemplating. If I had to guess, I’d say NO. Has anyone heard someone high up in NASCAR mention that possibility?

    I’m fine with them taking the win away. Hopefully it will be a clear cut case of cheating when it does (like Harvick last year or Elliott removing tape from his spoiler). Were there any penalties announced at Daytona? even minor ones? I haven’t heard anything, and if there were no transgressions to announce, when was the last time that happened at the Daytona 500? never? Seriously, there were no parts confiscated, no penalties, nothing. Or maybe I just didn’t look in the right place because I used to rely on Jayski’s to keep me informed with respect to penalties.

    If I had to bet $1000 on whether or not the tapered spacers and other changes for 2019 were going to make the racing better, I have to bet against it. That is based solely on NASCAR’s track record over the last 10 years. I am hopeful that it will be better but will be shocked if it really is.