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.
NASCAR’s “everything is on the table” attitude about schedule changes was reinforced today through its Fan Council surveys. Members were asked about concepts like doubleheaders (two points races in one wknd), street circuits, when season should start/end, race lengths and more.
— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) February 19, 2019
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.
NEWS: NASCAR announces 2019 baseline rules package for Monster Energy Series.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) October 2, 2018
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.
About the author
Michael has watched NASCAR for 20 years and regularly covered the sport from 2013-2021. He moved on to Formula 1, IndyCar, and SRX coverage for the site, while still putting a toe in the water from time-to-time back into the NASCAR pool.
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