NASCAR Race Weekend Central

2-Headed Monster: Are The Changes to the NASCAR Schedule Good Or Bad?

The 2020 schedule for the NASCAR Cup Series was announced on Tuesday (March 26) with more changes than in recent years combined. The question is: Did NASCAR get it right? Frontstretch’s Amy Henderson and Clayton Caldwell debate.

Sure, NASCAR made changes…but they missed the mark

When the 2020 Cup Series schedule was released, there were some definite changes and departures from the same old, same old of recent years. But where NASCAR had the opportunity to make a real impact and set a tone for 2021, when more changes would, at least in theory, be possible, the sanctioning body fell short of the mark.

To be fair here, it’s not all bad. Atlanta Motor Speedway deserved a better date and (sort of) got one, as did Martinsville Speedway’s spring event. Homestead-Miami Speedway is a good fit in the spring when NASCAR struggles to find venues warm enough to put on a good race weekend. I’m a purist, but even I’ll admit the doubleheader weekend at Pocono Raceway intrigues me, and if it works, the overall length of the season could be cut considerably in the future… that’s good. The Southern 500 to open the playoffs? Yes, please.

But that’s about it as far the good parts.

So what’s wrong? Let’s start with NASCAR’s complete and utter disregard for tradition. I guess we should thank our lucky stars that moving Darlington to the playoffs didn’t affect its Labor Day weekend date (in 2020, anyway) after fans fought for so long for it to be returned to its rightful place. But moving the July 4 weekend special from Daytona International Speedway is nearly as egregious, especially considering it went to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, easily the worst track on the calendar.

NASCAR attempted to cover for the move by making Daytona the last race of the regular season. Some don’t like the idea of a superspeedway race being the cutoff, but it makes sense. The field is generally set, and a race at a superspeedway does give the best chance of a surprise entrant while really only endangering a driver at the back of the top 16 in points who is unlikely to contend anyway.

But it should have been the fall race at Talladega Superspeedway moved to the cutoff spot and therefore out of the playoffs, where the roll-the-dice nature of superspeedway racing has no business deciding a champion.

More on the playoff schedule in a minute, but the second worst idea here is adding at least one more night race to the mix.  Granted, it’s at Martinsville, where it will have less of a negative impact than at an intermediate track, but there are way too many night races already.

I have yet to figure out why race fans complain about boring racing and then want more night races. A hot, slick track will provide a better race than a cold one 99 percent of the time. I suppose the surface at Martinsville on a May night won’t be much colder than it is on a March day, so there’s that. While we’re on the subject, Darlington’s playoff race should be a daytime affair too, at least if it’s to open the title hunt in the best possible way.

Okay, now we can talk playoffs. The positives are the opener at Darlington and the penultimate race at Martinsville. The not-so-positives start with the three 1.5-mile tracks in the 10-race span. While they have a place, because so much of the season is run on them and they need to be a part of the championship picture, the problem is that if you include Darlington, four intermediates is too many. What would have worked better: opening the playoffs at Darlington and closing the season at Atlanta, giving a nod to the days when the season did end there. Atlanta is generally the best of the 1.5-milers anyway, at least until the inevitable repave happens.

That would leave room for Dover International Speedway and New Hampshire Motor Speedway in the final 10-race span. Had Talladega been moved to the 26th race, a third intermediate might be easier to swallow, perhaps Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

To be fair to NASCAR again, they’re backed somewhat into a corner next season in that the tracks have contracts through the end of the season and therefore, the owners cannot lose a race outright.

A year from now will be very telling. NASCAR still has an elephant in the room in the form of the track owners, especially Speedway Motorsports, Inc. and Bruton Smith. SMI will not take kindly to the suggestion of losing dates at any tracks in 2021 and could tie NASCAR up in lawsuits should the sanctioning body try. As of now, the France family owns both NASCAR and International Speedway Corp., so theoretically, at least, taking races from themselves shouldn’t lead to litigation.

NASCAR made a show of changing things up this year, at least, and may be willing to make further changes when the current track deals are up. But the changes made were not as meaningful as NASCAR would like fans to think and include some outright bad decisions. Is it great that they’re willing to at least take a swing at it after years of stagnation? Definitely. But the changes themselves don’t really stand up to a closer look. Time to hit the drawing board again. -Amy Henderson

Not as bad as you think…

The 2020 schedule is out and there are a lot of changes to shuffle through. While I don’t like losing the traditional July Fourth weekend at Daytona, there are some really awesome things about the schedule.

I like the fact that Atlanta has been moved back a bit. The racing at Atlanta Motor Speedway has always been great, but they’ve been put in a bad spot the last few years, piggybacking Daytona on the schedule. Most of the fans in that area spend their money to go to the biggest race of them all and can’t go to Atlanta. Giving them some breathing room from Daytona should help a bit. The weather has also been an issue at times for Atlanta, and with some nicer and warmer weather, I believe it will help the track immensely.

I also like the fact that the “West Coast Swing” is now right after Daytona. Teams can spend all offseason working on the cars to go out west, and when we come back to the east coast, we won’t have to go back out toward the west coast until we race at Sonoma Raceway in June. I think the weather out west at that time of year is awesome and that makes a lot more sense.

The best thing about the new schedule, however, is the amount of diversity there is in the playoffs. Round one begins with Darlington and is followed up by two short tracks, Richmond Raceway and Bristol Motor Speedway. All three races are what are considered ‘driver’s racetracks’ because you don’t have to rely so much on aerodynamics.

The second round also has some cool diversity with a mile-and-a-half track at Las Vegas, a superspeedway race at Talladega and it ends with the Roval at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The third round has Kansas Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway in it, but it ends with one of the best tracks on the circuit, Martinsville. ISM Raceway is the new finale, which I’m indifferent about, but that track usually provides some pretty decent racing.

What I really love about the new playoff schedule is it gives the potential to have an underdog in the Championship Four. For example, if a team that struggles on the cookie-cutter tracks gets into the playoffs, they are not doomed from the start. The previous playoff schedule had just two short tracks and more cookie-cutter tracks than anything else. You had to be great on the cookie cutters to have any remote shot at moving to the final four. Now, round one is a round full of driver’s racetracks, round two features both Talladega and the Roval where anything can happen and round three ends with Martinsville, another driver’s racetrack. You still have to be great to win the championship, but it evens the playing field a bit better than it did in the past.

I also love the fact that we will see night racing at Martinsville for the first time. Martinsville is an awesome racetrack and placing its first event in May gives it a chance for better weather and allows it to be a nice race. The newly installed lights have been used a few times, but it will be cool to see such a great racetrack under the lights. It could be one of the most popular stops on the NASCAR schedule.

While the schedule isn’t perfect, it’s a lot better than what we’ve had. I think everyone can agree that the schedule has been stale over the past decade and the change of pace will be a lot of fun to see just what that does to the teams and drivers who have to change the way they race due to this schedule. It should be a lot of fun. -Clayton Caldwell

Share this article

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

11 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
sb

For me, the cutoff races are just going to make things even more of a crapshoot. I know that everyone keeps ointing to all the other sports having elimination playoffs, but they also don’t have every team playing every game Did it ever occur to anyone that one of the things that fans liked about racing was that it was NOT like other sports? That some team couldn’t get lucky and get a title because they won one race? That knowing the title went to the team that had been excellent all year and not lucky in a lottery? I applaud Nascar for making some changes, but the entire playoff is a mistake to begin with. How have attendance and ratings been since they went to this new format?

Bill B

Agree 100%.

But I didn’t know that was an option for NASCAR. I don’t think getting rid of the chase/playoffs was on the table. If it was that would be my vote. If it wasn’t then this is an improvement (at least on paper).

BTW, I assume Amy wrote the first section since her name is first. Let’s get something clear… Darlington IS NOT a cookie cutter 1.5 mile track. Shame on you for trying to lump that track in with the others just to help bolster your opinion. It doesn’t race like a 1.5 mile cookie cutter and it isn’t a 1.5 mile cookie cutter.

Chris Phineas

This is dead on….. “As for the playoffs? They needed to be scrapped years ago. It’s a flawed system and was from the start, but the changes of getting rid of it are probably zero unless a title sponsor steps up and demands it as part of their deal. Otherwise, NASCAR would have to admit they messed it up.”

NASCAR has NEVER admitted they failed. Just the the COT and the failed splitter, NASCAR only knows how to double down on a failed and flawed design, rather than do what is necessary, and scrap it. I don’t fault them for trying, I fault them for the hubris and arrogance to not admit their faults.

iceman202290

I agree with you as well and seem most do which is why I do not understand why this system is still in place other than for the reason Chris stated, they won’t admit they made a mistake. It is only a matter of time before someone gets in winning a wild card race and then wins a championship with only 2 wins and lucky pit strategy. Why I take more hold in the “regular season champion” over the cup champion anymore, which saddens me. I feel for drivers that raced under the old system that were robbed of championships because of this flawed system.

As goes the cookie cutter tracks, it very well may not have been an option due to current contract, really have to hold the true opinion until the 2021 release

Double header at Pocono, I am excited for this and the fans in that region. That track generally has a good audience, while the on TV view is a bit boring. But Arca, Truck, Xfinity, and Cup double header in one weekend, for a fan of racing, what more could you want. I just hope it doesnt rain! Otherwise, i think this is a great move for both the fans and drivers as it reduces the overall length of the season.

Indy moving to the 4th excited me as well. While Daytona is traditionally ran on this date and means alot to the sports history, I think book ending the regular season there is a good counter. Indy to the 4th excites me for 2 reasons. 1) This track is near the auto industry and most have that week off which should help a lot of fans in that region be able to make a weekend trip to the track campground. 2) While NASCAR’s history at the track is not very deep,this track means a lot to the motorsports world. So I think this move should be exciting for the motorsports world. I think ultimately, ticket sales will tell NASCAR if this was the correct move or not and they may adjust for 2021/2.

I dont know, but something about crowning the regular season champion under the lights at Daytona excites me!

DoninAjax

The word I would use is insignificant. This is a band aid on a compound fracture that they have created. Until the powers in the ivory tower in Daytona make the drastic changes that are needed there is no hope for things to get better. Until they undo the unnecessary changes they made to improve the product they will continue to trend downwards. I don’t believe it will ever happen.

iceman202290

1 more opinion I would like to add,

Championship finale at ISM:
While the racing here has been OK, I think this also is a good move for a couple reasons.
– You dont have to be good at an intermediate track to win, potential for a underfunded team to now have a shot to get to ISM and compete with new format
– Can have pit strategy effect your championship (good or bad based on opinion lol)
– The fans, wow. What ISM has done there is incredible for the fans. Fans having the opportunity to walk the garage on a championship weekend, watch their driver and team prepare for the event. Be up close to watch the crowning. While the racing on TV may be meh for the championship, I think the fan experience for this weekend ultimately makes this a great move.

Upstate9fan

It isn’t perfect, but there is a lot to like in finally shaking up the schedule and this is the appetizer for hopefully a new track or 2 in 2021. I really like the playoff schedule, all three short tracks, the Roval and Talladega are a lot better than in past years when it was dominated by 1-2 mile intermediates.

Scott

IMHO I don’t agree with the double header at Pocono. I would have much rather seen it at somewhere like Daytona, where one race would be on the oval and the other on the road course.

I definitely don’t agree with moving the July 4th race to Indianapolis. As you mentioned, that is one of the worst tracks on the schedule. We have a special day to showcase the sport and we do it there?

Some of the date changes do make sense. I know that Eddie Gossage here at TMS is happy about the fall date now. Previously, it fell on opening weekend of Deer Season, so fans either chose to go to the races or go hunting.

I kind of like the idea of moving the season-ending race to Phoenix. Personally, I would prefer if they would move it every year and have a different track each year have the opportunity to host.

I would love to see some tracks removed from the schedule and others added, but we all know that won’t happen. Not when NASCAR owns the majority of the tracks.

Charlie

You are correct in your observation if they try to move a race from SMI Tracks. That includes the All Star Race. Trying to move it would involve years of litigation and Smith and Family are billionaires and have the resources and the where with all to end up owning the whole thing. NASCAR is over-speculated as far as value, thus the move to combine it with ISC, which actually has some assets.

Not sure Phoenix is the answer for the Championship. Why not move it to Japan, that is even further away from the sport’s base, the Southeast. Makes about as much sense. I’m willing to give the rest of it a chance.

DoninAjax

The doubleheader at Pocono seems strange to me. Do they expect people to buy tickets for two races on the same weekend?

“Tickets will not be available until later this year, and prices for next year’s NASCAR Cup races will be the same as this year’s.

“Nowhere else will fans be able to enjoy this volume of quality NASCAR racing in one weekend,” Pocono Raceway President Ben May said.”

The cheapest ticket is $45. The most expensive is $250. The cheapest camping is $200 for a TENT. The cheapest RV power hookup is $250 for motor home or trailer. If you stay at the track, Plus gas. It’s eight hours for me to the raceway.

I sure would like to find out how the ticket sales are going when they start taking orders.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com

Frontstretch