If you’re one of the people who hates the 2020 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule for next year, I sincerely hope you haven’t been complaining about the lack of change until now.
For the first time in seemingly forever, NASCAR’s leadership is listening to fans. They want people to be happy, and changes are finally coming in 2020. The schedule might not be perfect, nor will it please everyone at any point in time. But it is a major step in the right direction after years of indifference.
NASCAR, indeed, should be applauded for its willingness to depart from the status quo. In the midst of track deals that expire after next season, the sanctioning body didn’t have much leeway to overhaul the schedule. However, they did what they could, working with each track to optimize its potential.
Sure, there are some flaws. Making a doubleheader weekend is conceptually a great idea, right? But when that doubleheader is at Pocono Raceway, it’s not the best of ideas. Pocono is located in the middle of a mountain range, a tricky spot for summer storms. The weather there is unpredictable and the sky opens up more often than not at the Tricky Triangle.
Teams will use two cars for the doubleheader weekend. It’s an idea used by the NTT IndyCar Series, which more often than not does work because those cars can indeed race in the rain. But if NASCAR gets hit with bad luck, Pocono will be a nightmare for everyone involved. When the rain comes, it will push one — if not both — of the races to Monday, maybe even Tuesday. Keep in mind Pocono is one of the few tracks on the circuit that doesn’t have lights for nighttime competition.
A Saturday-Sunday doubleheader is a fun idea… just not at Pocono.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway in July is also a wowzer. It’s already hot at the Brickyard in August, so good luck for those who actually go in midsummer. There’s also races at nearby Chicagoland Speedway and Kentucky Speedway within the same 30-day period. Moving the race to Independence Day weekend could kill the sport’s love-hate relationship with IMS for good.
On the other side of the spectrum, NASCAR is making important adjustments in line with other major sports.
Taking two off weeks for the 2020 Olympics is an amazing idea. It comes from the NHL, where hockey teams are given off for the Winter Olympics in order to actually travel and compete in the international spectacle.
While NASCAR drivers won’t have a Summer Olympics sport of their own, it means they won’t compete against them. Why battle to have a race on MSNBC instead of NBC Sports Network? The sport is given a better chance to remain relevant in the summer after the Olympics are over.
It also means more opportunities for NASCAR’s broadcast team to provide additional exposure of the sport during games. Rick Allen and Dale Earnhardt Jr. at the Olympics, advertising NASCAR for the second half of the season? Um, yes.
Additionally, just addressing NASCAR’s schedule is a bold move. Sure, the overhaul has angered longtime fans who hate change. But at the same time, it is pleasing for drivers and millennials alike, many of whom have begged for movement.
Just look at some of the comments from the NASCAR garage.
To Whom It May Concern: Thank you for the changes made to 2020 @nascar schedule. 🕺🏻
— Jimmie Johnson (@JimmieJohnson) March 27, 2019
Whoever came up with this stuff, well done. https://t.co/5r9HkQRPLp
— Chase Elliott (@chaseelliott) March 26, 2019
.@JoeyLogano likes the switching of the championship race to @ISMRaceway and suggests the NASCAR schedule moves it around every year "like the Super Bowl."
— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) March 27, 2019
Awesome job @nascar on shuffling that schedule around for next year. Now that y’all got that done and announced, let’s get back to the drawing board for the future (preferably including @FGSpeedway among others) #MoreShortTracks
— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) March 26, 2019
You get the point. The status quo of the schedule no longer satisfied a depleted fan base. It needed an adjustment… and leadership stepped up.
So why the sudden push for change? It’s a combination of NASCAR’s new leadership. The duo of NASCAR CEO Jim France and President Steve Phelps want to satisfy everyone, even though they know that can’t happen.
But they’re certainly trying. The people-pleasing effort from the top is an effort we haven’t seen out of NASCAR leaders in well over a decade. Sure, there have been continual changes to the playoff format. But the schedule is a different beast altogether.
Now, the regular season will start and finish with events at Daytona International Speedway. It gives fans old and new a taste of Daytona at a different time of year, a breath of fresh air we’ve never seen before. It takes away the traditional Independence Day race in Florida, replacing the weekend’s contest with the Brickyard 400 as mentioned above.
But the biggest move that NASCAR made is to finally change things up in the playoffs in a big way. That’s partially due to the slight shakeup in 2018. That saw the Charlotte Roval’s debut plus other minor tweaks to the 10-race playoff stint.
Here’s how Editor-In-Chief Tom Bowles summed it up in this week’s “Did You Notice?” column.
“The Lady In Black will break some hearts and remains the last race before NFL games start distracting fans. But they’ll have more reason to get hooked the rest of the round. Two short tracks, Richmond Raceway and Bristol Motor Speedway, make up the final two events. Sparks will fly in the Bristol night race as it becomes the elimination event of the round. Most importantly, no cookie-cutter tracks are inside the first three races of the playoffs. Driver skill will come to the forefront instantly.”
It can’t be summed up any better. The playoff adjustments mark a marvelous move by NASCAR, one that shows they are indeed listening to fans who want more short tracks. The masterstroke is that ISM Raceway will host the season finale, rather than Homestead-Miami Speedway. Sure, Homestead puts on some fantastic racing, but people have been asking to switch up the finale for years. It’s time to change it annually, suggested by Logano above, and this move enables NASCAR to begin that process.
A championship race at Martinsville in 2021? Bristol? Heck, maybe even Talladega.
Just imagine what 2021 will look like.
Tat year, NASCAR will be done with the ridiculous multi-year deals it signed with every single track on the circuit, which locked up races at some tracks that shouldn’t even have one race, let alone two. Now, the sport can venture out and get aggressive like its open-wheel competitors, IndyCar and Formula 1.
All ideas are on the table for 2021, from new road courses to different short tracks across the country. Who knows, maybe even street courses will get put under consideration. How great would that be? Maybe an international race or two?
This type of 2020 aggression allows you to imagine what comes next. The status quo is no longer an automatic with these new leaders; instead, it’s frowned upon.
So kudos to NASCAR. They care about what fans and drivers want. It’s never easy to put a schedule together but they are throwing everything they can at the design of it, even while still locked in this ridiculous contract.
Let’s hope 2021 provides even more changes as the sport looks to reverse a decade of declining ratings and attendance.