With the release of the 2020 schedule, which NASCAR track change will be the most well received by fans and which will likely be viewed as the biggest mistake?
Zach Gillispie: Honestly, I think the move to ISM Raceway for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship race is great. Why should the champion be decided based upon one singular track every single year? I’m glad NASCAR has finally thought to add some variety to the championship.
Long-term, I don’t think the championship should stay at ISM though. I think every year, or every other year, the championship race should be held at a different track. I would love to see a champion crowned at Bristol, Richmond or even Charlotte. The worst: Indy on Independence Day weekend. Ughhhhhh.
Christian Koelle: I think Bristol being a cutoff race is a big deal and something that’s kind of been a quiet request from fans. It’s something I know I am very excited about.
The two weeks off for the Olympics could be the biggest mistake, honestly. That’s two straight weeks without Cup racing and I just don’t know how you can do that in the middle of the season. I hope the sport’s Xfinity and Truck series step up to the plate and knock a home run with some fan favorite tracks. But I am concerned it’s two weeks across the board.
Adam Cheek: There’s a few changes that will likely resonate well with fans. Darlington kicking off the playoffs is one of them. However, Bristol and Martinsville becoming cutoff races – especially Martinsville under the lights – will be huge. They already love short track racing, and another race at a short track – under the lights, no less – is a massive draw.
The biggest mistake will either be the chaotic Pocono weekend or Daytona becoming the regular season finale. Anyone can win at Daytona. Factor in that means anyone could make the playoffs and you’ll get riskier moves on one of the sport’s fastest tracks. We could see someone get seriously hurt with those stakes.
Pocono’s doubleheader weekend consists of five races, along with multiple practices and qualifying, among four NASCAR divisions. Add to that the rain factor and you have a potentially disastrous weekend. Even without the rain, so many things going on in such a short amount of time could be a disaster itself.
Amy Henderson: The worst received so far seems to be moving the traditional 4th of July weekend date from Daytona. Putting the worst track in the sport in its place doesn’t really help the cause any there. Ignoring tradition didn’t work when NASCAR moved the Southern 500 and it’s a bad idea here, too. Fans will like Martinsville’s two dates, but the night race will generate the most talk, at least in the short term. The fall race will likely be the better race, given the cutoff status, and night races are rarely if ever better than day races, but it’s certainly getting some buzz.
Mike Neff: The move to cutoff races for Bristol, Charlotte (Roval) and Martinsville will be quite popular with fans. For old school fans, moving Daytona away from July 4th and Martinsville running under the lights will be poorly received.
Bryan Davis Keith: Martinsville under the lights and in a cutoff race is a coup for that track and a victory for short track advocates. The Pocono doubleheader remains to be seen. The K&N Series doubleheaders that NASCAR has run the past few seasons have not been classics by any stretch, although fans clamoring for Pocono to lose a race weekend kind of got what they wanted.
Moving Indianapolis to the 4th of July was a mistake not in the sense that it will make the Brickyard a worse race. But any chances of reviving the Firecracker races the way the move back to Labor Day saved Darlington has gone out the window. There is simply no way to put on a good stock car race at Indianapolis. Maybe by 2025 we’ll get to Lucas Oil Raceway, where we belong?
Mark Kristl: The fans will love Martinsville’s race dates. There will be a Saturday night race at Martinsville Speedway in warmer weather! Martinsville will also host the cutoff race for the Round of 8, where there will be guaranteed to be at least two Championship 4 berths remaining. Emotions will be high, drivers will be pushing their cars to the limits and bumpers will be used. Imagine the excitement surrounding Jeff Gordon’s final win at this race. I’m already excited for it!
Based on the schedule changes, which track do you think should be the most concerned that they will get cut back or even left off the 2021 schedule altogether?
Keith: I’m not sure there’s a track that needs to worry about being left out entirely in 2021. But I could see Pocono’s triangular track get benched in favor of a road course race once they get an upgraded configuration in place. Now, if they could logistically figure out a way to run a triangle race and a road course race as a one-weekend doubleheader, Pocono would become a headliner overnight.
Kristl: Pocono is a possibility. But if the doubleheader is successful, Pocono will keep its date. Indianapolis Motor Speedway should be worried. It’s a historic track for IndyCar, not NASCAR. NASCAR longs for fans to love the racing there, but the racing has been subpar. Plus, fans are upset it took away the traditional July 4 race at Daytona.
Please, let’s eliminate Indy from the schedule in favor of Lucas Oil Raceway. In my opinion, fans are more likely to flock there than IMS.
Gillispie: Indy. I’m sorry to all of the fans in Indiana, but it seems like when we go to Indianapolis every year, we are always let down by extremely poor racing. Indianapolis is an amazing track… if you drive an open-wheel car.
Henderson: Atlanta got a better date, but not by much. They should look at Rockingham and be worried. There was a great opportunity to move that race deeper in the season, or even back to the final race, but it didn’t happen.
As to who should lose a race? Indianapolis isn’t a NASCAR track and never has been. Nobody would miss the races it produces.
Neff: I don’t know about based on the schedule changes, but Chicagoland is probably looking like a track that could disappear from the 2021 schedule.
Koelle: Indianapolis, honestly. I personally love Indianapolis and love the facility but it’s just not what the fans want anymore. Atlanta is another track that I am concerned about losing a date. It’s very special to me, as it’s where I went to my first race in 2005. I don’t want to see it fly off the schedule but it’s a rock and a hard place scenario. Keep it on the schedule without repaving and it will continue to deteriorate over time. Repave it and fans will for sure feed negative feedback that’ll be heard forever.
Cheek: Texas, Michigan or Pocono. Many aren’t fans of the racing at any of these tracks, and they could lose a date for sure. Nothing will be cut entirely soon, but I see NASCAR wanting to bring in another road course or two.
If you were to give NASCAR a grade based on the adjustments they made to the qualifying format this week, what would it be and why?
Henderson: INC. I’m still unclear on why qualifying needs to be “intriguing” or a “show.” Qualifying should set the field fairly so the race is intriguing and a show. Single-car runs do everything right, including allowing everyone to get some airtime instead of ignoring half the field. They were exciting enough, with fans waiting to see who could top a great run. And they most often put the fastest car in front, rather than a fast-ish car whose driver did the best job of tire conservation. Group qualifying is one of the many gimmicks NASCAR never needed in the first place.
Cheek: C. Come up with a solution and stick with it, don’t just alter the current rules.
Gillispie: F. I am going to stick to that. NASCAR does not need more rules. Group qualifying is always a mess. I don’t see how this can curtail it any.
Neff: It is right in the middle of the decisions to make so we’ll give them a C.
Kristl: B-. NASCAR needed to make a change and they did. Is it the best change? That’s still up for debate. That debate will be settled during qualifying at Texas. NASCAR favors group qualifying, so this rule change may remedy the problem. Credit NASCAR for responding though, albeit after an embarrassment.
Keith: INC. The qualifying “fix” fixes nothing. All it means is the same hurry up and wait that supposedly makes for better TV will play out with an exit to the track happening 30 seconds earlier. The “fix” doesn’t fix the cars’ dependence on each other in the draft to put up a fast lap. NASCAR’s insistence that they can’t go back to single-car qualifying is irritatingly stubborn. If they’re concerned single-car qualifying will drive costs in an arms race for speed, go back to impound races after qualifying, a move that would prevent teams from installing qualifying-specific components. Problem solved.
Koelle: B-. The new rule is a rule that I thought was in place years ago when they were coasting on the apron. I still feel like there was nothing wrong with single-car qualifying with no rounds. But hey, NASCAR wants a show; that’s what they’re gonna get.
If Jimmie Johnson never wins another race, will it diminish his legacy for him to run another three or four years at his current level of performance?
Keith: If JJ continues to run for 3-4 years the way he is running, it will absolutely diminish his legacy because it will provide concrete evidence that he couldn’t get it done without Knaus on the pit box. Retire now, and the drop in performance can be attributed to the youth in the Hendrick camp, the “packages,” etc.
Gillispie: Richard Petty didn’t win a single race in the final eight years of his driving career. No, Jimmie Johnson is not the King, but he will still be remembered just as fondly.
Kristl: No. Michael Jordan finished his career with the Washington Wizards and Joe Montana finished his career with the Kansas City Chiefs. Do we diminish their careers because they played for different teams and neither won a championship with those teams? No. History remembers them when they dominated their respective sports.
The same logic is applicable to Johnson. He dominated the sport, won seven championships and accomplished these feats under different playoff formats. Johnson will end up alongside Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon and a few others as one of the greatest drivers in NASCAR history.
Koelle: I don’t think so. Johnson has really just been driving equipment that has seemingly fallen behind the 8-ball. If it was just Jimmie and not his teammates I would see the argument on it deteriorating his legacy. But Jimmie has seven championships; he’s still always going to be seven time no matter what. Look at Petty’s later years. I don’t feel like it deteriorated his legacy.
Cheek: Absolutely. If Johnson sticks around and still can’t win, it’ll show that a number of changes – the Chevrolet model, Knaus’ departure, etc. – led to him struggling. It’ll also lead people to assume that he could never entirely win on talent alone. The narrative will be that Knaus was a driving force, not Johnson.
Henderson: Nothing can erase the impact of 83 wins and seven titles. The next closest active driver is still 30 wins back. Johnson is a first ballot Hall of Famer no matter when he retires or how many more races he wins – or doesn’t. But it would be a shame for him to limp away in the manner of Darrell Waltrip, as a caricature of the driver he was, struggling to stay relevant. I think unless something changes and changes drastically, Johnson will step away at the end of next season. Expect him to hang up his helmet with the class he’s displayed throughout his career, no matter when it happens.
Neff: Oh absolutely. Remember how Richard Petty went from being The King to just The Prince when he ran eight years without winning a race at the end of his career? Yeah, I didn’t think so. Hell no.
Jimmie Johnson is the best driver of his generation and will always be.