Did You Notice? …That while specific new venues have remained in the realm of speculation regarding the much-anticipated 2021 NASCAR Cup Series schedule, perhaps the most significant development yet was publicized quietly earlier this week? The Sports Business Journal‘s Adam Stern reported Monday (Feb. 24) that a number of current NASCAR Cup venues will be receiving only one-year contracts to host Cup races; the current venues are operating on five-year contracts that expire after this season.
Several @NASCAR tracks are expected to get only single-year deals for the next handful of years, per sources, in a bid by the sanctioning body to keep its scheduling options wide open.
— Adam Stern (@A_S12) February 24, 2020
I remain concerned that a schedule that has been hyped considerably by fans and the sanctioning body alike is going to prove underwhelming when it actually hits paper. NASCAR’s fixation on incorporating a street course into the Cup schedule is gimmickry at its finest; Formula 1’s plans to add a temporary stadium/street course to its schedule in Miami have been widely panned across the world, and for all the prestige and history of IndyCar races such as the Grand Prix of Long Beach, the reality is the brake-friendly Indy cars even struggle to muster continuous passing on such circuits. Further, for all the talk of returning to the short tracks of yore, all focus on that has been dialed in on one venue, the Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville. And that’s dependent on renovating a track that’s literally within a bottle throw of Nashville’s soon-to-be-constructed Major League Soccer Stadium, in an effort being spearheaded by the same Speedway Motorsports that promoted Bristol’s spring race a year ago to resemble The Last Great Cavern more than The Last Great Colosseum.
Those concerns aside, shifting to one-year contracts is a positive step that makes good business sense for NASCAR, and short of the Daytona 500, World 600, Southern 500 and Martinsville, should be applied to every venue on the Cup circuit. One-year contracts allow for room to experiment aggressively with new venues, to reward/penalize race promoters for their successes and failures, and to take steps to avoid treacherous situations that could result in poor races. For example, in the event of a repave, why not take a racetrack off the schedule for a year to let the asphalt weather? Avoiding disasters like wreckfests at Las Vegas or Texas after their repaves, or the hideous looking construction that marred images of the Firecracker race during the construction of Daytona rising is in the sport’s best interest.
Of course, if it turns out that all the tracks on on-year contracts happen to be tracks not owned by ISC (read: NASCAR), it’s time to hit the panic button.
Did You Notice? …How Austin Dillon‘s performance in the broadcast booth during Sunday night’s Xfinity Series telecast in Las Vegas put a difficult conundrum on display for both FOX and its viewers? Let’s start with the positives here. Dillon has been on the Cup circuit long enough to be a seasoned competitor, if not a veteran, and much of the insight he had to share about the Xfinity race on Sunday was just that; veteran and informed.
— Dustin Albino (@DustinAlbino) February 24, 2020
FOX deserves credit here for their decision to rotate active drivers into the booth. Besides giving Cup drivers a way to be relevant during minor league races that doesn’t involve them stinking up the show, hearing the perspective of drivers that are active in the garage and able to provide current views into what’s going on behind the wheel, under the hood, etc. has proven of benefit to the broadcasts.
The conundrum this presents, however, is that active drivers still in the garage are likely to have teammates on the track. Just like Dillon did on Sunday. That put Dillon in the position of having to commentate on Noah Gragson‘s blatant spin of his teammate Myatt Snider. And while Dillon did not go to a Waltrip-level extreme, he was rather direct in laying blame for the incident.
Dillon wasn’t wrong to do so… Gragson’s take-out move was not subtle. But had this been a longer-term teammate situation (Snider was in only his second race with Richard Childress Racing), or had this occurred in a playoff race, as Las Vegas will be in September, would the commentary have stayed as restrained? FOX has already seen awkward situations arise with current competitors speaking to each other in a broadcast/racer environment (anyone remember Ross Chastain calling out Kevin Harvick at Talladega about Harvick’s comments that Chastain might not be good enough to race in the top echelons of NASCAR?), and given the current lack of civility that appears to be seeping down into NASCAR discourse, it’s worth asking if this practice is playing with fire.
Did You Notice? …That through two Cup races in 2020, NASCAR has yet to throw the yellow flag for debris on the racetrack? That’s right, despite the fact that early leaders in the Daytona 500 suffered from debris on their grills, while numerous spotters warned their drivers during Sunday’s pace laps in Vegas that paper litter was visible all over the racetrack, there have been a whopping zero debris cautions so far this season.
That hasn’t happened in a Cup Series season since 2001 (I’m not counting a late caution at Rockingham that season that was thrown for oil on the track). It’s been literally two decades.
While there remained some (albeit scattered) criticism on social media Sunday for the yellow flag flying for single-car wall scrapes, NASCAR deserves credit so far this season for showing restraint and consistency with the yellow flag. Please for the love of God take notice of that!