As the country turns its attention away from canceled sports to secure the bare necessities for living for the next two weeks as it nears a quarantine situation, NASCAR is planning on how to address those events that are being postponed. With each week that goes by, the logistics and feasibility become more challenging and difficult to accommodate. Is NASCAR making the right call by pushing to run the entire season, or would it best serve competitors to simply cancel races to make the balance of the season and preparations for 2021 easier to execute? This week Adam Cheek and Vito Pugliese make their respective cases for how to approach when we return to racing.
Throttle Back Schedule for Sanity and Savings
On Tuesday, NASCAR confirmed what many had assumed: the next eight weeks will be without racing as the nation continues to fight the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Following the lead of every other major sports organization (with the UFC last to respond this week), NASCAR was forced to make the decision to delay races for the next few weeks – including those at some of the most anticipated tracks like Martinsville, Bristol, and Talladega. All of this begs the question then, what to do with these races? NASCAR has stated that the intention is to race every race, looking at every option from doubleheaders, open-date reschedules, and mid-week races. But is this the right call?
In typical NASCAR fashion, we were settling into the feeling that things were starting to turn the corner for 2020. The Daytona 500 fired off to great fanfare with a presidential command to start engines, a harrowing finish that saw one of its most popular drivers miraculously survive what looked to be fatal accident. A great late race finish at Las Vegas, and confirmation that Phoenix as the championship race was going to work out after all. We’ve finally got this ship pointed in the right direction!
And now this.
Obviously, entertainment and cars going around in a circle ultimately pales in importance to the safety of our citizens – particularly those who are in retirement age. That said, there are livelihoods at stake within the motorsports industry, and it is incumbent upon the series to do what is most prudent to help these teams survive. While we’re at the start of the season, it’s also a critical juncture for smaller teams who rely on purse money to make it from race to race. Looking at the tracks that are affected by the delay, it’s two short tracks, a superspeedway race, a concrete one-mile track, and three intermediates. So, you’re looking at three different configurations of cars to prepare, in a season that’s already going to be taxed financially, physically, and emotionally. Are we going to expect teams to haul up and down the Eastern seaboard and Texas during the middle of the week?
NASCAR did make the right call by banning all wind-tunnel testing for the current car for the balance of the season. A helpful cost-cutting move given the circumstances to be sure – but also because of an all new car that’s still in the testing and development stage currently – and one whose initial investment is up to four times what the current car costs. More good news!
The current intention is to run the complete season, as the current plan calls for rescheduling only four races so far. What happens if things drag out a couple of more weeks, pushing back Martinsville? The next race would be the All-Star race, which could be shelved or just moved to the following week before the Coca-Cola 600, potentially freeing up a week. Martinsville and Richmond are in close proximity, so those could potentially be ran in close succession being they’re both short track races. Beyond that, some of this could get expensive really fast – if not redundant. I’ve long been a proponent of reducing the schedule to 29-30 events as it was in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Some scarcity is good for demand, and there will be plenty of pent up desire for a return to normalcy and NASCAR on Sunday afternoons. Flooding the summer and fall with mid-week races and doubling up all weekend seems a bit much. If the late 2000s taught us anything, it was NASCAR 24/7 was not a recipe for success or sustainability.
This is not to discount the importance to local economies that look forward to NASCAR coming to town, and everyone can use whatever boost they can that will be coming through both financially and psychologically once we’re through this truly historic period in history. In the short term however, it might make sense to help teams that are already piece-mealing together a season, to not have to make further contingencies in the face of the mountain of obstacles already facing them with lost revenue for the next two months, coupled with complexity of transitioning to the NextGen car in 2021. There was some chatter that began on Wednesday that perhaps the series might push the new car back another season to 2022. This would be the right move on several fronts. With NASCAR banning wind tunnel work on the current car, you’d have teams on a pretty even keel for the rest of the season and next. There will likely be plenty of inventory still to work through and cars that have hundreds of thousands of dollars invested in them won’t suddenly be reduced to a bunch of used racecars that you can’t really compete in any other series with and will be anchors to unload.
So, what is the right answer? This is uncharted territory to be sure. The closest thing we have to compare this to would be 9/11 and that was just one weekend – and three cities affected. This is nationwide and everyone – over 327 million people – are affected.
Let’s be honest – there isn’t a right answer right now. Much like the health crisis we’re in the midst of navigating through, it is a dynamic and fluid situation that will probably change a few more times before there’s clear direction on what moves forward. As it stands, I would advocate for jamming in Martinsville and Richmond into one-day shows and run Talladega on July 26 as it was through the mid-1990s. The rest should be shelved, giving teams a break on the expenses they’re already having to mitigate and endure with the situation on the ground as it is now, coupled with the new car coming for next season. – Vito Pugliese
Return and Run the Requisite Races
Am I thrilled that the racing season has been put on hold for another two months on the heels of the coronavirus outbreak? Not at all. But it is 100% the correct decision. I love racing – I look forward to it every weekend, I thoroughly enjoy writing about it weekly and I appreciate every opportunity I get to go to the track.
Additionally, we enter uncharted territory, as Vito said above. This is something never before seen in sports history – the closest might be reflected in the early 1900s, when the outbreak of the Spanish Flu presented Major League Baseball with a similar decision.
Now, times are different more than 100 years later, but the question remains the same – how should the organizers of a professional sport go about this postponement?
There are quite a few avenues, including running a reduced schedule, but I believe it’s still possible to work in the full slate of races.
If the season returns as scheduled – May 9 weekend at Martinsville Speedway – and isn’t delayed longer, that leaves us with seven race weekends to make up. Without going into detail on how the schedule would exactly be laid out, it’s certainly within the realm of possibility to make up those events.
Shortening the schedule and editing the season would be NASCAR’s last resort, and that might leave us without the playoffs or several race weekends. However, again, I believe the sport can make it happen – ideas such as weekday races, doubleheaders and extending the season have all been proposed, all of which would work given the right circumstances.
NASCAR has yet, of course, to announce their plans, aside from the fact that they plan to return after Martinsville and seven race weekends will be postponed. The sports’ Monday statement indicated that they intend to run the full schedule, which is still theoretically possible.
If NASCAR intends to get the full season in for 2020, extending the schedule would be the first step, and mapping out the race weekends would be the next.
For example, let’s take my home track of Richmond Raceway. The track’s spring race weekend, consisting of a Saturday night Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series race (the series’ return to Richmond after 15 years of absence) and a Sunday Cup Series event, is among the postponed visits.
Borrowing an idea proposed by a fellow Frontstretchian for Richmond, a one-day schedule of practice, qualifying and races – all building up to the evening when the Cup race would be held – is likely the most viable option, given that the circuit’s other date is in the midst of the playoffs. If the playoffs are nixed due to the rescheduling chaos, all four races could feasibly be completed in a Friday-Sunday race weekend. The Truck Series could run on Friday night, while the Xfinity Series would hold their race Saturday afternoon. Following that, the Cup races could be held Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.
All of that goes out the window, though, if the playoffs for 2020 are kept in place.
As for tracks with both dates in the regular season – Dover, for example – the doubleheader aspect could still apply, albeit with a crunched schedule. Those tracks could follow the Pocono plan – two series on Saturday, two on Sunday. That schedule change for Pocono in 2020 has suddenly become oddly appropriate and could certainly work.
The proximity of tracks could also play into decision-making. Take, for example, what would roughly mark the middle of the season and the race dates immediately afterward.
Aside from Sonoma, the races are primarily in the Northeast United States (or close to it) – the Pocono doubleheader, Watkins Glen, New Hampshire and Dover. The proposed Dover doubleheader could apply here, as would the already-set-in-stone version at Pocono.
With some restructuring, NASCAR could make it so the schedule flows in a way more convenient to teams – if mid-week races are indeed considered.
After some tinkering with Google Maps, I found that a schedule of New Hampshire-Watkins Glen-Pocono-Dover would take the teams in a relatively downward path along the East Coast (albeit with some doubling back after the Glen). Heck, throw Richmond in there too after Dover and then have a short break for the teams to regroup in Charlotte.
This absolutely has the possibility to be quite taxing for teams, drivers and crews, but if they’re up to it then it certainly remains a possibility – the toll it would take on everyone involved with the sport will be the biggest issue.
A number of other factors would of course be a part of these decisions – what the teams would need, the types of tracks and other aspects – but from a travel-focused perspective, it might be NASCAR’s best bet if the sanctioning body doesn’t budge from wanting to run the full season.
Again, there is no right answer, and the situation will continue to evolve and change. We’re not sure where this crisis will take us, so let’s sit back, take a couple months off and look forward to whatever may lie ahead. It’ll be a unique season and experience, regardless of what NASCAR decides. – Adam Cheek
About the author
Vito is one of the longest-tenured writers at Frontstretch, joining the staff in 2007. With his column Voice of Vito (monthly, Fridays) he’s a contributor to several other outlets, including Athlon Sports and Popular Speed in addition to making radio appearances. He forever has a soft-spot in his heart for old Mopars and presumably oil-soaked cardboard in his garage.
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