What will the rest of the NASCAR regular season look like?
NASCAR this week announced its new schedule for the month of August, up through the end of the NASCAR Cup Series regular season.
The big headline news is that Watkins Glen International’s annual NASCAR weekend has been canceled. There was really no logical way to hold the event after the state announced a quarantine requirement for all who visit the state from North Carolina. MLB was granted an exception by the state, but MLB also isn’t going to have every team in one facility at any one time, and not everybody in MLB is from a restricted state like North Carolina.
Instead of the Glen, NASCAR will hold a race weekend on the Daytona International Speedway road course. This will be the longest racetrack in Cup since the final race of the old Daytona Beach road course in 1958. Daytona Beach is actually tied for the longest track in Cup history with Road America, as both measured/measure at 4.1 miles.
NASCAR was already planning on running the road course for next season’s iteration of the Clash, so this isn’t a huge desperation swing as it would have been if NASCAR chose, say, Sebring International Raceway.
As expected, the sanctioning body announced two Cup doubleheaders at Michigan International Speedway and Dover International Speedway to make up for both tracks’ spring events that were postponed. If this schedule proceeds as scheduled, Cup will be right back on track and will be 10 races away from the off-season.
Running Dover is imperative. If NASCAR can finish Dover, it will be free of all independent race dates it was on the hook for in Cup. Under an emergency scenario, NASCAR could then finish out the season if it absolutely needs to stay in the mid-Atlantic by running at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Bristol Motor Speedway to make up Speedway Motorsports, Incorporated races and Darlington Raceway and Martinsville Speedway for NASCAR races.
What will the fall bring?
The biggest question mark in the sports world for the next month will be football. It’s July 8 as I write this, and there really doesn’t seem to be an avenue as far as making football work this year. MLB is supposed to be back by the end of the month, but is it really going to work well at all with teams playing all across the country? One of the problems with COVID-19 is that it’s a situation changing every week, and it’s hard to make plans going ahead.
There are four SMI-controlled races and six NASCAR controlled-races in the Cup playoffs. Darlington, Bristol, Charlotte and Martinsville would be somewhat safe racetracks. Talladega Superspeedway and Kansas Speedway should be fine as well. Richmond Raceway is questionable, as the track is in a more developed area than Martinsville, and the state/local governments may be much more hesitant to allow NASCAR to come back.
Texas Motor Speedway has a NASCAR weekend coming up next weekend and another one scheduled for the playoffs, but Texas has developed into a huge COVID hotspot the last few weeks. Florida has as well, but it’s also clear that Florida’s government doesn’t care about this pandemic and isn’t going to kick NASCAR out of the state.
Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Phoenix Raceway are obvious question marks. That’s a lot of travel by a lot of people if NASCAR wants to run those races. It’s understandable that NASCAR wants to try to get those dates in at all costs, as those local government deals are worth a lot of money, but at the same time, it’s really not worth the risk.
The Xfinity Series will finish up August with 22 races on the year, two less than what the original 2020 schedule had it pegged for. NASCAR’s national touring season ends when Cup crowns its champion, so NXS is going to need to run 11 races over the last 10 weeks of the season in order to continue to be on pace.
The NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series’ 14th race of the season will be World Wide Technology Speedway at Gateway. It will need to run nine races in the final 10 weeks of the season, so it’ll even be able to sneak an off-weekend in there. Unlike Cup, which only has a brief 10-day break this season between the upcoming Thursday night race at Kansas Speedway and the race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in the first weekend of August.
Who has progressed this season?
Racing in the pandemic, while it may look similar to pre-COVID to the naked eye, has resulted in quite a big shift in how well drivers have been doing.
This past week, I compared 35 different Cup drivers and teams to themselves at this point in the season last year. The metric used was regular season points, as those give us an idea of where drivers are at in the first couple of stages in these races, instead of just finishing order.
The document that resulted can be found here. There are a few big takeaways from this data, the biggest being just how far Kyle Busch has fallen this season. And that makes sense, as anybody who has been watching these races know by now, Busch prefers having practice and qualifying instead of just showing up to race.
It’s questionable if Busch will end up getting a win this season. If he does not, he will fall just short of being just the second person, after Rusty Wallace, to tie Ricky Rudd’s all-time modern era record for most consecutive seasons with at least one win.
What hasn’t been as publicized is Joey Logano’s fall. And that’s a pretty big one, considering just how good Logano was in the first four races of the year. Logano has gone from leading points going into the COVID break to currently sixth in points
On the flip side, Bubba Wallace has basically been shot out of a cannon. And to be clear, while Wallace has benefited from no practice, the No. 43 team was already on pace for a big jump prior to the break. Wallace was 18th in points after Phoenix in March, 10 positions better than his 2019 result.
The Front Row Motorsports cars have also done well for themselves. While John Hunter Nemechek has been the more exciting of the pair as a surprisingly good rookie, Michael McDowell has also been doing a great job quietly sneaking into the top 10 at the conclusion of these races.
Can anybody get past Kevin Harvick at Kentucky Speedway?
Kentucky Motor Speedway is this week.
Kentucky is the newest facility in the Cup Series, yet it’s also pretty generic. On TV, it really doesn’t look any different from most mile-and-a-half racetracks. At least with, say, Vegas, there’s the atmosphere of it being in, well, Vegas. Here, the only thing that seems unique about Kentucky is how much the track pushes turn 3 as this huge deal and how it’s a miracle for drivers to make it through there in one piece every lap. I don’t see it.
The action began on Thursday night, for the first of two Xfinity races in the bluegrass state. Austin Cindric won over Riley Herbst in second after a big slide by Chase Briscoe on the final restart. Many teams will have to go to the back for Friday night’s event after a number of multi-car accidents.
The Truck Series will take over Kentucky on Saturday night. One driver who desperately needs a good finish is Matt Crafton, who is a dismal 14th in points after wrecking out at Pocono Raceway. That team, infamously, is more about consistency then it is about actually winning races, both things the defending series champion hasn’t done much of this season.
As for the Cup race, well, Kevin Harvick seems pretty good this year. And there’s going to be a lot of determination from Harvick as far as winning this race and completing his trophy collection of facilities on the circuit. While smaller teams are having better runs with no practice, the downside to that is the lack of competition for Harvick and Denny Hamlin. Even Hendrick Motorsports has kind of been a little off.