This column is a series of proposals that essentially amount to where I’d like to see NASCAR be at in 10 years’ time. Now that the 2020 season is over and we’ve all gotten a good idea as to what exactly are the limits to the industry after being pushed to the brink by COVID-19, now’s the time to really look ahead as to what’s next.
What would the series look like?
There are some aspects of NASCAR that would stay the same; the Cup Series would stay the Cup Series. But a lot would change in 10 years, beginning with the Xfinity Series.
NXS has had a bit of an identity crisis recently in what kind of car it uses. Cup uses the Camaro, NXS uses the Camaro. Cup uses the Mustang, NXS uses the Mustang. The only outlier is Toyota, with the Camry running in Cup and the Supra running in NXS.
As a dirty, rotten millennial, these cars outside of the Camry are largely inaccessible to me. It’s not worth the cost or the insurance hike to get these cars on a modest budget. That’s fine with the larger-than-life Cup Series, but NXS’ entire marketing campaign is built around new, young faces trying to get their foot in the door in NASCAR.
So let’s cut the horsepower in half, take some weight off and run electric engines — basically NASCAR E. Run models like the Corolla and the Bolt. Have that be the series of the future, while Cup is the peak of today’s cars for the blue-collar worker.
The Camping World Truck Series’ vehicles are fine the way they are. The lower series, however, would be completely revamped.
Everything under Trucks besides the modified tour and the international series would now fall under the ARCA banner. This includes all of the local racing series.
What ARCA would become is basically what the old Sportsman division was before the series went national, the schedule was standardized and it became NXS. There would be hundreds of races across the country at local tracks, which would all count towards a national ARCA championship. Say goodbye to the East and West series. Instead, ARCA would host 10 big national races at places like Daytona International Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Those races would count in a big way to the overall series championship. This is why there are no NXS stats prior to 1982; it’s a confusing series structure, but it works in the current weekly racing series program.
ARCA and the international NASCAR series would use one common rulebook, using a common car that can be entered everywhere. The international series, however, would use spec engines exclusive to their country, while ARCA would not.
Finally, the NASCAR Modified Series, the oldest in NASCAR, would remain as is. Any existing local modified series, such as the one at Bowman-Gray Stadium, would remain in place.
What would the schedules look like?
The schedule for the 2030 season that I made up can be found right here.
For Cup, there’s no reason for most racetracks to have second dates. All short tracks on the schedule sans Auto Club Speedway, along with Daytona and Talladega, have second dates. Additionally, New Hampshire Motor Speedway has two dates, as it is the only Cup track in the Northeast.
Because of this, there are three additional tracks on the Cup schedule that are not on the 2021 schedule. Chicagoland Speedway and Kentucky Speedway are both in great locations and are both still intact as of this year, with Cup level facilities.
The third track is Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis. This short track used to host NXS and Truck events and continues to host a yearly ARCA race to this day. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that racetracks don’t necessarily need big crowds to make money, and while LOR would be the smallest venue on the schedule seating-wise (30,000 seats), it’s not far off from Phoenix Raceway (42,000) or Watkins Glen International (38,900).
It doesn’t matter if LOR is not ready facility-wise to host a Cup race. If NASCAR gives a contract to NHRA, the track owners, guaranteeing them dates for a few years like they did with Nashville Superspeedway, the improvements would be made.
LOR is in a good market for NASCAR, with Indianapolis consistently ranking very high in ratings for TV markets not in the piedmont region of the Southeast. More importantly, every race on that Cup weekend would be at night, as there will be a lot of fans already in town for the Indianapolis 500 festivities the week before the big race.
There are four doubleheader weekends in Cup. This is to cut a month off of the season and also because the doubleheader aspect in general was actually pretty exciting this year.
Most Cup starting times on Sundays would be standardized: 1 p.m. ET for East Coast races and 3 p.m. ET for West Coast. While there would be exceptions, mainly LOR and the crown-jewel events held the day before federal holidays, going to a standardized time would help retain viewers week to week, getting them into an easy watch pattern.
For NXS, to be in line with the different car style, that series would actually visit 10 race courses. The goal of the schedule is for NXS to be a bit more of a hybrid series between NASCAR and sister organization IMSA, reflecting its focus on being the series of the future.
There are two new ovals to both the NXS and Truck schedules, in addition to LOR. Memphis International Raceway is a short track that is still in business and definitely could host NASCAR races again, while Rockingham Speedway is slowly coming back with its new ownership, already hosting a CARS Tour race in 2021.
For the Truck Series, the two new additions on the schedule exclusive to the series are the return of Eldora Speedway and Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway. The legendary Fairgrounds short track is a perfect complement as a Saturday night feature on Nashville Superspeedway weekend.
There would be no qualifying under this format, except for the season-opening races at Daytona. NASCAR was just fine with no qualifying this year, and they will continue to be next season. Every series would have the field lineup based off of an algorithm like this season, with the only practice being a 20-minute warm-up session three hours prior to the start of the race. This gives teams time to fix basic problems that can really only be fixed with just a little bit of practice time.
If more than 40 cars show up in any series, there would be a qualifying session for the final five positions on the starting grid, with those in the top 30 in points spared from having to participate.
The reason for not having so much on-track time is to save money in the short term. There are very good arguments for why it’s bad to limit practice time, chief among them that big teams would just dump the money into simulator research and development. But there’s only but so much return teams can get from simulation software, and the reality is that the big spenders are always going to have more resources than the small fries. At least this way, the smaller teams can save money by preparing just one car each week.
What would the race and playoff formats be?
I actually like the stage system, so as far as how races are contested, there’s not a whole lot of differences from my NASCAR and actual NASCAR. There would be some changes, however.
Instead of the winner receiving five playoff points, the winner would receive eight. The top-five finishers would also receive playoff points in one-point denominations, with second receiving four on down to fifth receiving one.
For road courses and Pocono Raceway, all three stages would end on the final lap of the race. This means there would be no stage breaks, while the top-10 finishers would receive stage points for finishing in the top 10 in the first two stages, and the race winner would also receive two playoff points for winning the first two stages. This would bring a level of strategy these races are really missing now with stage breaks.
Playoffs are a different matter. The current playoff format is too long and has a problem with rewarding drivers adequately for regular season dominance. Just ask Kevin Harvick about that this year.
Instead, the playoffs would be one-fifth of the regular season in each national touring series. This means all three national touring series would conclude their regular seasons at Darlington Raceway.
The playoffs would be for six, five or four races, depending on the series. There are no eliminations. The top 10 in points, if they make it into the playoffs, would be awarded a bundle of playoff points, with the regular-season champion receiving 60 points, second 50 points, the rest of the top five in five-point denominations, and then sixth receives 25 points and the rest of the top 10 are awarded them in five-point denominations.
After all playoff points are assigned to drivers, the playoffs are contested like normal races, with the exception of the final race.
In the final race, playoff drivers are not awarded stage points. Instead, the winner of the race, if they are in the playoffs, would receive 100 points, a 61-point gap from second. All ties in the playoffs are determined by the final race results, so a driver could come back from a 61-point deficit to win the championship. It’s not exactly the current championship race format, but there should still be a fair amount of drivers eligible for the championship heading into the final race.
In order to be playoff eligible in any series, a driver must finish in the top 20 in points in the regular season. There would also no longer be a rule dictating that drivers must attempt every race, as the loss of playoff points are already a big enough incentive not to skip weeks. There would be 10 drivers in NXS and Trucks and 12 in the Cup playoff field.
In NXS and Trucks, the playoff field is more or less determined the same way, with either the 10 drivers with the most wins or the nine with the most wins and the regular-season champion.
In Cup, the first eight playoff seeds are determined the same way: either the top eight winners or the top seven and the regular-season champion. However, the big difference is that the final four spots are reserved for the winners of the four crown jewel races: the Daytona 500, the Coca-Cola 600, the Brickyard 400 and the Southern 500.
This is why the regular season ends with the Brickyard 400 and Southern 500. NASCAR would have not one but two races where it can market it that anybody could win and get into the playoffs. At the same time, a driver still needs to at least finish in the top 20 in points in order to be playoff eligible, so there’s at least some integrity there.
If those final four seeds are not filled by the winners of those four races through various means, they go to the next four drivers with the most wins who are playoff eligible.
What would the Cup field look like?
The current charter system has been good at keeping 36 cars on the track. But there has been a problem that has developed recently: the death of the mid-tier team.
Recently, teams like Germain Racing and Leavine Family Racing have left the sport, while Go FAS Racing has scaled back to a part-time effort. While the inclusion of Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin’s 23XI Racing is a huge development, it’s also the exception, as these teams have largely been replaced by less-funded operations such as StarCom Racing and approximately 47 Rick Ware Racing cars.
The current charter system probably is not going to work long term. Sure, the charters are expensive now. But that doesn’t help at all to attract new owners to the series, which should be the goal of everybody in NASCAR. And the simple reality is that no businessperson is going to drop hundreds of millions of dollars in the first few years of operations in order to have a big, competitive team like Hendrick Motorsports. Again, 23XI is a unique outlier here, because Jordan’s got the connections with so many big potential sponsors for his race team.
There are two different routes NASCAR should go down from here, once it is finished with the current charter agreement post-2024.
The first path is pretty simple: no more charters. Just the top 30 in points are locked in to every race. Only the final 10 grid positions are determined by qualifying.
The second is a full-on franchise system. After the current agreement is finished in 2024 and by 2030, there would be 40 charters assigned to 20 different organizations. Every race team at the Cup level would have two charters and cannot enter any non-charter cars. There would thus be no qualifying sessions at the Cup level besides the Daytona 500.
It seems like a lot, and it is. But the reality is that right now, it would only force five teams (Hendrick, Joe Gibbs Racing, Stewart–Haas Racing, Team Penske and RWR) to downsize.
By my count, there are already 17 teams operating with at least one charter next season, with two other outfits (Kaulig Racing and The Money Team Racing) eying the Cup schedule in 2022 and beyond. So finding 20 teams willing to field Cup cars is not an issue here, as we’re already up to 19, and that’s not counting other NASCAR teams that already field open Cup cars (MBM Motorsports and Gaunt Brothers Racing) or teams that have flirted with Cup in the past, such as GMS Racing.
A full franchise system is risky. That’s why the big teams would have six years to figure out what to do. But imagine just how high the demand for race teams would be, combined with the low cost of entering the game thanks to no practice or qualifying sessions. It would generate a number of new jobs, while also giving everybody more job security.