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Beside the Rising Tide: Outlining a Potential NASCAR 2022 Schedule

FOX has been touting the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season to date as the “best ever.” Sorry, I’d give that honor to 1992 and wouldn’t even provide 2021 to date a spot on my top-10 list of modern-era Cup seasons. As far as the year itself, it’s shaping up to be another Annus Horriblus in a two- or three-year string of them. (Can you imagine what NASCAR 2022 will be like?)

I read this week that TV ratings for the last 30% of the 2021 Cup season are expected to be down — and down significantly. For those of you as loathe to do math as I am, that covers about the last 11 races of the year. Which, in turn, covers the majority of what is supposed to be NASCAR’s all-singing, all-dancing, all-live, all-beautiful playoffs originally designed to return stock car racing to the top tier in sports broadcast ratings.

But we all know what happens in the ratings wars come late summer and early autumn. The NFL returns first with some preseason games, and then both the regular season itself. In a flash, the ratings go through the roof for football and into the toilet for NASCAR. Oh, there was some discussion of boycotting the NFL among conservative pundits in love with the sound of hearing themselves speak and even a sitting president at the time over players kneeling during the national anthem. However, football remains the 600-lb. gorilla in the TV sports ratings game. It sits wherever the hell it wants to at the head table. I see little chance of that changing within my lifetime.

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So how can NASCAR at least staunch the bleeding a bit in the ratings? First off (and this note will be on the test), it needs to shorten the season rather dramatically. NASCAR kicks off its schedule in the dead of winter usually on or around President’s Day weekend in mid-February. The Cup schedule drags on until the week before Thanksgiving, spring, summer and fall all having fallen by the wayside by then.

That’s ludicrous, especially given the amount of events NASCAR will host in that timeframe with very few weekends off (traditionally just Easter, Mother’s Day and one in the summer that I believe has been usurped by the Olympics this year, if in fact the Olympics are held and broadcast [which I’m not betting the ranch on either]). The schedule needs to be trimmed substantially. Ideally, I’d like to see the final race of the Cup schedule, where presumably the champion would be crowned, moved up to Labor Day weekend. And I’d like to see that final race moved to Darlington Raceway, the sport’s spiritual birthplace.

With three non-negotiable exceptions, any track that currently hosts two Cup races (as of the 2021 Cup season) would be cut back to just one race next year. The three exceptions: Bristol Motor Speedway, Martinsville Speedway and Richmond Raceway, naturally.

NASCAR said it heard the fans loud and clear: They wanted more short track racing. NASCAR tried doing it by sleight of hand, suddenly deciding that after all these years Phoenix Raceway, Dover International Speedway and New Hampshire Motor Speedway were, in fact, short tracks. They are not.

With my proposed schedule slashing, a lot of events from the schedule — at least the short tracks — would make up a greater percentage of the total. And, of course, I’m willing to look over any new short track added to Auto Club Speedway, if the thing ever gets built. But just one date. That’s all the big track there got annually, anyway.

As for Daytona International Speedway, we’ll still kick off the season there. There aren’t too many places in the U.S. where the weather is warm enough to race in February. But for Daytona in 2022, I propose it be a one-and-done type deal. The road course never grabbed me, and it seems unwise for any track to host two dates on consecutive weekends. As for the summertime race, it’s gone too. Somehow NASCAR never got the fact it tends to rain in the afternoons and evenings in Daytona Beach, Fla., and schedule that race appropriately. Well, I shouldn’t say they never got it. In the late 1960s and even a lot of the 1970s, the race used to start at 11 a.m. ET (on the Fourth of July, no matter what day of the week that was) well before the skies over Daytona grew stormy.

Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Phoenix and Atlanta Motor Speedway are next on my chopping block. Each will retain a single date, losing their second.

I know some people won’t like that I envision Talladega Superspeedway as having just one race as well. The track was designed (with the methods of the times) well before the Cup cars started producing the levels of power they do today. Hosting two races a year at Talladega is just flirting with more injury or death.

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I’m not sure what to about Charlotte Motor Speedway. The track hosts two Cup dates annually, the 600 and the one that people who are a little odd in the head call the ROVAL (which sounds like a line of cheap flushable underpants). You know what? Let the track make the call on which event it hosts, but only one of them. No fair switching from the big track to the ROVAL at 300 miles.

Pocono Raceway’s back-to-back Saturday and Sunday races don’t make the cut. One of the advantages I envision to cutting tracks back to a single date a year is an ability to put more butts in the seats on the remaining date if COVID-19 protocols one day allow it again.

Sorry, but on my proposed schedule I don’t see a place for New Hampshire moving forward. It’s a track that never hosted much in the way of good racing, it was the scene of two tragedies and was part of what was then referred to as schedule realignment that cost us North Wilkesboro Speedway. Karma is a bitch, and a stone cold one at that.

Nor do I recall very fondly any of the runnings of the Brickyard 400. As far as I’m concerned, NASCAR at Indianapolis Motor Speedway was an experiment that failed in praying at somebody else’s church. After the tire debacle back in 2008 at the Brickyard, the race should have been trotted out back behind the shed and dispatched with a single shot.

Texas Motor Speedway gets to make a choice, too. It can either host the All-Star Race again or it can maintain a fall race points date. (As long as it promises not to whine about that date interfering with deer-hunting season.) I’d hope it’d choose to stage the points race, as the time of the All-Star Race has come and gone, with each new permutation of the concept more ridiculous than the one that preceded it.

Now that we’ve got the season trimmed down to a more manageable length, let’s do the same to the races themselves. The only ones that will be allowed to be more than 400 kilometers in length will be the Daytona 500 (the season opener) the World 600 (tradition) and the Southern 500 (the season finale at Darlington Raceway every year).

And while we’re doing some surgery, let’s trim race start times a bit, too. With the exception of tracks in the western time zone, all Cup races shall start at or before 1 p.m. ET like God and ESPN originally intended. Naturally, an exception will have to be made for the Bristol night race, but that will be the only event on the roster scheduled to run after dark not forced to do so by a weather delay. Like Ben Blake taught me, the only thing worse than rain at a racetrack is rain at a racetrack with lights.

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21 thoughts on “Beside the Rising Tide: Outlining a Potential NASCAR 2022 Schedule”

  1. Glad your not in charge Matt. I don’t want a shorter season (I’d be willing to go back to a 32 race season but that is it), I just want more short tracks and more diverse tracks in general. I am fine with visiting most tracks once (except for Bristol, Martinsville and Darlington) I just want more different tracks. And my answer to the NFL is to run cup races on Saturday for the playoffs. Most of which would be run on Saturday night at 7PM EST. I think you could market the hell out of Saturday night races for the championship and actually get people to tune for a 10 week sprint.

    • And then you can compete with all the college football games on Saturday. Individually Nascar comes out the winner, but collectively they would steamroll just like the NFL.

  2. wonder what na$car is planning for daytona 500 2022? superbowl is scheduled for 2/14. so do we push daytona back a week?

    saturday night races are good, cause typically there isn’t too much interesting on tv that night. however, it will have viewership problems once local racing seasons start up.

    by time the 3 pm start time arrives i’ve forgotten about the race, or am already engaged in a sunday afternoon nap.

  3. We have to keep New Hampshire on the schedule. If I am correct, attendance at NHIS has not taken as big of a hit as many other tracks. Up to a few years ago, NHIS was usually the most heavily attended sporting event in New England for many years. New England supports NASCAR racing. And the Whelan Modified Series puts on an AWESOME show at Loudon!

    • Thanks for this post. You beat me to it. Cup races were sold out there regularly when NH had 2 races. Its also in the Boston market, so Nascar would be dumb to leave there, despite Matt’s hatred for the track. And blaming NH for North Wilkesboro is quite comical. Like the track would still be on the schedule had that not happened.

      And since we are talking about tracks unworthy, how but we just get rid of Pocono altogether. It’s in the middle of nowhere, has had boring races for years, and a driver died there 2 years ago, so there probably isn’t a need for it anymore. Sound familiar?

      And I see “the sitting president at the time” is still in your head. Deny it if it makes you feel better, but the NFL took a hit with the whole kneeling thing.

  4. I agree with Matt in concept, if not in all details. The only way to stay out of NFL regular season games is to either cut out races or get rid of all off weeks and run a couple of double header weekends or mid-week shows. The mid-week shows were not positive. The best example was Martinsville which lost a quarter of its audience with a mid-week show last year, but its numbers were still on par with the Richmond playoffs race or rain delayed races.
    As for tracks… the ratings numbers don’t lie. Let them be your guide and for god sake, Nascar, quit trying to expand into places where you aren’t appreciated. That being said, the only opinions that matter are Fox’s and NBC’s

    • Right now it’s Fox and NBC but I’ve got a feeling it will be different for the next contract, and there’s going to be a lot of streaming and then screaming involved.

      • Seems that ultimately streaming will be the more financially rewarding way to go. And the screaming will as you say begin. Some already feel wronged that it is on “cable”. So how will they feel if it is on the streaming networks. But perhaps this is a contract too early.

        • Yeah and the ones feel wronged by it being on cable have stopped watching. Want another wave of defectors, start making it only available on streaming.

          BTW, I wouldn’t be averse to having to pay for the race via streaming as long as that means there are no commercials. And…. if there are no commercials then we really wouldn’t need stages for commercial breaks.

  5. Seems that ultimately streaming will be the more financially rewarding way to go. And the screaming will as you say begin. Some already feel wronged that it is on “cable”. So how will they feel if it is on the streaming networks. But perhaps this is a contract too early.

  6. The 1992 season was best known for the final race, to which Matt has dedicated his entire career. There was nothing special about the rest of it.

    • Actually, I thought the 1992 season was pretty impressive since Kulwicki made up such a large points deficit after the last Dover race. Was rooting for Kulwicki, but wouldn’t have been upset if Davey Allison would have won the championship. Heck, even if Harry Gant or Kyle Petty could have ended up champions (even though they were such long-shots) that would have been pretty nice to see. Really enjoyed watching Junior Johnson, Tim Brewer and Elliott choke away the championship at Atlanta since they weren’t smart enough to count the number of laps they needed to lead to clinch the title.

  7. Well you know Matt, though I agree with your ideas, but your surgeons scalpel seems pointed more to the SMI tracks – and you know what that means. I wish NASCAR could not deal with them.
    Indy should be removed – period end of story. I get sick when they call it a “Crown Jewel”.

  8. *how-about-no-bear.gif*

    The Roval is awesome, mile tracks are variable depending on the current system of defining what a short track is, and the season length is just right. I wouldn’t cry if Richmond and Kentucky got dropped, but otherwise, let the experimenting continue!

  9. Streaming would be nice if you could get high speed internet or good cell service. But with out I would probably put in a dvd.

  10. Heck, if they could just prune the schedule down so that it ended by Halloween (which it did in days of yore), that would be a good thing. This would work out to a 32-33 race schedule, still a couple too many, but tolerable.

  11. New Hampshire gets a bad rap. I think the races there have been great the last few years. Maybe the gen 6 car is just a better flat-track car than the previous generations, or maybe the drivers are just better at it, or maybe the track has aged well since it’s last paving. Either way I like NASCAR best at tracks a mile or shorter so I’m not working to give up New Hampshire. It has definitely produced better racing than Richmond has lately, but Richmond keeps two dates when New Hampshire can’t even have one? There’s a good racing scene in the northeast that NASCAR shouldn’t ignore. It’s not as hardcore as the south but it’s certainly more authentic than California or Texas.

    • I’ve been saying for years that the problem isn’t the tracks. It’s been the cars since the Car Of Terror showed up. Nobody complained about Michigan or Pocono or New Hampshire (except for the restrictor plate race that wasn’t the fault of the track) or the distance of the races. This is a problem created by the NA$CAR brain trust (Brian), using the term very very very loosely that they keep adding to with every subsequent decision they have made. And also part of the problem are the self-entitled drivers who don’t want to “race.”

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