On Wednesday (Sept. 15), NASCAR officially unveiled the 2022 NASCAR Cup schedule.
The schedule includes:
- The Clash at the LA Coliseum on Feb. 6
- Bristol Dirt on Easter Sunday (April 17) in prime time on Fox
- Cup’s inaugural race at Gateway in East St. Louis on June 5
- Pocono Raceway losing one of its two dates
- Homestead-Miami Speedway returning to the playoffs in the Round of 8
- Richmond’s second race moving out of the playoffs to August.
The following Q&A is from a Zoom press conference on Wednesday with Ben Kennedy, NASCAR’s senior vice president of strategy and innovation and a member of the France family.
It has been edited for length and news worthiness.
Q: Why did you put the fall Kansas race on the Sunday afternoon on the first Sunday of the NFL season when they could have run it on the Saturday night and avoided the conflict, similar to what fall Richmond was this year?
BEN KENNEDY: I think on that one, we moved Kansas a little bit later in the Playoffs as a part of the new Playoff schedule that we had in 2020 and 2021. We felt like it was important to move Kansas a little bit earlier into the season to help from a weather standpoint.
To answer your question on Saturday night versus Sunday, I would say a lot of our fans, myself included, are accustomed to turning racing on, NASCAR racing in particular, on Sunday afternoon. I think we all have that habit. Certainly helped us kind of drive the decision to move that there.
Q: For the last couple decades there’s been certain parts of the schedule that have been considered unmovable, whether it’s not racing on Mother’s Day, Easter, the July 4th Daytona tradition, starting the season at Daytona, even two races a year at Dover and Michigan. Those things have changed in a short amount of time. What is the thinking about now being the time to be flexible with that and say we don’t have to do that kind of thing?
KENNEDY: I think it really speaks to a lot of the changes that we’ve made in the schedule, whether that’s the new venues that we go to, some of the reconfigurations that we’ve seen like the Indy road course or Bristol dirt, or to your point running on Mother’s Day and Easter weekend. I think it was part of us being bold and innovative with the schedule, but also being very measured, too.
A lot of these decisions that we’re making obviously come with a lot of consulting with our broadcast partners, getting feedback from the industry, and then doing a ton of research on our fans, our avid fans, casual fans, new fans for what they would like to see as far as racing goes and what time of year.
That ultimately led to the decision to move Darlington to Mother’s Day weekend, like we did this year in 2021. Then ultimately Bristol dirt to Easter Sunday.
Q: Regarding Pocono, one notable change, first time it’s not going to have two dates since the early ’80s. What went into that for Pocono to lose a date?
KENNEDY: I think on the Pocono front, similar to the rest of our schedule, we’re always looking at both our existing tracks and our new tracks. As we shifted over to St. Louis, ultimately those shifts come from somewhere. Last year Chicagoland and Kentucky came off the schedule.
What I will tell you is we do have great racing out in Pocono. The Mattioli and Nick Igdalsky, the entire family, have been great partners of us for several decades and they’ll continue to be partners of ours going into the future as well.
Want to continue that relationship, partnership. The Northeast is an important area for us to be in. Only a couple hours from another very large market in New York. Really important for us to continue to be there and continue to work with the team up there.
Q: The Clash going to Los Angeles, is this something that could start a bit of a trend of holding races, exhibition races, on ‘unconventional courses’ or do you plan to stick in L.A. for the long-term?
KENNEDY: It will be interesting to see not only the feedback coming out of the February event next year, but what that type of racing could look like in general.
If you overlay Bowman Gray Stadium on top of the track surface we have at the L.A. Coliseum, it’s almost identical. We’ve seen some great racing at Bowman Gray Stadium from a racing standpoint, the Coliseum will not disappoint.
I think to also answer your question, as we think about kind of new markets, in particular for some of our international series, I think it opens the door to explore new cities and new markets, emerging markets, that we haven’t been to before. Something that we’re definitely looking at.
I think part of the reasoning behind moving to the Coliseum with the multitude of others is really proof of concept: proof of concept for the track, the event, the format, the supporting events, all the things that really go around that weekend.
Q: In regards to the Bristol dirt race being held on Easter Sunday, I know you mentioned Thanksgiving for the NFL, Christmas Day, but Easter, as you understand, is a rather solemn religious holiday. When you made the decision to put that race on Easter Sunday, was there any concern over people in the industry about going out and working on a day where a lot of people like to spend at church and with their families?
KENNEDY: Yeah, we put a lot of consideration into that. I think to that end, having it later in the day, and on prime time on Sunday, we want to make sure that for fans, families, team members, drivers, that they have the opportunity to celebrate earlier on in the day. Then for fans that may be tuning in at night or coming out to the track that evening, the ability to come out there and continue to be together and watch NASCAR racing we felt like was important.
A big part of the calculus of that decision was making sure that that event was later on in the evening on that day.
Q: A little bit more about Pocono. Did the decision have anything to do with the doubleheader weekend, maybe NASCAR wasn’t happy with it, didn’t go off as they expected maybe?
KENNEDY: No, I don’t think so. We had the opportunity last year during the pandemic, seeing that we had to get all of our events in in a relatively short period of time, to test out midweek racing, to test out doubleheaders.
I think doubleheaders in general, not pointing to Pocono in particular, but doubleheaders in general, I think from a fan perspective our fans, again, are accustomed to tuning in on Sunday afternoon and seeing NASCAR Cup Series racing. For a fan going out there to the track, to have the biggest event of the weekend on that Sunday afternoon I think gives them something to look forward to and builds anticipation around the weekend.
Q: You mentioned if you put Bowman Gray Stadium over the track that you’re going to race on in L.A., it’s virtually identical. If they’re identical, why not just take the Clash to Bowman Gray Stadium, a permanent track where you don’t have to build something temporarily?
KENNEDY: That’s a great question. I think the biggest reasoning behind it is going to the Los Angeles market a week before the Super Bowl, two weeks before Daytona 500. If you look at the schedule today for that exhibition event, the only place we could realistically put it at was ahead of the Daytona 500 and ahead of our season given all the back-to-back racing, making sure we have that off week within the season.
I think on top of that, as I mentioned earlier, a huge market that we have in Los Angeles, No. 1 market for a number of NASCAR fans, No. 2 for viewership, and No. 1 for 18- to 34-year-olds.
We know we haven’t been running in L.A. for the past few years with the pandemic and everything going on, and we felt like it was important for us to get back to the Southern California market in a special way with the Coliseum and with the 25th anniversary out at Fontana.
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