Race Weekend Central

Did You Notice?: 2023 NASCAR Schedule Needs to Let Other Series Spread Their Wings & Fly

Did You Notice? … Not every NASCAR top-tier division is off this weekend? The Camping World Truck Series will hold one of three standalone events this season, running the dirt at Knoxville Raceway this Saturday night (June 18).

Only two other Truck events this year are being held on their own, without support from even the NASCAR Xfinity Series: a road course event at Mid-Ohio (July 9) and a long-awaited return to Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis (July 29). Even Lucas Oil is a bit of a stretch as it’s not like the Cup Series is far away; its a few miles down the road, running the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course that same weekend.

So that leaves two — count ’em, two — opportunities for this division to establish itself with top billing in its own market. That’s still more than the Xfinity Series, whose one standalone event this year already happened (Portland International Raceway earlier this month).

The decision to merge Cup, Xfinity and Truck schedules into the same weekends isn’t new; it’s happened slowly over the last decade. But during a time NASCAR President Steve Phelps has promised to be “bold and innovative,” could we see a change in that philosophy down the road?

See also
Truckin' Thursdays: Trucks Having Something to Prove at Knoxville

Phelps has already shown he’s willing to buck conventional wisdom from the Brian France era. We’ve seen that with several schedule adjustments on the Cup Series side over the past few years, from the addition of road courses like Circuit of the Americas and Road America to the debut of this year’s L.A. Clash at the Coliseum, potentially opening the floodgates for the sport to weasel its way into the middle of major cities.

However, there are a number of markets that remain underserved, living with little top-tier NASCAR racing in any form:  the Rocky Mountains, the Northeast, and Seattle come to mind. So why not move some of your inventory around in the form of standalone races? To give you an idea of how much both the Xfinity and Truck series have been adjusted, take a look at their schedules from just 20 years ago.

2002 XFINITY (THEN BUSCH) SERIES SCHEDULE: 10 STANDALONE EVENTS

Nashville Superspeedway (twice), New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Nazareth Speedway (PA), Kentucky Speedway, The Milwaukee Mile, Gateway (now World Wide Technology Raceway), Pikes Peak Raceway (CO), Indianapolis Raceway Park, Memphis Motorsports Park (TN)

2002 NASCAR CAMPING WORLD (THEN CRAFTSMAN TRUCK) SERIES SCHEDULE: 14 STANDALONE EVENTS

Gateway (now World Wide Technology Raceway), Pikes Peak Raceway (CO), Texas Motor Speedway (twice), Memphis Motorsports Park (TN), The Milwaukee Mile, Kansas Speedway, Kentucky Speedway, Michigan International Speedway, Indianapolis Raceway Park, Nashville Superspeedway, South Boston Speedway (VA), Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Auto Club Speedway

That’s two dozen races where NASCAR allowed these series to stand on their own. Sometimes, these series would team up on the same weekend but not always; TMS, for example, would pair its Truck races with the IndyCar Series.

Back then, standalones served as opportunities to help grow certain markets that could later be rewarded with a Cup date. Kentucky Speedway was the main benefactor, eventually earning a Cup opportunity in 2011, but they weren’t the only one; Las Vegas and Auto Club wound up with second dates over time.

See also
Eyes on Xfinity: What if Anthony Alfredo Won at Auto Club?

There just seem to be a number of areas, like Portland, NASCAR can utilize lower series to test the waters with minimal investment. As new rules limit Cup drivers dipping into other series, the fields in these series are also healthy once again. Both standalones in 2022 will run with full fields.

Worried about expenses for those events? Why not change the pit road rules to limit green-flag stops and freeze the field under caution, similar to what was done at Portland.

NASCAR finds itself in a unique position these days; back on the rise and with fans interested to see it. So why not spread the wealth and test drive a few smaller tracks or even road courses with Xfinity and Trucks?

Did You Notice? … Hendrick Motorsports has now led 100,000 miles in the NASCAR Cup Series? It’s the first team to reach this milestone, less than 40 years into existence as the four-car operation continues its standard of excellence.

What’s even more incredible, to me, is how many drivers have contributed to that miles led total. Hendrick wasn’t always at the pinnacle of Cup competition and a wide variety of talent levels shuffled through the cockpit in the 1980s and 1990s. 28 drivers total have led a lap in Hendrick equipment, contributing to that record-setting mark.

It’s a list that includes…

Bobby Hamilton. The four-time Cup winner jumpstarted his career with Hendrick when he was hired to drive one of the Days of Thunder cars. Hamilton was just supposed to ride around for the cameras but wound up qualifying a surprise fifth during the fall 1989 event at Phoenix Raceway. Leading five laps that day, Hamilton wound up with a blown engine but impressed enough to get noticed by other teams, eventually moving to Cup full-time by 1991.

Todd Bodine. Yes, the former Truck Series champ once drove for HMS in 1997 as a substitute for an injured Ricky Craven. Taking over the No. 25 for the debut race at Texas Motor Speedway, Bodine got out in front for nine circuits and put himself in position to win the race before crashing out while leading on lap 277. What might have been…

Greg Sacks. The former journeyman driver, who has one career Cup win to his credit (Daytona, 1985) drove an Ultra Slim-Fast car for Hendrick on a limited schedule. Winning a pole position and leading 107 laps, Sacks earned a best finish of second and had high hopes to drive for HMS full-time in 1991. Unfortunately, the sponsor pulled out due to an economic recession; Sacks never had a championship-level ride in the sport again.

Brad KeselowskiYes, the current owner of RFK Racing ran a part-time effort for HMS back in 2009 before doing an about-face and signing with Team Penske full-time for 2010. He led a single lap in the No. 25 car, at Kansas Speedway in 2013 before finishing 13th. People often think Keselowski earned his first Cup win with HMS but that’s not the case; he actually drove the No. 09 car at Talladega that April, pulling one of the sport’s biggest upsets with owner James Finch.

Did You Notice? … Quick hits before taking off…

  • Let’s list the first five winless drivers in the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series point standings: Ryan Blaney, Martin Truex Jr., Christopher Bell, Aric Almirola and Kevin Harvick. Those five drivers have combined for 21 wins, gone 9-for-10 on qualifying for the postseason and made two Championship 4 appearances. Yet one of them won’t be making the playoffs in 2022, and if someone like Tyler Reddick, Erik Jones or Bubba Wallace pulls an upset? That number will only go up.
  • Along those same lines, just five of the 12 winners this season are over age 30: Daniel Suarez (30), the Busch brothers, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano. It leaves the sport on pace to have its youngest postseason field since the format expanded to 16 drivers back in 2014.

Follow @NASCARBowles

About the author

The author of Bowles-Eye View (Mondays) and Did You Notice? (Wednesdays) Tom spends his time overseeing Frontstretch’s 30 staff members as its majority owner. Based in Philadelphia, Bowles is a two-time Emmy winner in NASCAR television and has worked in racing production with FOX, TNT, and ESPN while appearing on-air for SIRIUS XM Radio and FOX Sports 1's former show, the Crowd Goes Wild.

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John W Cooke

I’m with you on having standalone events with the Cup, Xfinity and Trucks. It just makes good sense. I was thinking the other day that The Rock would be a good place for such events. And with the All-Star event being so lackluster, and the state of N.C. giving the track an infusion of cash, why not hold the event there and make it a special weekend with all three series. Being so close to home for the teams and having the event on a proven, racy track would be an upside for all. A 3-groove track under the lights would be great!

Shayne

NASCAR gave Andy Hillenburg (owner of Rockingham at the time) 2 truck races in 2012 & 2013. Attendance wasn’t the greatest.

Roy Cooper giving tens of millions of dollars to North Wilksboro, Rockingham, and CMS is insane. Somebody is lining their pockets with cash and selling plenty of snake oil.

Bill B

Not sure how much “it makes good sense” to the owners or the TV folks. There are economies of scale when all three series run at the same venue. Fort teams they get to use the same personnel at all three races (engine tuners, pit crew, travel expenses, etc.). For the television people they only have to set up cameras once at the beginning of the weekend, they can also use the same personnel, and travel/hotel expenses are minimized. I am just pointing out that what is good for NASCAR may not be good for the other stakeholders.

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