Views from the Grandstands

Kay Bell | April 01, 2010

Trimming the Tracks

NASCAR’s schedule has race fans seeing double too much of the time


Daytona
Daytona can keep its two races, but some other duplicates should be axed.

As the 2010 NASCAR season got under way, Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing co-owner Felix Sabates said Michigan International Speedway should be knocked off the Sprint Cup schedule because of its state’s economic woes.

Sabates got in trouble, and he did phrase things a bit indelicately — but he’s got a point. There are too many races and too many duplicate races. Too many tracks are the same, which means the races are often boring.

I fear that NASCAR is about to make the schedule even worse. Recently, word came out that International Speedway Corp. had received approval to build a casino at Kansas Speedway and that NASCAR was intent on adding a second race there as early as 2011.

No offense to the good people of Kansas — I’ll leave the insults to Sabates — but that track is the last place that needs more Sprint Cup racing. My problem is that Kansas is a 1.5-mile, D-shaped oval — like almost every other track NASCAR has embraced in recent years, all of which spread the field out and make for little side-by-side racing.

I’d prefer fewer, but more entertaining, races. So let’s get out the old chopping block and trim some fat from the NASCAR schedule.

The 2010 season began Feb. 6 with the Bud Shootout and ends Nov. 21 at Homestead, encompassing 36 official races over 38 racing weekends. I’d keep the starting point about where it is, but I’d end a month sooner, before it gets completely swallowed up by fall weather, football and the fast-approaching holidays.

Daytona can keep its two races, especially since the summer race — it’ll always be the Firecracker 400 to me — moved to Saturday night. Talladega can keep its two races, too, though I still believe there’s a better way than restrictor plates to tame the 2.5-mile superspeedways.

Bristol can keep its two because that little place is just awesome and because the schedule ought to include a true mix of superspeedways, speedways, road courses and short tracks. Martinsville and Richmond can keep their two as well, and I’d return the spring Texas race to that crazy little uphill-downhill North Wilkesboro, N.C., track.

I’d also return the late-season California race to Rockingham, N.C., another track with personality and heritage that NASCAR should be cherishing instead of abandoning. North Wilkesboro and Rockingham both lost their dates because they’re in somewhat remote locales and didn’t always sell out. But hey, if a full house is the primary criterion for deciding which tracks live and die, then about half the ones from last year should get the axe, too.

NASCAR ought to quit scrambling for every last dollar and focus on staging the best possible races at the best possible tracks, even if that means helping some of these historic facilities get up to date. There was nothing wrong with the racing at Rockingham, only the unpredictable early-spring weather.

Charlotte can keep its two events as well as the All-Star race, because I believe the teams deserve a few “home games.” After that, no one deserves more than one.

Instead of two races at that awful New Hampshire track, I’d move one to Toronto and run through the streets like CART used to. I’d love to see the Sprint Cup cars rumble through a big city — my ultimate street-course dream is New York City, but if you thought that pothole at Daytona was bad …

I’d also move one Pocono race to the wide-open airport track in Cleveland, which would be the ultimate bookend to the close-quarters racing of Toronto. And I’d relocate a Michigan race to the awesome road course at Road America. The Nationwide Series will go there this summer, and I’m betting it’ll be a lot of fun.

So there we have it: Staging two races would be Bristol, Charlotte, Daytona, Martinsville, Richmond and Talladega. Joining the schedule would be Cleveland, North Wilkesboro, Road America, Rockingham and Toronto.

And keeping one race would be Atlanta, California, Chicagoland, Darlington (returning the Southern 500 to Labor Day), Dover, Homestead, Indianapolis, Kansas, Las Vegas, Michigan, New Hampshire, Phoenix, Pocono, Sonoma (moving late in the season to give the Chase a road-course component), Texas and Watkins Glen.

That’s 33 races, down from 36. I’d also eliminate one of the four off-weeks, keeping the one on Easter and putting the others at midway of the regular season and between the end of the regular season and the start of the Chase.

That would allow NASCAR to end its season in late October, without having to worry about freeze warnings or snowflakes at its later races — and, more importantly, having provided a much-improved variety of interesting, compelling top-flight racing.

Kay Bell is an Austin, Texas-based writer. When she’s not yelling at her television during NASCAR races, she blogs about taxes and other financial topics at www.dontmesswithtaxes.typepad.com.


Loose lugnuts

IRL out? One rumor that just won’t go away is that one of the reasons Danica Patrick made her jump to NASCAR this year is that the IRL might not be around in 2011. Despite a title sponsorship from clothier Izod, the rumor goes, the IRL’s finances are so perilous that the whole series might not survive beyond this season.

I have no idea whether there’s any truth to this. But we learned last year how ex-IRL chief Tony George’s family, which owns the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, fired him from both the IRL and the Indy 500 because he shoveled so many millions of their dollars into the IRL without much return. Especially in a down economy, the loss of that stipend might prove the difference between survival and extinction.

I can’t imagine the United States with no major open-wheel racing series. And if there’s no IRL, what the heck does that mean for the future of the Indy 500? It gives me a headache to even think about.

Change is good. Kudos to NASCAR for changing the green-white-checker rule to allow for up to three attempts to produce a green-flag finish, though I wish they’d just allow for unlimited tries. In any case, I appreciate that NASCAR is trying harder to provide a full-speed finish and that teams will have to consider the possibility of a multi-try finish in their fuel calculations.

I also approve of the decision to switch from rear wings back to spoilers on the Sprint Cup cars. The spoilers make the cars look more like the stock cars we’re all used to and give the drivers more visibility out the back window than those big wings, which really didn’t seem to add much to the racing.

Daytona disaster. Those two huge delays to fix the track during the Daytona 500 were just unacceptable. I appreciate that factors like cold and rain can adversely affect asphalt, but there’s no reason for the Daytona folks not to keep the track up to snuff all the time. Clearly, repaving the entire 2.5-mile tri-oval is very expensive. But give me a break: Daytona hasn’t been repaved since 1978.

Besides, the Speedway rakes in around $100 million for the Daytona 500 alone and generates more than $150 million per year. For as much as Daytona charges us fans, they surely can pay us back with a world-class racing surface.

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