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Editorials


'Perfecting The Schedule'
Summer 2002


The NASCAR Winston Cup series schedule has grown steadily over the past ten years. In 1992 there were 29 Winston Cup events. Two years later the number climbed to 31. In 1997 the schedule increased to 32 events. Two years after that there were 34 points paying races. In 2001 the number jumped to a modern era record 36 races.

NASCAR President Mike Helton has admitted that the schedule is at a maximum right now. However, certain race track owners with one Winston Cup race at their facility have urged NASCAR for a second date. The request often catches NASCAR in a quandary. Sure, they could award a second race date to Texas, California, and Las Vegas. But if they schedule expands to 38 or 39 races, it will be near impossible to field a full 43 car field each week. With 36 races in 2002, there have been times when just 43 cars have entered the race guaranteeing a full field.

One of the problems is that NASCAR is tied to tradition-- Rockingham, Martinsville, and Darlington are tracks that made NASCAR what it is. But having 12 races within 250 miles of Charlotte doesn't give sponsors the kind of exposure they are often looking for. Nevertheless, those tracks earned their second race dates over the years. Though I do find it interesting how NASCAR cites "tradition" when awarding race dates yet blatantly turns its back on its past. Whereas legends in baseball, basketball, and hockey are celebrated and revered, past drivers are often left in obscurity after retirement. That is, unless their last name is Petty. Sure, NASCAR honored its legends in 1998 during its 50th anniversary season. But that was mostly for marketing purposes than a true appreciation of its history.

Another problem of the current NASCAR schedule is logistics. Nearly all of the teams are based near Charlotte, North Carolina. There are four races in the Pacific time zone. However, there is only one race (Sears Point) that is followed by an off-weekend. For the teams it creates a rush to get the hauler back to the shop, load it up, and go to the next race. NASCAR tried to cut costs by implementing a single engine rule in 2002. That's window dressing. Ask Brett Bodine about cutting costs. He'll tell you about the schedule. As more races (and exhibition events) are added, the more money sponsors have to shell out. Money to pay for the team's transportation to and from the track, salaries, increased testing, and additional manpower.

I've thought about ways to make the schedule both cost effective and workable for the race teams, tracks, and fans. The novel idea is the odd/even year race sharing. It will probably not satisfy all, but it allows the series to grow while continuing to satisfy traditional markets with races... at least every other year.

What follows is a sample schedule based on the 2003 calendar. Please note, this probably doesn't have a snowball's chance in hell of actually happening. But it just might be a better solution than the current situation.

Friday, February 14 - Daytona Beach (exhibition)
Idea: It saves the race teams a full week in terms of time at Daytona. Yes, the Budweiser Shootout is on a Friday. But not just any Friday. It will be a 7:00 pm start. What's better than a sprint race under the lights?
Can it happen? International Speedway Corporation is for all practical purposes NASCAR Inc. While the two entities don't share the same stationary, they share everything else-- including bathrooms. ISC owns Daytona. Not likely to happen.

Sunday, February 16 - Daytona Beach
Idea: The traditional start to the season-- the Daytona 500. Starting time at 1:00 pm. Qualifying will be on Wednesday, February 12-- starting at 7:00 pm. Yes, under the lights. The Twin-125's will be in the standard Thursday slot.
Can it happen? Always has.

Sunday, February 23 - Homestead (odd) / Darlington (even)
Idea: Homestead is like racing around a parking lot. No banking, difficult to pass, and relatively dull racing. Darlington has been rumored to lose its spring date for several years. The odd/even year race share plan ensures that won't happen.
Can it happen? Both tracks are ISC owned.... so, it's unlikely they'd split a single date amongst two of their tracks.

Sunday, March 2 - Rockingham
Idea: An early season tradition.
Can it happen: Yes.

Sunday, March 9 - Talladega
Idea: Yes, it's early in the year. But racing at Talladega still packs the grandstands.
Can it happen? Probably too close to Daytona for ISC to schedule 'Dega in this slot. They prefer a build up to the restrictor plate races... mainly for marketing purposes.

Sunday, March 16 - Texas
Idea: Bruton Smith has been clamoring for a second race in Texas. Here's the first.
Can it happen? It's early in the year, but 200,000 people will pack TMS for Winston Cup racing.

Sunday, March 23 - Pikes Peak (odd) / Memphis (even)
Idea: Pikes Peak and Memphis both allow side by side racing in the corners. Both are somewhat reminiscent of Richmond in their make up.
Can it happen? Doubtful. The bluegrass jewels are Nashville and Kentucky Speedway. Pikes Peak is a nice track, but it's still lost in the Rockies. Though I know Sterling Marlin would love to have a race there. (Coors = Golden, Colorado)

Sunday, March 30 - Atlanta
Idea:I know Bruton Smith hates the March race date at Atlanta. The weather is unpredictable. This one is about two weeks later than normal..
Can it happen: Yes.

Sunday, April 6 - Martinsville
Idea: Clay Campbell had fighting words for anyone who talked about taking one of Martinsville's race dates. Short track racing is the roots of the sport. I'd make this an odd/even set up if North Wilkesboro could ever come back.
Can it happen? North Wilkesboro come back? Not as long as its owned by two "fine people" who currently own it.

Sunday, April 13 - Las Vegas
Idea: Push Las Vegas back a month. It's always been a showcase event and this will separate it somewhat from Daytona.
Can it happen? It could, it should, but it probably won't.

Sunday, April 20 - Easter (0ff-weekend)
First off weekend of the season.

Sunday, April 27 - California
Idea: Come out of an off weekend with a west coast race.
Can it happen? It has in the past, it can in the future.

Saturday, May 3 - Richmond
Idea: Under the lights at Richmond. As good as it gets.
Can it happen? Of course. Just stay away from that dreaded sealer.

Sunday, May 11 - Mother's Day (Off-weekend)

Saturday, May 17 - Bristol
Idea: Considering how much hype the August night race at Bristol gets, it seems only natural that both Bristol races should be under the lights. For this one, it'll be a day/night race. Starting time of 6:30 pm.
Can it happen? In this slot on the schedule it could.

Friday, May 23 - The Winston (exhibition)
Idea: Providing it remains in Charlotte, it should be a one-day show. Practice and qualifying in the morning. The all-star race at 9 pm on Friday night.
Can it happen? It would cut into Speedway Motorsports' profit margin. Then again, NASCAR makes the schedule. Yes, it could happen. But the event could also be moved to a different track.

Sunday, May 25 - Charlotte
Idea: The Memorial Day weekend tradition. Qualifying on Thursday.
Can it happen? This is the way it currently is.

Sunday, June 1 - Chicagoland
Idea: After a fortnight in Charlotte, the series goes to Joliet (not to confused with Chicago which is about 90 minutes away)
Can it happen? Chicagoland is a staple on the schedule since ISC owns the track.

Sunday, June 8 - Dover
Idea: The annual MBNA Dover Mall Traffic Jam 400.
Can it happen? A traditional June stop on the NASCAR tour, located on Route 13 somewhere between slower lower Delaware and YouDee.

Sunday, June 15 - Pocono
Idea: Summer in the Pocono Mountains.
Can it happen? It has since 1974.

Sunday, June 22 - Michigan
Idea: The traditional June stop in the Irish Hills of Michigan.
Can it happen? Some things should never change. This part of the schedule is one of them.

Sunday, June 29 - Off weekend
Idea: A mid-season break.
Can it happen? It's necessary.

Saturday, July 5 - Daytona
Idea: The Pepsi 400 under the lights at Daytona.
Can it happen? Always has, always will (I hope!)

Sunday, July 13 - Watkins Glen
Idea: Turn right, turn left in Central New York.
Can it happen? About a month earlier than usual. Provides something different following 160 laps at Daytona.

Sunday, July 20 - Loudon
Idea: A stop in New England.
Can it happen? The warmest part of summer is an idea time for the northern swing on the schedule.

Sunday, July 27 - Dover (odd)/Rockingham (even)
Idea: Move Dover up one month in odd years. Move the second Rockingham race here for the even years
Can it happen? Sure. That is, if Dover and The Rock are going to continue to have two races.

Sunday, August 3 - Indianapolis
Idea: The grandest stage in motorsports.
Can it happen? The Brickyard 400 has been one of NASCAR's greatest success stories.

Sunday, August 10 - Michigan (odd)/Pocono (even)
Idea: The second race in the Irish Hills. A second race at Pocono
Can it happen? Always has. Two competitive tracks in an ideal locations.

Sunday, August 17 - Off weekend
Idea: An off weekend in the middle of summer.
Can it happen? Not in today's era of the jam packed schedule. But it would be a nice respite.

Saturday, August 23 - Bristol
Idea: As good as it gets.
Can it happen? This is NASCAR racing.

Sunday, August 31 - Darlington
Idea: Southern 500. Labor Day.
Can it happen? Makes perfect sense.

Saturday, September 6 - Richmond
Idea: Under the lights in early September.
Can it happen? Traditional slot for the second Richmond race.

Sunday, September 14 - Kansas City
Idea: A few more laps in the midwest.
Can it happen? It's a good market for NASCAR. Eventually the racing will improve as the track surface wears.

Saturday, September 20 - Martinsville
Idea: Short track battles in Virginia.
Can it happen? I hope Martinsville always has two races. It's being held on a Saturday due to a western trip the following week. Who knows, maybe the track would add lights and then the short track show could really get wild.

Sunday, September 28 - Sears Point
Idea: Move Sears Point to late September. As the battle for the Winston Cup title heats up, some right turns enter into the equation. I had considered moving this to the final race of the year. Riverside was traditionally the last race until it closed in 1988. The Sears Point race is followed by an off weekend.
Can it happen? NASCAR is generally happy with Sears Point in late June. Moving it to this slot probably won't happen, but it does make sense.

Sunday, October 5 - Off weekend
An off weekend to gear up for the stretch run. It also gives flexibility if there's an extensive weather delay during one of the preceding weeks.

Sunday, October 12 - Charlotte
Idea: Some time on the homefront.
Can it happen? Always has.

Sunday, October 19 - Phoenix
Idea: A tough part of the schedule. A trek to the desert.
Can it happen? Yes. With Charlotte the week before, it allows the teams an extra day to regroup sans travel and prepare for the road ahead.

Sunday, October 26 - Talladega
Idea: Late October in Alabama. Grandstands will be packed.. as always.
Can it happen? Sure. Just one request-- find a better superspeedway rules solution to eliminate the huge packs that lead to huge wrecks.

Sunday, November 2 - Atlanta
Idea: The annual late season excursion to Atlanta.
Can it happen? Yes.

Sunday, November 9 - Texas
Idea: A second race at Texas. An absolute no-brainer.
Can it happen? Let's see how that anti-trust lawsuit turns out. Until then, this is very unlikely.

Sunday, November 16 - California
Idea: End the season in Southern California.
Can it happen? The season used to end at Ontario back when there was a track there. Dale Earnhardt won the 1980 Winston Cup title in dramatic fashion at Ontario. The newly built California Speedway is located about an hour from Los Angeles. The racing at California is always competitive. Ending the season here would be ideal.

There you have it. A 'revised' Winston Cup schedule with 35 points paying races and two exhibition events. The more radical plans call for both Bristol races to be under the lights, an odd/even year split with Darlington and Homestead early in the season and Pocono and Michigan during the summer, an off weekend in late September, a second race at Texas, and the season-ending event at California as the second race at that track. The tough decisions involved cutting a second race date from certain tracks. Loudon lost one of their race dates while others were shifted to the even/odd year setup.

The outlined schedule allows NASCAR to continue its growth in major markets (such as Dallas-Fort Worth and Southern California) while staying true to its short track roots (two races at Martinsville, Richmond, and Bristol). Along with growth comes decisions to make. The odd/even plan allows for two races at Dover and Rockingham in alternating years. With travel increasing on the schedule, that late September off weekend is vital for competition. This schedule allows for both continued growth and a little more time off for the raceteams. The right balance for the 21st century.



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