Sprint Cup schedule needs overhaul
The annual Sprint All-Star Race is coming Saturday night, usually one of the season's highlights with drivers going all-out to win without the fear of losing championship points.
However, it could use a few changes, as could the Sprint Cup schedule. How about moving the All-Star Race to a different speedway every year, making it a rotating show of stars like fans see in Major League Baseball and the NBA?
And while we're at it, let's revamp this cumbersome 36-race schedule. It hasn't had significant changes in years, so let's re-do the whole thing to make it better.
How, you ask? Cut the schedule by four races, add at least one new venue and change some of the Chase events. It's simple in theory, almost impossible in reality.
But I've taken over as NASCAR czar for one day with the single assignment of redesigning the Cup schedule, which so many of you suggest to me on an almost weekly basis.
In summary, here's the plan:
• Reduce the schedule from 36 races to 32.
• Give Iowa a Cup race.
• Make Indy the Chase opener.
• Make Las Vegas the season finale.
• Place Sonoma in the Chase.
• Move Darlington back to Labor Day weekend.
• Move the All-Star Race to a different track every year.
• Work on building new facilities at underserved markets.
Most of these suggestions won't happen (not anytime soon, anyway), but all of them would spark interest and give NASCAR a needed boost of vitality and freshness.
Kentucky Speedway is the only new venue on the Cup schedule in more than a decade, adding a Cup race in 2011 when Atlanta lost a race. You have to go back to 2001, when Kansas and Chicagoland came on board, for the previous venue additions.
Changes in Chase tracks also are rare. Eight of the 10 playoff speedways have been part of the Chase since it started in 2004, and Texas Motor Speedway has been in it since 2005.
Time to spice things up and give the Chase a new look.
First things first, which is cutting a schedule that's way too long. It's simple supply and demand, oversaturation with too many events and a season that's the longest in professional sports.
Steve Richards has the story of a NASCAR driver accused of stealing a Truck Series team's hauler and an All-Star Race preview.
Too many tracks have two races, and five of them have to go -- one each at Dover, Pocono, Michigan, Phoenix and, yes, even Bristol. Tracks that lose a date could go to the top of the list of locations to get the All-Star Race, which would move every year.
Yes, I know the All-Star Race isn't moving. Teams would howl to high heaven. Having the event in Charlotte every year gives the NASCAR teams an extra week at home and a two-week stretch without having to travel.
That makes it convenient. It doesn't make it right.
Along with making the All-Star Race a traveling show, add in one new venue at Iowa, a track that's only four years old and has the size (seven-eighths of a mile), shape and banking that produces the best racing for Cup cars.
The result is a 32-race schedule that could end a month earlier than it does now in mid-November. Anything that would end the NASCAR season before action really heats up in the NFL and college football seasons is a good thing.
Again, this isn't happening. No track wants to give up a Cup date. Even with reduced attendance these days, every Cup event makes millions of dollars for the track owners. The overall good of the sport would lose out to self-interest of each facility.
And now for the Chase: It needs to start with a bang, which it isn't getting at Chicagoland and didn't get when it started in New Hampshire.
Move the Brickyard 400 to the Chase opener, starting the playoff at racing's most historic track, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Indy doesn't produce the most exciting stock-car racing, but neither does Chicagoland. Moving the first playoff race to the Brickyard would bring enormous attention to the Chase and greatly enhance an event that has faded fast in the past few years.
IMS is about to undergo $100 million in facility improvements, including the additions of lights. So why not make the Chase opener a night race?
Teams not in the Chase should embrace this change, as well. It would give them a chance to win one of the most prestigious events of the season, and earn one of the biggest purses, to gain attention in the playoff.
That fixes the front end of the Chase, but what about the back end? Closing out the playoff at Homestead-Miami Speedway has worked OK, but the way to make the biggest splash is to end the season in Las Vegas, the entertainment capital of the world.
Las Vegas and Homestead need to flip-flop dates. The best move would be eliminating the early-season Phoenix race and making Homestead the race the week after the Daytona 500.
Two things keep Vegas from getting the season finale. Las Vegas has the postseason awards gala, so the NASCAR teams would need to leave and come back or stay there for two weeks.
That isn't the biggest hurdle. The big problem is politics.
Las Vegas Motor Speedway is one of eight Cup tracks controlled by Bruton Smith and his Speedway Motorsports Inc. empire. Homestead is owned by International Speedway Corp., the facility management company controlled by the NASCAR-owned France family.
Get the picture? NASCAR isn't giving Smith the season finale unless he gives it something in return.
One other Chase change is needed -- adding a road-course race. As long as the Cup series has road courses on the schedule, one of them needs a spot in the Chase to crown a true champion.
Sonoma should take Dover's spot in the Chase, which also brings the San Francisco market into the playoff.
And here's an idea that brings a little tradition back to the sport: Move the Southern 500 at Darlington back to Labor Day weekend where it belongs and give Atlanta the Mother's Day weekend race.
NASCAR still needs to add new facilities in the Pacific Northwest, the Denver area and New York City. Those goals were put on hold with the economic downturn, but still should happen in the future, replacing some events at tracks with two races.
There you have it. Easier said than done, of course.
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