The Sprint Cup schedule has what I deem 19 uninteresting events – those 1.5- to 2.5-mile ovals, many of which appear twice. So the best way to diversify is to schedule more road races
The first NASCAR-sanctioned road races were held this weekend, with the Sprint Cup Series stationed in Sonoma, Calif., and the Nationwide Series having camped in Elkhart Lake, Wisc., for a couple days. Both series get back on the road at Watkins Glen the second weekend of August, and the Nationwide Series travels to Montreal at August’s end.
That’s five road races on a combined schedule of 71 events. These days, that’s not enough.
The unfortunate irony is some of the top talents in racing have flocked to NASCAR during the turn-of-the-century gold rush as the sanctioning body filled the schedules with uninteresting, cloned ovals. Race fans want to see the best drivers challenged, not the mastery of engineers and crew chiefs on display. Sadly, the majority of the races are decided by engine builders and numbers crunchers.
While that’s true of any auto race, it’s become the norm in NASCAR – save for those nice respites in Martinsville, Va., Darlington, S.C., Bristol, Tenn., Phoenix, Ariz., and the road courses. A few times a year, the races take on added interest because driving becomes the primary focus.
We need more of those.
The Sprint Cup schedule has what I deem 19 uninteresting events – those 1.5- to 2.5-mile ovals, many of which appear twice. A couple high-banked quad-ovals or one trip to Auto Club Speedway per year is almost required, but four races on two nearly identical tracks in Fontana, Calif., and Brooklyn, Mich., is overkill. Two races at Pocono Raceway is one too many. Four races with insane “pack racing” is two too many. And the most egregious are the seven events on 1.5-mile quad ovals, all-star race included.
NASCAR needs to diversify.
Short ovals are disappearing because many can’t support the throngs of people who follow the circus, and non-sanctioned ovals are bland copies of other tracks. So the best way to diversify is to schedule more road races. Don’t even start in with the “straying from the sport’s roots” argument; that horse left the barn a long time ago. This is a new era with new talents, new fans and a society that bores easily.
If NASCAR insists on a 36-race schedule today, it has to diverge from the old format it clings to – two races at the same place, or in the case of Charlotte Motor Speedway, three times annually. People wonder why attendance has shrunk at places like Michigan, Atlanta and Dover. Well, there have been two races there every year for decades. A lot of this was brought about because of this “big markets” line of thinking that turned the beast into a glutton, but many of the big markets aren’t generating the biggest crowds anymore.
NASCAR already has a presence in Wisconsin and Montreal through the Nationwide Series – which only repeats itself eight times in 2010 – so it’s time the Sprint Cup Series spread itself out a little more. The best places to do that:
- Cleveland’s Burke Lakefront Airport: Even in the open-wheel configuration, it’s wide enough to accommodate 43 Cup cars, and if you think the start of a race at The Glen is exciting, try squeezing all that sheet metal through the airport’s hair-pin Turn 1.
- Road Atlanta: Teams already use the place to test, and the long straights make for great passing zones.
- Virginia International Raceway: Another place the Cuppers use as a test track, and this one has several configurations to map out a good circuit.
- Laguna Seca: Cup cars in the corkscrew -- that’s all you need to know.
Those are solid options for NASCAR, but I’m not sure if the new motorsports parks in New Jersey, Alabama and Utah would be wide enough to handle all those cars, not to mention they don’t have an abundance of good passing zones.
Of course, this whole column is probably moot since neither International Speedway Corp. nor Speedway Motorsports Inc. owns any of the places mentioned above.
Jimmie Johnson can’t go 0-for-his-career on the road courses, can he? ... Think about this: Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Justin Wilson – three of the most naturally gifted racers in the Izod Indy-Car Series – revived their racing careers at Watkins Glen. ... Campers and fans at The Glen told track president Michael Printup there needs to be more things to do at the track besides the actual racing. Remember a time when you went to the track for the purpose of watching races? Sitting around with your buddies, ice-cold brew in hand, with race cars zipping around isn’t enough to satiate today’s fan. ... Ever get Tommy Kendall withdrawal? We need more people like T.K. in racing.
Corning Leader writer Chris Gill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.