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Schedule reaches ‘sundown’




Steve Mickey

Steve Mickey

The Sprint Cup schedule is a grueling 36-race-long marathon that stretches from February to November. During that 10-month period it is easy to take a close look at the schedule and come up with a way to divide it into sections. Of course, the easiest way is to divide it into the Race to the Chase portion that contains 26 events with the remaining 10 races becoming sort of a stand-alone event that we know as the Chase.

Another line of thought when breaking up the schedule is to do so according to the seasons of the year or at least close to the seasons. The spring portion of the schedule ends a few weeks earlier than the calendar says with the Memorial Day weekend racing at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The summer portion then takes over and runs through the months of June, July and August before giving way to the fall portion of the schedule that begins after the early September race in Richmond.

Divide it up any way you may want, what begins next weekend and runs for three consecutive weekends is one of the best stretches on the entire schedule regardless of where it falls in relation to either the Chase or the seasons of the year. This Saturday, Kansas Speedway will kick off three straight weekends of night racing with the running of the 5-hour Energy 400.

It will be the first night Cup race at Kansas and comes after NASCAR allowed the track to swap its April race date with Darlington’s lone race date that had been held the last couple of years on the Saturday night before Mother’s Day. NASCAR was also willing to give Kansas a Camping World Truck Series race on Friday, which will give the track’s fans a full weekend of racing plus the opportunity to spend Sunday honoring their mothers.

Kansas is just the beginning of what could be called the “sundown” portion of the schedule as the action shifts to Charlotte Motor Speedway for the following two weekends for that track’s own version of Speedweeks. The first weekend is a Sprint Cup weekend, but that is about the only resemblance to the series as the two nights of racing at the mileand a-half track will play host to the sport’s Sprint All-Star Race and all of the events leading up to it.

The following weekend, Charlotte is host to a Memorial Day weekend tradition with the running of the Coca-Cola 600. It is considered one of the crown jewel races that make up the schedule and it is the only race that takes the green flag during the day but doesn’t wave the checkered flag until long after the sun has set.

Fans (count me as one) love night racing as it gives them plenty of time to enjoy all that the track has, which makes the day more of an event than just a race. Fans also enjoy the benefit of the next day being Sunday that gives them a day to travel and rest up before having to start the workweek grind all over again.

Fortunately for fans who will not be able to attend a race during the next three weekends, the schedule also has another threerace stretch of night racing that will take place near the end of August when the series rolls into Bristol for the annual Irwin Tools Night Race. That is followed with the Labor Day night race at Atlanta and then the final race leading up to the Chase field being set at Richmond on a Saturday night.

Now if you still can’t make it to one of these nighttime green flags, the schedule presents a few more opportunities for racing under the stars with back-to-back weekends at Kentucky Speedway, Daytona International Speedway and the return trip to Charlotte in October.

Race Preview

Event: 5-Hour Energy 400

Track: Kansas Speedway (1.5- mile quad-oval, variable banking of 17o-200)

Date: May 10, 7 p.m.

TV: FOX

Radio: MRN

Defending Champion: Matt Kenseth


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