One of the most anticipated moments for fans of any sport is when the schedule comes out for the following season. The NFL just released its schedule for the 2017 season and fans of all 32 teams knew that it would not be the same as the year before as the NFL plays on Thursday, Sunday and Monday with some late season games even being played on Saturday. The NFL also has different starting times on Sunday for some games and has the ability to change starting times of some games so they can be moved to a prime time slot for television coverage.
The 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule according to the sanctioning body is still in the works, but there has been one change announced. Next season, New Hampshire will have one of its two races moved to its sister track at Las Vegas, but because of agreements among NASCAR, its broadcast partners and the individual tracks, the only other changes may just be a few minor tweaks.
Other than an occasional date switch between tracks, the Cup schedule seldom has any significant changes. The 36 races for points plus two non-point events makes for a long schedule that is in need of some changes, which many think should be shorter and should also include races that are not locked into the same day and start time each week.
The series continues to struggle putting fans in the seat and its TV ratings continuing to slide. It could be that the schedule may be the biggest reason.
The 10-month schedule that stretches from mid-February to mid-November forces the sport to go up against the fan favorite NFL in the fall when the Chase begins.
Currently there are 13 tracks that host two races each season, and if the schedule is to be shortened these would be the tracks that would likely see one of its races taken away. Some tracks will always host two races because of its tradition, unique racing or that it is very popular with the fans. Pocono, Dover and Michigan are the tracks that just don’t fall into one of those three categories, but Michigan would keep its two races because its location is just too close to the headquarters of Ford and General Motors.
So instead of just talking about moving a race to sometime other than the weekend, NASCAR may actually have to take a page out of the NFL scheduling manual and race during the week. A mid-week race would not be for every track, but there are some that could host a one-day event where qualifying and the race all take place on the same day. It would not be an ideal proposition for a track, but if it was the only way a track could keep both dates, it would make it an easy decision.
Shortening the number of races would be a beginning for the sport but shortening the length of the races could be area that needs to be considered. The new stage racing this season has added some much needed excitement at each stop on the schedule, but with today’s fans that are growing younger and younger, it could be that 500 miles at all but a few stops on the schedule is too long for fans both at the track and in front of the TV.
Daytona and Darlington should always run 500 miles because of tradition, but a shortened race at other tracks might increase interest from fans not willing to give up that much time each week to watch a longer race.
Change has always come slow to the sport and any change in both the number of races and the length of races will take time. The sport needs to change as its fan base gets younger and that is why Monster Energy’s sponsorship comes at such a critical time in the growth of the series as it targets the younger fan.
Event: Toyota Owners 400
Track: Richmond International Speedway (.75-mile oval, 14o of banking in the turns)
Date: April 30, 2 p.m.
Defending Champion: Carl Edwards