Plans for the weekend: Condensed schedules expected to continue
Experiments with condensed schedules for select NASCAR weekends this season have gone well enough that industry executives expect them to continue, and potentially expand, to more race weekends next year.
NASCAR introduced the schedules this year in a bid to add energy to the weekend, save teams money and help with their crews’ time on the road amid a nearly 10-month season. The idea is to take racing that is typically spread over three days for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series — between practice, qualifying and the race — and squeeze it into two.
The reformatted schedule is being tested at four Monster Energy Series weekends this year, three of which came in a row from late July to early August. The three tracks to have already run the new schedule are Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Pocono Raceway and Watkins Glen International. Martinsville Speedway will host the final one this season during NASCAR’s playoffs in October.
The presidents of the three tracks that have used the schedule said they thought the tests went well. In fact, Michael Printup, president of Watkins Glen International, said he could see the sport looking at using the shortened format for almost half the schedule next season. “With some minor tweaks, I think they’ll be good.”
NASCAR has yet to finalize plans for which races next year would run the new schedule.
Supporting series still run Friday, and tracks have started fan fests for Friday nights where Monster Energy Series drivers participate in activities with fans.
For Indianapolis’ Brickyard 400 weekend, the track held a fan fest on Main Street adjacent to the track. It featured a spate of drivers taking part in pit stop contests, kids relay challenges and the typical hauler parade. Pocono’s Friday night fan fest saw drivers on stage taking part in rapping and singing contests, a cooking contest and other activities. Pocono’s crowd at the fan fest was in the low thousands, according to Ben May, president of the track. Watkins Glen’s fan fest was rained out.
Doug Boles, president of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, said the addition of drivers to the Friday night event proved to be key, and could be a step toward helping rebuild the buzz around the city of Indianapolis that Boles said used to be commonplace when the race was seeing better attendance.
“I think it worked out pretty well for us; we’ve had the hauler parade for a while, which has been a successful event … but by far I think it was the best crowd that we’ve had there [for a Friday night event on Brickyard 400 weekend],” Boles said. “The feedback from the drivers was they thought the event was really cool. … They’re pretty savvy and know when it’s worked and when it hasn’t.”