Interest builds around possible changes to NASCAR schedule
With NASCAR approaching the midway point of its five-year sanctioning agreements with tracks, questions persist about whether the sport will significantly shake up its schedule at the next opportunity in 2021.
As the racing series tries to jump-start fan interest, the idea of substituting road courses or short-track races for more common races on 1.5-mile tracks, or even shortening the schedule, has been discussed by insiders seeking change.
NASCAR currently has two road-course races in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and, depending on one’s definition of a short track, a half dozen to a dozen short-track races. It’s also adding an oval/road course hybrid this year. But those only combine to comprise about a third of the Monster Energy Series’ 38-race schedule, as many of the races are on 1.5-mile tracks.
While NASCAR is locked into using the same venues through 2020, sources said leaders of the sport have privately begun discussing possible changes to the schedule, whether in terms of length or which venues may be utilized. NASCAR executives declined to comment for this story.
If they decide to mix it up, there will be plenty of suitors, and NASCAR leaders could explore options of new and untapped markets. The Pacific Northwest, as well as Canada and Mexico, are all areas that don’t have a Monster Energy Series race.
One track seeking a larger role is Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in Ontario, Canada. The road course now hosts a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race, and track executives have been looking into the feasibility of hosting other NASCAR national series races such as the Xfinity Series or Monster Energy Series.
“We are sure NASCAR has lots of race tracks in North America inquiring about races,” Myles Brandt, CTMP president and general manager, wrote in an email. “Given the success of our Chevrolet Silverado 250 Camping World Truck Series event, we certainly have expressed interest in adding additional NASCAR series at our facility in the future.”
Other potential venues include Circuit of the Americas in Austin, which hosts the sole Formula One race in the U.S. The Knoxville (Iowa) Raceway dirt track could be interested in hosting a Camping World Truck Series race. Only one race in NASCAR’s three national series is held on dirt (Eldora Speedway/Truck Series.)
Katja Heim, COTA chief operating officer, said her track would be interested in hosting a Monster Energy Series race, but is unsure if it would be allowed because of the track’s proximity to Speedway Motorsports Inc.’s Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. TMS President Eddie Gossage has consistently said that COTA would not get a race because TMS has contractual protections regarding other races not being held within a certain distance from the track.
“The drivers would love the road course and fans have certainly been asking for it,” Heim wrote. “However, we are keenly aware that there are already two excellent events in Texas.”
NASCAR executives will likely review which tracks are still fit to host two Monster Energy Series races in 2021. The most likely tracks to lose races are seen as being the independents in Pocono Raceway, Dover International Speedway and even Indianapolis Motor Speedway, plus any of the tracks owned by the two major operators that host two annual races but are struggling with them. One example could be Michigan International Speedway, which has been cited during recent International Speedway Corp. earnings reports as seeing declining attendance.
Nick Igdalsky, chief executive of Pocono Raceway, raised eyebrows last year when he told The Associated Press that the track would accept losing its second race.
“We’d love to continue having two. But if one day, if that’s not the way the cards fall, so be it,” Igdalsky said at the time. “We’d still be honored to be part of the show.”