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Volume 23 No. 8
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NASCAR floating idea of shorter schedule in 2021

Drastic changes to Monster Energy Series campaign can’t happen until then because of track agreements

NASCAR has been soliciting opinions from industry stakeholders on whether they would like to see a reduced schedule starting in 2021, sources say, the clearest sign yet that a shortening of the season is under serious consideration.

The five-year sanctioning agreements that NASCAR signed with tracks in 2016 go through 2020, so its top-flight Monster Energy Series couldn’t drastically alter its schedule until 2021. The series is looking at making changes with its current tracks for the 2020 schedule, but those will be less dramatic, such as changing the order of the schedule or maybe having one or two tracks run their road course figurations. But the 2020 campaign will feature 36 points races as usual.

However, after 2020, NASCAR could completely remake its schedule if media rights partners and other key stakeholders buy in. And while NASCAR President Steve Phelps has said several times that all options are on the table, private outreach by NASCAR to stakeholders over a possible schedule reduction shows a new layer of intent.

Phelps said the sport is considering several options and not just the possibility of shortening the season. For example, NASCAR could choose to keep the same number of races but hold them during a shorter amount of time. He said NASCAR is getting input from broadcast partners, teams, drivers, tracks, equipment manufacturers and others.

Sources said 28 is the possible new amount of races they most often hear mentioned, which would be eight fewer than the existing schedule. However, Phelps disputed that figure, saying, “There is no number that’s out there.”

NASCAR could start holding midweek races, and that would allow the sanctioning body to keep the same amount of races yet avoid having its schedule finish in mid-November and competing with the NFL and college football. That option could end up being more alluring to both teams and broadcasters, because a reduction in the number of races would mean less content for broadcasters and potentially less money for the NASCAR industry. Fox Sports and NBC Sports are in the middle of 10-year deals with NASCAR that combined are worth $820 million annually, but that figure likely would be renegotiated if NASCAR reduced the number of races it runs.

“We have heard from fans that they want more short tracks and road courses,” Phelps said. “Is that something we’re taking into consideration? Absolutely. Are we taking into consideration doubleheaders, whatever that means? Yes, it’s something we’re considering. Could you consider a midweek race? Yes, it’s something we’re considering. Those are truly all the things we’re looking at, but how that works is the tricky part.”