NASCAR's Return to Pocono Shows Need for Major Change to Sprint Cup Schedule

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NASCAR's  Return to Pocono Shows Need for Major Change to Sprint Cup Schedule
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Wait a minute. Didn't the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series just visit Pocono Raceway less than two months ago?

Of course it did. And if Dale Earnhardt Jr. hadn't won that particular race, no one would remember much about it except that it sure wasn't Daytona or Darlington or Talladega or Bristol.

A second Sprint Cup race at Pocono in less than two months greatly illustrates the need for NASCAR to seriously look at overhauling its schedule.

But then, you already know that's not going to happen.

Less than a month after telling the world that NASCAR was going to take a "robust" look at schedule changes in 2015, befuddling Brian France, the governing body's head honcho, backtracked and said not to expect any major changes in 2015.

Let's go over this again.

Should NASCAR overhaul its schedule, including cutting one Pocono race from it?

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On July 7, France told media assembled at Daytona International Speedway prior to the running of the Coke Zero 400, per ESPN.com, that this season's revamped format to the Chase for the Sprint Cup, coupled with NBC taking over the second half of the television schedule next season, provided NASCAR with a unique opportunity to make scheduling changes perhaps as soon as 2015.

"There will be a robust discussion that will be for those reasons a more comprehensive look at what the best schedule will look like," France said then.

Then on July 27, less than three weeks later, France did an interview on SIRIUS/XM Radio in which he said of potential 2015 schedule changes (via NASCAR.com's David Caraviello): "It's not going to be a dramatic change, but there will be some things that are a little different."

Wow. Apparently, the "robust discussion" didn't last very long, didn't include many parties and, frankly, wasn't all that robust.

It's understood that schedule changes aren't easy to come by in NASCAR. Tracks are involved. Television pays millions to call at least a good portion of the shots. NASCAR, as in the governing body itself, seems perfectly willing to change anything and everything else about its sport, but for some reason, it is very reluctant to tweak the schedule much at all most years.

Drivers and fans and common sense appear to be tied for a very distant fourth place—because if you listen to the chatter that's out there, there is a growing groundswell of opinion that a major overhaul of the schedule is exactly what should be in order for a sport that is struggling to satisfy its old fanbase and mostly failing to bring in new ones.

Take 2012 Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski. On his own blogKeselowski offered up his "dream schedule" that included a road swing out West, summer weekly "doubleheaders" with races on Wednesday nights as well as the weekend and an end to the season that would be six weeks earlier than now—when they race hard from February to nearly Thanksgiving.

AJ Mast/Associated Press
Brad Keselowski is on the opposite side of the fence when it comes to plans for NASCAR's Sprint Cup schedule.

"Why is the schedule so sacred? Everything else has been cut, changed, chopped and rebuilt. Why not that?" Keselowski wrote on his website.

Then there was Fox Sports NASCAR television analyst Darrell Waltrip, who suggested the Daytona 500 be run on the same day as the NFL's Super Bowl and recently wrote in a column for FoxSports.com: "To me our NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule should be priority No. 1 in being fixed. We don't need to change the car, the motor or whatever. Those are great but the schedule isn't."

And Kenny Wallace, a driver and Fox television analyst who said this when the question was put to him about going to Pocono for the second time in less than two months, via FoxSports.com: "There are only two reasons I go to Pocono now: One, I am forced to go. And two, they have a really nice new casino."

Listen, the folks who run Pocono Raceway are nice, and if you've never been to the Pocono Mountains, it's a beautiful area worth visiting—maybe once a summer. Many media stay in Scranton, Pennsylvania, which also is a lovely place to visit if you're looking for memorabilia associated with the television series The Office and don't mind eating out at mostly chain restaurants.

Quite honestly, the Sprint Cup races at Pocono usually mirror the area that surrounds the raceway. It's kind of boring.

It has become beyond obvious that Pocono Raceway is one of several NASCAR tracks that no longer deserve two race dates per year on a bloated schedule that would better serve its goal of driving fan interest by cutting the current 38-week season (36 points races plus two exhibitions) short by several weeks.

It appears that Brian France is at the head of a shrinking minority that believes otherwise.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all information for this article was obtained firsthand by the writer.

Joe Menzer has written six books, including two about NASCAR, and now writes about it and other sports for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @OneMenz.

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