The 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup season is three races old. Thus far, television ratings have been up for all three events. That certainly provides some optimism that maybe the sport is getting stronger, and new fans are coming on board with the product.
Another opportunity for NASCAR to increase its fanbase would be to run the top series on some different tracks. The general consensus is that certain tracks like Pocono and New Hampshire have no business hosting two events, as generally the racing is not that exciting.
So where could the series move to if NASCAR was seriously looking to put some new venues on the schedule? I have come up with a list of 15 places. I am in no way suggesting that if NASCAR went to these places they would have success; this is merely an opinion.
Also, keep in mind that I am not familiar with every race track in the country. So, in some instances, I have just listed a city that I think would benefit from having NASCAR there. This is purely a hypothetical piece.
In no particular order, here are the places that it may be fun to see NASCAR expand to.
Let's get the impossible and unrealistic one out of the way first. Obviously, the Sprint Cup Series will never make it to the island of Hawaii, but just imagine it for a minute.
There may not be any more perfect place in the country to host a race than Hawaii. The weather and the surrounding scenery are both beautiful, and there isn't be a driver alive that wouldn't mind spending a few days on an island.
If it were possible, I think Hawaii would be best suited as either a traditional mile-and-a-half oval, or I could even see it being a road course. Either one would make a pleasant stop for the Sprint Cup Series.
Let's go from the most obscure choice on the list, to seemingly the most obvious one. New York City would make a great place to host a Sprint Cup Series event.
I could easily see New York host a super speedway event. A fast two-mile oval would be perfect for the booming city.
NASCAR is trying very hard to increase its popularity and attract new sponsors and fans. Could there be a better place to start than in the country's most-populated city? It seems like a logical solution that if fans aren't always coming to your product, then bring your product to where the fans are.
Currently, the only time that NASCAR enters the state of New York is for the road course at Watkins Glen. For a state with so many people—and so many potential fans—it seems like getting there a few more times a year should be some sort of a priority.
The same logic used for New York City can be applied to Los Angeles. I know the general area already has Fontana, but that's not good enough.
The racing at Fontana is usually quite boring, and the Hollywood treatment that NASCAR always hopes it is going to receive just isn't there. That is why it is time to inch even closer to Los Angeles itself and really attract a crowd.
Watching a race at Fontana is sometimes like watching a conveyor belt of cars. People in the Los Angeles area need to see NASCAR stars experience what they do on a daily basis.
Make it a short half-mile track, so the fans can sit back and watch bumper to bumper traffic instead of actually having to sit in it.
While New Orleans is only the 53rd most-populated city in the country, there are plenty of other reasons NASCAR should stop by The Big Easy.
Aside from Las Vegas, New Orleans is probably the most well-known party city in the United States. In a perfect world, NASCAR could get to a New Orleans area race track on the weekend either prior to or immediately following the Mardi Gras celebration.
That way, the people are already there for a party and then they can be treated to some great racing on top of it. It would also be beneficial to the community, which is still trying to rebuild from Hurricane Katrina some six years ago.
Though the NASCAR schedule is littered with mile-and-a-half tracks, that is what I would envision out of New Orleans. Even if it was the same as any other track, it would probably be the biggest party of the NASCAR season.
While New York City and Los Angeles may be the two most logical cities for NASCAR to invade, Seattle seems equally as obvious of a choice to me.
For many years, the sport wanted to balance out its schedule in terms of where they would race demographically. Most regions of the country are being visited by the sport at least once. The Northwest is not, however.
Currently, the closest Sprint Cup Series track to the Seattle area is the road course at Sonoma. Even that is nearly 800 miles away. Not exactly a quick trip for someone in the area wanting to catch a race.
Seattle is the 23rd most-populated city in the country. While the weather in the region may not always be conducive to auto racing, there is no reason NASCAR couldn't at least give it a try. Knowing the bad weather looms, a high-banked, half-mile oval track would be perfect for the region. That way, if rain is an issue, the drying time wouldn't be nearly as much as at a larger track.
By now, we are all aware of the dirt track at Eldora owned by Tony Stewart. His track is located in Rossberg, Ohio, which is less than 30 miles northeast of Columbus.
It's also no secret that once a year, Stewart invites many of NASCAR's top stars over to the track to run a charitable race on the dirt. Wouldn't it be perfect for Stewart, the other drivers and fans alike if Stewart and NASCAR could work it out to have a Sprint Cup event in the Columbus area on the weekend of his annual Wednesday night event?
It would be a win-win for everyone involved. The Sprint Cup drivers would already be in the area, and the fans would have the opportunity to see their favorite drivers race twice during the same week, on two vastly different surfaces.
Being that the Eldora race is on a short, flat, dirt track, it would be fun to really challenge the drivers. Let's make the Columbus area's track a high-banked super speedway—just to give the fans two extremes for their favorite drivers.
Truth be told, there really isn't a whole lot of rhyme or reason to this selection, other than it just seems like NASCAR belongs in Alabama.
I know that they already have Talladega twice a year, but that just doesn't seem like enough. Mobile is located on the southern coast of the state and just seems like a nice area to hold a race.
It is only the 117th most-populous city in the country, but the deep south is the home of NASCAR, and it just seems like the two go hand-in-hand.
Besides, the college football Senior Bowl and the GoDaddy.com (formerly GMAC) Bowl are yearly staples of Mobile. So it's not like this city doesn't have any experience in hosting big-time events.
The Black Hills in South Dakota are home to the Sturgis Motorcycle rally, so it's not like fast-moving automobiles would be a new concept in this area.
The northern plains portion of the country, much like the great Northwest, is lacking from a whole lot of NASCAR events. While South Dakota may not seem like a natural fit for the Sprint Cup series, there are plenty of other tourist attractions that could help to draw a crowd in.
Aside from Sturgis, there is Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial. If you're NASCAR, you could use those great tourist attractions to your advantage. Millions of people attend those places annually; you might as well treat them to some racing while they are in the area.
Gateway International Raceway held its final NASCAR-sanctioned race for the foreseeable future in late October of last year. The track has since closed down and ceased its operations—at least for now. That is a shame because Gateway was a fun track and one that the drivers seemed to enjoy racing on.
It had always been a stand alone track, one that just the Nationwide Series raced on. I think the Sprint Cup series could have put on some quality shows there as well.
You will notice a theme as this list goes on: I much prefer short-track racing to speedways. Gateway is no exception.
Who will ever forget the Nationwide Series' second-to-last visit to the St. Louis track? Back in July, after being bumped out of the lead going into turn one of the last lap, Carl Edwards intentionally wrecked Brad Keselowski coming to the checkers.
Edwards won the race, while Keselowski went spinning and chaos ensued. If Dover Motorsports ever reopens this track, the Sprint Cup series should look at going back to Gateway.
Here we have another track that the Nationwide Series used to run on that they no longer do.
While NASCAR replaced the event at Milwaukee Mile with the road race at Road America (also in Wisconsin), I personally would prefer a short track to a road course any day.
While Milwaukee was another stand-alone track for the Nationwide Series, I would never be opposed to seeing the stars of the Sprint Cup run on any short track in America.
Milwaukee produced some memorable moments in Nationwide action and it could easily do the same in Sprint Cup. The one that sticks with me the most is Paul Menard's win in 2006. The final handful of laps were some of the most exciting laps you will see.
Menard was able to hold onto the lead over Kevin Harvick, before Harvick got wrecked by JJ Yeley. The end result saw Menard score his first career win in the Nationwide Series.
Yet another short track that the Nationwide Series used to run on. Like I said, any short track is a good race track to run the Sprint Cup cars on.
Pike's Peak is located in a part of the country that doesn't see a whole lot of NASCAR, so just having the Sprint Cup stars there would be a pretty big draw. The configuration and lack of banking would make the track race like New Hampshire, in that there wouldn't be a whole lot of prime spots to run side-by-side.
Regardless, racing is racing, and if you are in a part of the country that doesn't see a lot of NASCAR in person, I'm sure you would take what you could get.
The one problem that would be facing the track is the lack of seating. The grandstands only seat 10,000 people. If they could get more seating, Pike's Peak would be a prime location to host a Sprint Cup event.
Oxford Plains Speedway is a 3/8-mile short track in Oxford, Maine. While the track may be smaller than any that NASCAR currently runs on, it makes up for it in width. There is plenty of room on this track for cars to get three-wide if the case warrants.
The Nationwide Series held races here for a few years in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Currently, New Hampshire Motor Speedway is the only track in New England that the Sprint Cup Series runs on.
While this is not a track currently in use by NASCAR, many of its stars have raced on it. Every July, during the Sprint Cup's off-weekend, Oxford Plains hosts the annual TD Bank North 250. It is a late-model race featuring 43 of the areas top drivers, and many NASCAR drivers—past and present—have picked up late-model rides to enter the event.
Terry Labonte, Kenny Wallace and Mike Wallace have all taken part in the event. Among today's top stars, Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick have all entered the 250.
Harvick is the only NASCAR driver to have won the event. Although his car failed post-race technical inspection, he is still credited with the win. He did, however, voluntarily return all the prize money he collected.
Although I think short-track racing is far superior to anything else, if the Sprint Cup Series were going to add another road course to their schedule, this is the one I would suggest.
Sorry, Mexico City; sorry. Road America. This one is the best.
On top of that, since the Nationwide Series has been going north of the border, the Canadian fans have been nothing but excited about it, to say the least.
They are very passionate and intelligent race fans that turn out in bunches to support their home-grown superstars.
Last year's Nationwide race at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve was, in my opinion, the best finish to a race in any of the three top series. Boris Said and Max Papis—two drivers wanting desperately to win their first career races—raced side by side to the line without making contact once.
That's how you finish a race. And it's races like that that make you want to see the big names of the Sprint Cup Series race there as well.
You can call it North Carolina Speedway if you want, but for me, it will always be known as either Rockingham or "The Rock."
How this track ever lost both of its Sprint Cup series races is beyond me, but it should get at least one of them back.
At a time when race attendances were at all-time highs, Rockingham wasn't selling out either of its races, so NASCAR wanted to move them to race tracks that were bringing in the crowds. That's a shame because Rockingham had been a staple on the Sprint Cup schedule since 1965.
This is a demanding track that has an extremely rough surface. This makes tire wear all the more critical, which adds another element to the races.
Due to NASCAR's current strict practicing rules, Rockingham is a primary testing ground for many teams in Sprint Cup.
As of right now, the final race at Rockingham was held in February of 2004. The end saw Matt Kenseth hold off Kasey Kahne by .01 seconds to win the race.
Lastly on my list is my favorite track in the world. You can call me biased because it is my hometown track, but Thunder Road in Barre, Vermont is undoubtedly the best race track in the world to watch a race.
Thunder Road is a 1/4 high-banked track. The picture I have doesn't do it justice. Turn four isn't nicknamed "the widow maker" just because it sounds cute. Presently, Thunder Road hosts late models, tiger sportsmen and street stocks. If we could find a way to get 43 Sprint Cup cars on the track, it would instantly be the race of the year.
The track is co-owned by Ken Squier, who has been affiliated with NASCAR for many years. In recent years, a handful of NASCAR stars have come up to "the Nation's Site of Excitement" to run in the 50-lap main event.
Ken Schrader, Kenny Wallace, Tony Stewart and David Ragan have all raced there within the last four years; none of them finished better than sixth on the night they were there. Current Nationwide Series driver Kevin Lepage is a former regular of Thunder Road.
Call it a dream on my part, but the best drivers in the world on the best track in the world seems like a match made in heaven to me.