Improving the NASCAR Sprint Cup Schedule and "Jimmie-Proofing" the Chase

Tom ParkmanContributor IApril 3, 2010

HOMESTEAD, FL - NOVEMBER 22:  Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet, celebrates with the trophy after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship after finishing in fifth place in the Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2009 in Homestead, Florida. Johnson becomes the first driver in the history of NASCAR to win four consecutive championships since the sports inception in 1949.  (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images

There has been a lot of debate concerning the Sprint Cup schedule the last few years.

When will Kentucky Speedway be granted a race?

How long until Las Vegas gets a second race, and will New Hampshire continue to keep both of its races?

Will NASCAR expand to the Northwest?

How can the schedule be adjusted so that Jimmie Johnson doesn't continue to run away with the championship every year?

It's impossible to make everyone happy.  There will always be purists that will resist change at all costs and refuse to adjust with the times.

However, one thing is for sure, changes need to be made.


Dates and races seem to be changing on a yearly basis, but it's time for a massive overhaul to the schedule.

Obviously, the determining factor in any change comes down to money.  If a track isn't putting fans in the seats, they aren't likely to see action at their site.

Darlington Raceway lost its second race in 2005 after it saw a decline in ticket sales.

Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California is now in danger of losing its second date due to the fact that it can only fill about half of its seats.

When looking at the current schedule, there are 36 points-paying races divided among 22 different tracks.  Of those 22 tracks, 14 of them are guaranteed two races a year.

Sometimes it's hard to justify all 14 of those tracks keeping two races.

The racing purists were quite upset when Darlington lost the fall race, but would anyone really miss a second race in New Hampshire?  Or Dover?  Or Michigan?

If any of the tracks were forced to lose a date, there would be a lot of backlash from the track owners.  Primarily because 86 percent of the dates on the Cup schedule are owned by only two companies.

International Speedway Corp., which is owned and operated by the France family, controls 12 of the tracks visited every year.

Another seven tracks are owned by the always entertaining Bruton Smith and his Speedway Motorsports, Inc.

That leaves only three tracks, Pocono, Dover and Indianapolis, outside of the big two.

The best way to try and make everyone happy is actually a pretty simple one: a rotating schedule.

Who says that the schedule has to stay the same every year?  Who says that a track can't have two races one year and one the next.

Why can't NASCAR change it up every year and give the fans something new?

There should really only be four tracks guaranteed two races a year: Daytona, Talladega, Bristol and Charlotte.

It's a no-brainer as to why Daytona and Charlotte deserve two races. 

Daytona is the pinnacle of the racing season.  Both the Daytona 500 and the Fourth of July race are major draws every year.

Charlotte is home to most of the drivers and teams, so it makes sense that they would visit the track twice a year.

In addition, both tracks host non-points races.  It allows the teams a chance to relax for a couple of weeks and not have to deal the hectic travel schedule.

Talladega and Bristol also get included in the list because they are some of the most entertaining and historic tracks on the schedule.

As a bonus, Daytona and Talladega are ISC tracks, while Charlotte and Bristol belong to SMI.  That way, neither company is shown preferential treatment.

While those are the only four tracks that should be guaranteed two races, there are three tracks that should only be allowed to have one.

Watkins Glen, an ISC track, and Infineon Raceway, an SMI track, should only be visited once a year.  While the road courses do offer a change of pace, there really isn't a big push have more than the two they already race.

Indianapolis is another track that only needs one visit.  The Brickyard 400 is a spectacle in its own right and anymore races at the track would diminish that.

Would anyone want to see another IRL race at Indy after the 500?

That leaves 15 tracks remaining and 25 available dates.  This is where it gets a little tricky.

One way to make the math easier to deal with is to just go ahead and add Kentucky to the mix.  It will end Bruton Smith's endless lawsuits and allow some of the best fans in the country to see a great race.

Now if eight of the 16 tracks receive two dates and the other half get one, that brings the total number of races among those tracks to 24.

Say in 2011, tracks like New Hampshire, Phoenix and Pocono get two races.  Meanwhile, Chicagoland, Atlanta, and Dover get one.  Then in 2012, they switch.

That way all of the tracks will be visited every year, but they won't become overexposed.

In a time when the average fan has been hit hard in the wallet, it's just not feasible to spend a large amount of money twice a year, every year.

Darlington lost its second race because of a loss of attendance.  However, since it has gone to one race a year, those numbers have gone back up.

Auto Club speedway earned a second date because it saw a large number of fans show up.  Then those numbers started declining once the second date became a reality.

With the new approach to the schedule, fans have the ability to save up for three races over a two year span, instead of four.

It's far more likely that those fans will be able to afford the new plan.  Everyone knows that if the fans aren't there, then the race won't be coming back.

After all those moves, there is still an open date available if NASCAR wants to keep 36 races on the schedule.

This allows for any number of possibilities.

There could be expansion to a new track in the Northwest or the New York City area.

There could be a chance given to popular tracks already run in the Nationwide Series like Nashville or Gateway.

There could be a return to a former track, such as Rockingham.

There could also be a chance for the fans to get involved. 

Why not have a fan vote every year?  That way tracks get rewarded for being fan favorites.

Most importantly these changes allow for the Chase for the Cup to be revamped.  It's fairly obvious that Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus have a handle on the races in the Chase.

If the races are changed every year, the Chase can be too.

Instead of sticking with the same races, throw some new ones into the mix.

If Knaus has to prepare for a different set of races, it's less likely that they will dominate.

They seemed to be locked into the current lineup, but what happens if Watkins Glen becomes part of the Chase?

How about giving Chicagoland a chance to shine in the Chase?

How great would it be to see Las Vegas host the last race of the year?

It opens up a whole new world of possibilities.  The combinations are endless. 

It would allow the fans to see something different.  Something new and exciting.

With all the money and egos in NASCAR, it's highly unlikely that any of these changes would be implemented.

But it's fun to imagine, isn't it?


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