Schedule changes for 2021 should create buzz around NASCAR racing

Schedule changes for 2021 should create buzz around NASCAR racing
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.—Speedweeks could take on a different complexion in 2021—with the removal of the plural “weeks” from the equation.

Traditionally, the Busch Clash and time trials for the Daytona 500 have fallen on the weekend prior to that of the Great American Race. But with the National Football League scheduling the Super Bowl for February 7—one week prior to the Daytona 500—NASCAR runs the risk of competing against the biggest sporting event in the U.S., as it kicks off the 2021 season.

With all the discussion of a dramatically changing schedule for next year, could condensing Speedweeks or running the Clash and the 500 on the same weekend be an option?

“There’s nothing to announce today,” NASCAR President Steve Phelps said on SiriusXM Radio’s Morning Drive on Wednesday. “It’s on our radar, and we’ll probably have to make an adjustment. What that looks like, we’ll talk about in the upcoming weeks.”

On Monday, Daytona International Speedway echoed a similar response after releasing an early pre-sale for the 2021 Daytona 500, which is scheduled for February 14, Valentine’s Day.

Certainly, NASCAR’s stakeholders—the sanctioning body, the tracks, the TV partners and the teams—are all consulted during the decision-making process when it comes to the NASCAR schedule. But most of the drivers would be in favor of less time on the road, starting with Daytona.

"I think it would be good,” Martin Truex Jr. said of running the Clash and the 500 on the same weekend. “Obviously, I don't know that we want to go up against the Super Bowl. I don't think anybody wants to go up against that on TV. I think it's a good idea.

“Condensing is always good. One week in Daytona, that would be fine. It would be more fun to race consistently when we're here instead of wasting time and being here for three days and doing nothing. I'd be all for that.”

Kevin Harvick has been extremely vocal when expressing his opinions on the evolution of the schedule. The 2014 Cup champion believes incorporating a variety of markets throughout the U.S. and Canada is key to putting more fans in the seats—and rotating the All-Star Race to new venues would be a good place to start.

“Our All-Star race would be a great platform to help rebuild some of the grassroots system,” Harvick said. “Let’s just use Evergreen Speedway (Monroe, Washington). You go to Evergreen Speedway and you have some upgrades to the race track with soft walls and grandstands and infrastructure and get it ready for an All-Star race.

“You wouldn't have to create some crazy format in order to have a good race. You would help build the infrastructure and take that All-Star race around the country and help rebuild some of these race tracks and leave Truck and Xfinity there and when you are done with that three-year package. You have a great race track where you can race ARCA cars or late model cars, and you have created an environment that is upgraded and rebuilt because of the attention and money that you brought there from the All-Star race.”

In addition to attracting new fans in the Northwest at a track such as Evergreen—or perhaps Portland International Raceway, a 1.967-mile road course where IndyCar ran two years ago—Harvick believes Irwindale (outside of Los Angeles) or even Lucas Oil Raceway (Indianapolis) could be options for upcoming All-Star events.

Over the last month, different ideas regarding the 2021 schedule have been floated around—including competing on a street course as fans clamor for more side-by-side racing. Harvick would be open to that as well—with a caveat.

“As long as we don't have to jump through gutters like we did in the L.A. street race,” Harvick said. “In the end, you really don't need a street course. There are a number of great road courses in great markets that would be perfectly suitable for the things that we do on the race track.”

Joey Logano sees the street course proposition differently. He believes an urban racing experience could reach potential fans that normally wouldn’t venture an hour outside the city for a motorsports experience.

“It sounds cool to me,” Logano said. “I think changing it up and doing things like that is important. It’s no secret that a lot of times where our races are sometimes in the middle of nowhere every now and again. A lot of the younger demographic, the football type fans that don’t know much about our sport, are in the city. 

“Let’s go to them. If you raced in the city they can’t get away from you. You’re gonna have to watch and it will be something really neat and there would be some really cool pictures and obviously just racing like that down Main Street somewhere. How cool would that be?”

One of the trial balloons circulating through the sport is trimming six race weekends from the schedule. Eliminating one of the weeks at Daytona and another from Charlotte in May would be a simple solution. Pocono Raceway elected to incorporate a double-header into its program this year, leading to tremendous cost savings for both the industry and fans. Further downsizing could come from tracks that simply aren’t drawing numbers to justify having a date or two dates.

Logano believes NASCAR’s goal should be making every race weekend an event. No, not every race is going to carry the same gravitas as the Daytona 500, the Southern 500, the Coca-Cola 600 or the Brickyard 400, but it’s up to the tracks and NASCAR to make the effort.

“The Daytona 500 is an amazing event,” Logano said. “We need to make things like this very special, not just the Daytona 500 but we have a few of them a year. You think of the Southern 500, throwback weekend, that’s a big event. That’s a cool thing. All-Star Race feels like an event. It’s something different, something special. I think that’s what we have to look at and Pocono did a good job with this year. Pocono used to just be a race in Pocono. It wasn’t a big deal. Now it’s an event. There are two races in one weekend, and that’s a cool way of turning it into a big event. 

“We need to look at ways of doing that, whether that is like I’ve heard rumors about street courses and racing through cities or whatever it may be. That would be a really cool event.  We should look at things like that. Everyone has to collaborate together to make the right move.”

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