MONTREAL, QC - AUGUST 20: Cars race during the NASCAR Nationwide Series NAPA Auto Parts 200 at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on August 20, 2011 in Montreal, Canada. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images)
Starting the Chase at the Brickyard, cutting the schedule to 32 races and moving the Southern 500 back to Labor Day Weekend are a few suggestions for the ideal NASCAR schedule.
Recently, two of NASCAR's big names have endorsed reducing the seemingly endless Sprint Cup Series schedule. Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace said reducing the schedule would create more supply and demand, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. said a shorter schedule wouldn't be a bad thing (though he acknowledged it's unlikely to ever happen).
Both are right. Thanks to existing television contracts, potential loss of revenue and other migrating factors, the sanctioning body actually going through with the idea of cutting the excess from what most view as a bloated 36-race schedule is borderline improbable.
But let's pretend for a moment it's not. What if the Sprint Cup Series was reduced, enhanced and rearranged?
If someone put me in charge (which is even more unlikely than the schedule being cut), here's what I'd do to the schedule:
1. Instead of 23 tracks hosting 36 races, have 25 different tracks on the schedule with a total of 32 races. Take away the second race dates at Phoenix, Kansas, Michigan, Pocono, New Hampshire and Dover, add one race at Iowa and Montreal.
2. New venues would be placed into the Chase, which allows for more diversity to decide the champion. The aforementioned Iowa race would be a Chase event, as would the Watkins Glen road course race. In addition, the start of the Chase becomes an even bigger deal by opening the playoffs with the Brickyard 400.
3. Some traditions would be kept (opening the season at Daytona, Charlotte on Memorial Day Weekend, etc.) while others would be restored. Namely, the Southern 500 at Darlington would be moved back to Labor Day Weekend, where it should be.
As it has been since 1982, the Daytona 500 would continue to be the season-opening race. There's no need to kick off the year with anything but the sport's biggest race.
From Daytona, the rest of the early season schedule looks much the same as it does now, with stops at Phoenix, Las Vegas, Bristol, Fontana, Martinsville, Texas, Kansas, Richmond, Talladega, and a two week stay in Charlotte for the All-Star Race and Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day Weekend.
However, this is where my schedule starts to look vastly different from the one you're familiar with.
On the surface, opening the Chase in the third-largest city in the U.S. makes sense; however Chicago is a stick-and-ball town, and this race falls when the Cubs and White Sox are just winding down their seasons while the Bears are just getting going.
So let's move NASCAR's annual Chicagoland stop to a date where it's less likely to have to fight for the front page of the sports section – the weekend following the 600.
Following the summer pilgrimage to the Windy City, it's back out west for the year's first road course at Sonoma, followed by Michigan, Daytona (Fourth of July weekend, as is tradition), Kentucky and then Atlanta, which is moved off of Labor Day weekend in favor of Darlington.
Next, the Sprint Cup Series travels north to the beautiful Circuit Gilles Villeneuve road course for what will be the first Cup points race outside the United States since 1958, when the series raced at the 1/3-mile Canadian National Exhibition Stadium track.
After taking a road trip to Montreal, the schedule falls into a repeated pattern as we travel to Pocono and Bristol.
But following Bristol, we're taking a trip back to the historic days of NASCAR, for one of the most prestigious NASCAR races on the schedule – the Southern 500 – with NASCAR righting a wrong and returning the Lady In Black to her proper place on Labor Day Weekend.
The next week, just as it does now, the 22-race regular season would come to an end at Richmond and the Chase field would be set.
This is where things get really shaken up.
Instead of starting the Chase at New Hampshire or Chicagoland, let's really jump-start what is arguably the 10 most important races of the season in a far grander way, with Indianapolis Motor Speedway playing host to Round 1 of the Chase.
The thinking here is by doing this is that Indy would give the Chase an even bigger feel than it has now. This has the intention of generating enough momentum that would then resonate throughout the remaining nine races.
Race Nos. 2 and 3 of the Chase would be held where they are at now, New Hampshire and Dover.
Next is a change that fans and drivers have been clamoring for. For the first time ever, a road course will play a deciding role in who is crowned champion. Watkins Glen gets the honor, and it's also a nod at the track's history (Formula One used to make its annual trek to upstate New York each fall).
Another change I made to the Chase is the addition of another short track, with Iowa Speedway getting its much-desired and much-deserved Cup date.
For those scratching their head and saying, "Iowa?," the facilities at Iowa Speedway are top-notch and the track itself produces great side-by-side racing. Granted, the Midwest market might be oversaturated, but the track deserves the chance to show it can host North America's top racing series. And as the Nationwide and Truck Series have shown, fans have no problem packing the stands despite the presence of nearby Kansas and Chicagoland.
Plus, who is really going to argue with adding another short track to the schedule and in the Chase, to boot?
The last five races of the year – Charlotte, Martinsville, Talladega, Texas and the season-ender at Homestead – fall almost exactly as they are now, with the only subtraction being the second Phoenix date.
All that said, here's what my final schedule looks like (BOLD represents new track or different date):
- Daytona 500
- Las Vegas
- Charlotte (Coke 600)
- Darlington (Labor Day Weekend)
- Indianapolis (Chase opener)
- New Hampshire
- Watkins Glen