By admin | January 31, 2010
By Richard Allen
Last week, Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing team co-owner Felix Sabates stirred some controversy by saying that NASCAR should not be racing in Michigan because as he said, “There’s nobody left in Detroit other than the police and the unemployed. I’d cut Michigan off the schedule altogether. Michigan — I’m talking about the state — is never coming back to what it used to be, so why go there and throw good money after bad money?”
It would be hard to argue the part of his statement that Michigan is never coming back to what it used to be. The troubles of the American auto industry combined with the changing way in which the world now conducts its business pretty much assures that a state so entwined with that particular industry will never return to its former stature.
However, NASCAR does need to race there because of the fact that the track still drew more than 100,000 fans to its last race, but more, because it is the symbol of American automobile manufacturing. The track has been a part of NASCAR’s schedule for more than three decades so it should remain as such. Whether there should be two races there is perhaps open for debate. Certainly, that track as well as several others could be evaluated as to how many events they should have, if any.
With that said, though, Mr. Sabates was not wrong in saying that the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule should be reduced and redefined. 36 races per year is too many. There is an over saturation of the product. The NASCAR season runs longer than any other sport even in a time when other professional leagues go out of their way to extend their playoffs for as long as possible.
Immediately, NASCAR would do well to eliminate the race in Homestead-Miami. That track has never been truly integrated into the racing community. Crowds there are sparse and often only there as a result of ticket giveaways and greatly reduced prices. The track was poorly planned, at least for NASCAR, and has no real place in the sport.
Along with eliminating the Homestead race, NASCAR ought to take one date away from the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. Crowds, if they can be called that, are embarrassing to the sport. More empty seats appear to the eye than filled ones when viewing on television.
When the California track had only one date it did not seem as though the crowds were so sparse. So, it would make sense to allow the facility one race to maintain a presence in the country’s second largest metropolitan area.
Taking dates from these two tracks would reduce the schedule to 34 races and would allow a bit more flexibility in providing other tracks with more favorable dates. Specifically, I would move the Darlington race back where it belongs, on Labor Day weekend. And then I would move Atlanta to the last race of the season so the championship could be decided closer to the roots of the sport.
However, we live in a real world and we know that neither of those changes is going to take place for one simple and obvious reason…money. Both of those tracks are owned by International Speedway Corporation which, like NASCAR itself, is controlled by the France family. They will not cut dates from their own tracks, and thus, cost themselves money.
But while we are on the subject of streamlining the NASCAR schedule I am going to take it one step further. Most of the races in the Sprint Cup Series are too long. Why ride around for all that extra time just to get to the same result that would been achieved much earlier?
These next suggestions may not be too popular with some fans but team owners would love to have races shortened because of the big reduction they would see in their tire expenses. Also, I believe shortening some of the races would make those that are 500 miles in length that much more special.
I will start with the most obvious and frequently mentioned track in need of a mileage reduction. Pocono Raceway’s 500 mile events seem like endurance races. Each of the two should be shortened to 400 miles. This would eliminate that long stretch in the middle sections of those races in which everyone sits and waits for the predictable ‘debris’ caution just before the end. That yellow could be thrown at lap # 150 just as easily as lap #190.
The Atlanta Motor Speedway also hosts two events of 500 miles in length. Although AMS does provide some of the better racing on the circuit, a reduction of at least one, if not both, of those races would seem logical for the same reasons mentioned in the Pocono case.
The one remaining race at Auto Club Speedway should be cut to 400 miles as should the fall race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Both Texas Motor Speedway events could slim down from 500 to 400 miles as well.
Perhaps most open for debate, I would reduce both Talladega races to 400 miles. As I have said earlier, what is the point of running that extra 100 miles just to get to the inevitable, a staged caution which leads to a massive pile up. That can happen just as easily at the 390 mile mark as the 490 mile mark.
Basically, I would leave the Daytona 500, the Southern 500 and the 600 miler at Charlotte as the only races running those extreme distances. Shortening the races might also improve the competition as well. Drivers might feel an extra sense of urgency realizing they do not have as much time to make their moves as before.
If I did my math right, which is highly doubtful for this history major, I have removed two(and possible more after track evaluations) races from the schedule and subtracted 1,000 miles. The tire savings alone for teams would be significant.
Some fans may claim they would not be getting good value for their tickets by having the races shortened. I personally would much rather see a good short race as a long boring one. I attend many dirt races each year and often come away from those feeling as though I saw more action in 50 to 100 laps there than in 500 miles of a Sprint Cup race.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly columns appear in The Mountain Press and The Knoxville Journal.
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