The 2019 NASCAR Cup series schedule has been set already, but that doesn’t mean we can’t offer up our suggestions for improvements and changes on how NASCAR and its tracks can improve racing overall and the fan experience. ESPN’s experts put their outside-the-box ideas to paper, err, webpage:
Mike Clay, ESPN: Though Sonoma and Watkins Glen are two of my favorite races to watch each season, I think three road courses is plenty. I’m all for making any change that makes NASCAR less about car speed and more about driver talent, but I think the core of the sport should be 1-1.5 mile tracks and short tracks with superspeedways and road courses serving as complementary pieces.
Ricky Craven, ESPN NASCAR analyst: Pocono transitioning a race to the road course may work provided Cup teams are required to use rain tires. Weather has always been a dominating issue in the Pocono mountains and rain delays have become a more negative element for NASCAR. I’m not suggesting it’s raining more now than it did 30 years ago, but I’m absolutely convinced that NASCAR consumers are much less tolerant as it relates to their experience and are less interested in waiting out rain delays.
Ryan McGee, ESPN senior writer: I have long wanted Pocono to do something different with one of its races, simply because they have always run identical events in what feels like only a handful of weeks apart. What I have wanted them to do is a doubleheader in one day, two shorter races. I worry about everyone going crazy over rovals and just adding too many and then it becomes like night racing, which used to be special but has become a regular thing.
Scott Page, Jayski editor: Yes. Pocono is a fun track to watch a race at … once a year. If NASCAR is going to go a second time, do something different. My first thought was to suggest eliminating the second race altogether, but there are lot of other tracks I would cut a second date from first.
Bob Pockrass, ESPN.com: Maybe in like five years. If the Charlotte road course is a consistent success and the Pocono races are consistently lackluster, that could be an option. But there are so many great road courses, true road courses, that NASCAR should not make a habit of running part-oval, part-road course layouts. Do you hear me Indianapolis?
Scott Symmes, ESPN.com: That is a big “if” because the Charlotte roval has the potential to be a complete mess. That said, fans seem to love chaos, and if Charlotte produces a water-cooler event in September (even if it’s not a great race by traditional standards), then NASCAR will likely take a close look at the Pocono possibility. Pocono CEO Nick Igdalsky has said the course is only a few minor changes away from being race-ready.
Matt Willis, ESPN Stats & Information: Pocono should be the next track to welcome changes. With two races in such short succession, even the uniqueness of the track isn’t enough to handle 800 miles at the track in about a two-month span. Although I’d like to see the Indianapolis road course considered, that track is historic enough and only hosts one race a year for it to stand on its own.
Clay: Yes, but only because the NASCAR schedule is already very long. In fact, it’s fair to think the season should be shortened, especially with it competing with the NFL. Or — and hear me out here — the occasional race could be on a weekday (Wednesday night racing would be awesome in the fall). I may be drifting off topic, but the point is: the schedule is already long and an injection of creativity is more important than simply adding race weekends.
Craven: The race would have to come from somewhere. I believe it’s a certainty that the NASCAR schedule will not expand. Pocono is the track most obvious in play because it’s privately held and could be easily gobbled up by one of the two major publicly-traded companies. And of course those two companies could acquire Iowa. Pocono selling one of its dates makes the most sense to me because of what I mentioned earlier regarding constant climate issues. Also, Pocono’s two events are scheduled too close together and it’s a short summer.
McGee: I am all for severely reducing the number of tracks that host two dates. I’ve believed that for a long time. So, with that in mind … sorry, Kansas! Give as many markets one date as you possibly can.
Page: I live in Missouri. Kansas is my “home” track. I had season tickets for at least the first five years the track was open, but I would yank the second date from it in a heartbeat. I wouldn’t lose sleep over Chicago losing a date either. As long as we are thinking outside the box, I would move a Chicago date to Iowa, a Kansas date to Gateway, and the Brickyard to O’Reilly Raceway Park. Issue is, I won’t hold my breath on any of that happening though.
Pockrass: Not necessarily. The other races are in much bigger metropolitan-type markets, and Iowa is a different track than the rest. But putting a race at Iowa could hurt those other races, and NASCAR would have to at least monitor the impact. The bigger question is would Iowa ever be a viable Cup race site as long as NASCAR owns it? To avoid legal challenges, NASCAR would likely have to sell the track or buy the date from an existing track operator.
Symmes: Yes, and Indianapolis is the one that needs to go. I’ve enjoyed the charm and pageantry of the Brickyard, but it’s time for NASCAR to move on to different venues. The racing at Indy has been mostly mediocre and the recent attendance has been flat-out dreadful (especially last year). Iowa didn’t draw exceptionally well for its truck and Xfinity races earlier this year, but the track has produced some terrific racing. A Cup race there would create a lot of buzz.
Willis: I’m a subscriber to the Dale Junior (and others) philosophy that we shouldn’t be visiting too many tracks twice a year, so I’d be fine with seeing Kansas lose a race in favor of Iowa. I understand moving races is tricky because of track ownership, but it’s time for NASCAR to make a stand on the overall health of the sport rather than pleasing the major track owners.
Clay: Oh good, an easy one. Yes! Yes! Yes! I watch most Cup races and as many Xfinity and Truck events as possible, but the Eldora Dirt Derby has been appointment television for the race fans in my family since the inaugural event in 2013. I have to imagine it would be a logistical nightmare for a Cup race, but I think the unique nature is well worth the hassle, especially considering the dirt background of many of the sport’s stars. I mean, when Kyle Larson is on dirt on the national stage, everybody wins!
Craven: Yes! There is plenty of intrigue, curiosity and I would even say anticipation for NASCAR’s top series to return to dirt-track racing. The most recent truck series event at Eldora did nothing to discourage the idea. The racing was outstanding, and sure there’s a little risk, but there’s tremendous potential for reward.
McGee: Sure. There’s just too much momentum around the idea. And the buzz around the Charlotte road course is more proof that there’s a demand for things that are different on the schedule. What I said in Question 2 applies — this would be an opportunity to reach into another market. But what I said in Question 1 also applies. Add one dirt race and that’s it. Don’t let a great idea get watered down; don’t rip apart the goose looking for more golden eggs.
Page: I’m intrigued by the novelty of Cup cars on dirt, and I would happily accept that change if it was offered, but one dirt race isn’t going to fix anything with NASCAR’s schedule. It’s been said before and will be said again … the whole schedule needs to be blown up and rebuilt. Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening anytime soon. So, for now, let’s let the truck series shine on dirt.
Pockrass: No. While part of me would love to see it, there are just too many quality asphalt short tracks that NASCAR could add to the schedule and generate much-needed enthusiasm. If NASCAR thinks it can run Cup cars at Eldora, then why not Indianapolis Raceway Park? Why not Nashville Fairgrounds? Gateway? Road America? While Eldora would be a blast and a cool event, it’s near the top of the list of cool moves but not the top.
Symmes: It would be in my top three. I’m not a huge dirt guy, but it’s time to shake things up. NASCAR is losing fans — and sponsors — and it needs to take more chances to boost excitement. This is assuming steps are taken to ensure the Eldora facility can accommodate a Cup race. My vote is for a midsummer, midweek truck/Cup doubleheader.
Willis: NASCAR’s next schedule move should be to blow the whole thing up in some sort of spectacular fashion. Start the season at Daytona, and then from there make the schedule a fun collection of short tracks, dirt tracks, road courses, plate races and intermediate tracks, all in fairly equal distribution. Visit each track once a year to drive attendance. Award small awards for the driver that collects the most points on each track each season.