NASCAR finally made a much-needed attempt at a schedule shakeup for the 2020 season. But not every change that the sanctioning body made is a good one. And there’s one bad one that could overshadow all of the good changes that NASCAR made.
From a financial perspective, it makes a ton of sense for NASCAR to move the championship race to ISM Raceway in Phoenix. The one-mile track recently had a $178 million remodel and NASCAR’s International Speedway Corporation clearly had big things in mind for the track when it shelled out that kind of cash to upgrade the facilities.
But Homestead, the current site of the title race, is the perfect spot for NASCAR’s championship race. With more than a third of Cup Series races on tracks between 1.3 and 2 miles in length, the 1.5-mile oval south of Miami has served as a fair championship test. To be a title contender in the Cup Series you have to be strong on intermediate tracks. And Homestead, with its wide racing grooves and worn out pavement, has served as a worthy test for the four drivers racing for the championship.
Phoenix, a very unique one-mile oval, doesn’t share many characteristics with any other tracks on the schedule. From a racing perspective, it doesn’t make nearly as much sense as Homestead does for the title-decider. It’s a track that NASCAR vice president Steve O’Donnell noted had put on “tremendous racing.”
“We’re able to really enhance the spring portion of our schedule and then also rotate the championship; and more driven from a competitive standpoint,” O’Donnell said. “Going to the same track year in and year out could potentially favor certain drivers, so we wanted to take a look if we had the opportunity to go to another venue, what would that be, and obviously a ton of investment has gone into ISM Raceway. It’s a big sports market and we thought it was natural for us to make that rotation this year and see how it plays out and also put Miami in a date that we think works for them as well.”
Homestead, which will host the sixth race of the season, has produced five different winners in the five races under the winner-take-all title format and nine different winners in the last nine races overall. Kevin Harvick has won seven of the last 14 races at Phoenix. Homestead has the parity that Phoenix doesn’t currently have.
Phoenix also doesn’t look like it’s the start of a rotating title race idea anytime soon. If it was a one-and-done championship site, then NASCAR’s decision is more defensible from a competition standpoint. It’s pretty clear that the title race will be at Phoenix for more than just the 2020 season.
“I think our hope will be to stay there for a little while,” O’Donnell said. “I can’t say how long but I think with any venue you want to see it have a chance to grow a little bit and see how that works.”
The other pros and cons of the 2020 changes
Good: This one has a caveat. The July 4 weekend race at Daytona has been a longstanding NASCAR tradition. It’s going to be really weird to see the Cup Series at a place other than Daytona on the first weekend of July.
But some potential chaos and randomness for the final race of the regular season isn’t a bad thing. Especially in a Cup Series world with 16 drivers in the playoffs and many drivers assured of their playoff fates heading into the final race of the regular season. Daytona and Talladega provide the only real opportunities for drivers on backmarker teams to get good finishes. While a backmarker driver won’t make any noise in the playoffs, the potential for a surprise winner heading into the playoffs isn’t a bad thing.
Huh? When the Brickyard 400 moved to September for the 2018 season, Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Doug Boles had this to say to the Indianapolis Star.
"The biggest complaints we get from customers: It’s too hot. So you get out of July and (into) September, (and that is) a big help for us. And then obviously you’ve got a reason to celebrate, where before you were just a race in the middle of the summer."
Well, the Brickyard 400 is back in July. It’s replacing Daytona as the July 4 race. The concerns about heat exist again. Indianapolis Motor Speedway is nearly out of excuses for its poor attendance.
Good: NASCAR couldn’t add new tracks to the 2020 schedule because of its contracts with tracks currently on the schedule, so new short tracks and road courses have to wait until 2021. But putting Bristol, the Charlotte Roval and Martinsville as the cutoff races in the first three rounds of the playoffs are good consolation prizes.
The Bristol race, set for Sept. 12, does go head-to-head with a Tennessee home football game vs. Furman. A few people could be forced to choose between events. And hotels in Knoxville will definitely be at capacity.
Good: Ending the season a week earlier. While the Cup Series season could stand to be a few weeks shorter, chopping a week off the length of the 2020 season while adding a two-week break at the same time is a good start.
Bad: No midweek races. While O’Donnell said NASCAR had “a lot of conversations” about having races in the evening in the middle of the week, there are no non-weekend Cup Series races on the 2020 schedule. While the midweek race door is still publicly open for 2021, NASCAR should have put a race at a track in a large city during the middle of the week in July.
Good: While NASCAR didn’t try the midweek race experiment, it’s floating a trial balloon with two races at Pocono on the same weekend (June 27-28). The double-race weekend allows NBC to have a two-week summer NASCAR break for the 2020 Summer Olympics. And it gives Pocono a much-needed twist. While the track has had some entertaining racing recently it still has a reputation among many NASCAR fans as a track that produces boring racing.
The only downside here is if it rains all weekend. With NASCAR also running ARCA, Xfinity and the Truck Series that weekend too, there would be a lot of racing to reschedule.
Good: Martinsville gets a night race. The track’s spring race moves to the Saturday night before Mother’s Day in 2020. That weekend should provide some warmer weather — the 2018 race was snowed out — and maybe some heightened excitement. The last two races at Martinsville have been relatively tame.
Full 2020 Cup schedule
Feb. 16: Daytona 500
Feb. 23: Las Vegas
March 1: Auto Club (Fontana)
March 8: ISM Raceway (Phoenix)
March 15: Atlanta
March 22: Homestead
March 29: Texas
April 5: Bristol
April 19: Richmond
April 26: Talladega
May 3: Dover
May 9: Martinsville
May 16: All-Star Race
May 24: Charlotte
May 31: Kansas
June 7: Michigan
June 14: Sonoma
June 21: Chicago
June 27: Pocono
June 28: Pocono
July 5: Indianapolis
July 11: Kentucky
July 19: New Hampshire
Aug. 9: Michigan
Aug. 16: Watkins Glen
Aug. 23: Dover
Aug. 29: Daytona
Sept. 6: Darlington
Sept. 12: Richmond
Sept. 19: Bristol
Sept. 27: Las Vegas
Oct. 4: Talladega
Oct. 11: Charlotte Roval
Oct. 18: Kansas
Oct. 25: Texas
Nov. 1: Martinsville
Nov. 8 ISM Raceway
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports
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