Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows that while I’m most certainly (and proudly) a NASCAR old-schooler, I’m also not without a willingness to accept change so long as said changes make sense for the sport. What follows below are my thoughts on what a NASCAR Cup schedule should look like to grow the sport for future generations while still respecting its history, brand, and spirit to fans old and new.
First things first, if NASCAR is serious about growing the sport then the best possible thing to do IMHO would be to end the Cup season on Labor Day weekend. This achieves two major benefits:
- It moves the NASCAR playoffs, which are admittedly riveting, to a time on the sports calendar when mainstream fans and journalists have little else to watch beyond golf and baseball.
- It shifts Cup broadcasts out of the line of fire from football where they’re routinely bludgeoned in the ratings.
One immediate impact of this move would be a reduction in races, which the sanctioning body would have to recoup with mid-week races if it so desired (not part of the below schedule).
This shift would also create a dearth of NASCAR content from September through January, a hole that I’d fill by converting the Truck Series into a mostly regional property which runs its season in that time on the calendar (think XFL spring football but with any Cup or Xfinity series driver who opts to come race during their offseason).
Feel free to let me know what you guys think in the comments, or on social media.
AUTHROS’ NOTE: Dear NASCAR. Throw the handful of old-school fans you have left a bone and move the effing numbers back to center-door where they belong. We’ve already swallowed playoffs, stage racing, and an influx of new road courses, not to mention the proverbial “turd in the punch bowl” that is your move into political activism. Was leaving this one alone REALLY too much to ask? *smh*
President Malone’s 2022 NASCAR Cup Series Schedule
Sunday, February 12 at 2pm ET — The Clash from Daytona (50-lap exhibition race on Super Bowl Sunday featuring the 2021 stage winners)
Tuesday, February 14 — New Smyrna Speedway (exhibition race for charity)
Thursday, February 17 — Duel at Daytona
Sunday, February 20 — Daytona 500
Sunday, February 27 — Homestead
Sunday, March 6 — Sanoma
Sunday, March 13 — Fontana
Sunday, March 20 — Las Vegas
Sunday, March 27 — Phoenix
Sunday, April 3 — COTA 400 (stop calling it a Grand Prix. That’s generally an open wheel term, not a stock car term. Pretending otherwise make you look like a wannabe B series, which reflects poorly on everyone involved.)
Sunday, April 9 — Texas
Sunday, April 17 — EASTER BREAK
Sunday, April 24 — New Hampshire
Sunday, May 1 — Dover
Saturday, May 7 — Stafford Speedway
Sunday, May 15 — Pocono
Saturday, May 21 — All-Star night race from Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, TN (I’m not opposed to the football stadium/temp track concept. I just think it’s ludicrous to hold such an endeavor in L.A. where you’ll never have robust support for the event (see the XFL). By contrast, Knoxville resides squarely in the heart of SEC country, which should be a NASCAR priority. Plus, can you imagine the Volunteer Navy docking their boats outside the track for a massive tailgate on the river? Now THAT’S how you rock an all-star event!)
Sunday, May 29 — Charlotte Oval 300
Monday, May 30 — Charlotte Roval 300
(NOTE: A Memorial Day doubleheader honors the “600” legacy of the weekend while offering fans something fresh. Plus, let’s face it. Stage racing has destroyed this race as we know it.)
Sunday, June 5 — St. Louis
Sunday, June 12 — Kansas
Sunday, June 26 — Road America
Sunday, July 3 — Bristol Night Race (Independence Day weekend in the “Last Great Coliseum” would kick more ass than Brett Griffin on a three-day Fireball bender in Myrtle.)
Sunday, July 10 — Richmond
Sunday, July 17 — Talladega (regular season finale under brand new lights = INSANITY)
(NOTE: As a reward for being the most consistent driver through 20+ points races, the regular season champion would receive an automatic transfer into the second round.)
Sunday, July 24 — Michigan
Sunday, July 31 — Cleveland 400 from Burke Lakefront Airport (NASCAR seems hellbent on running a street race, which is dumb anyway, but doing so in Chicago is pure lunacy. Cleveland, on the other hand, could be fertile ground for growing the fanbase, plus the wide-open space of running these cars on runways could, in theory, make for an interesting watch.)
Saturday, August 6 — Indianapolis Motor Speedway (The hope here is that by making Indy a cutoff race, it’ll make the on-track product more interesting… ON THE OVAL!)
Sunday, August 14 — Nashville Fairgrounds (NASCAR really needs this track.)
Sunday, August 21 — Atlanta
Saturday, August 27 — Martinsville (cutoff night race)
Sunday, September 4 — Darlington (crown your champ at the Southern 500)
Hey gang. Happy Friday!!! I know this isn’t writing related, but you know I’m a racing nut so naturally I had to share. 😉
NASCAR driver Corey Lajoie stopped by The Dudes in Hyperspace Podcast this week to discuss his career in racing and the trials of being a small-budget team competing against stock car titans like Rick Hendrick, Richard Childress, and Joe Gibbs. Corey also weighs in on Kevin Harvick’s playoff collapse at Martinsville, his preferences for beer, burgers, and music at a grill-out, and casts his vote won who’d win a fight between Batman and Iron Man in The Two-Minute Drill.
We close the interview with a discussion of Corey’s favorite charity, Samaritan’s Feet, and the physical toll of driving a 500-mile race in 140-degree-heat on a driver.
Other Topics Discussed on this Episode
- The Mandalorian premiere and Season 2 outlook
- Florida/Georgia and Clemson/Notre Dame CFB predictions
- Is Tampa the favorite in the NFC?
- Favorite Sean Connery movies
- Best Cold -Weather Beers during Fall
- Should NASCAR’s playoff system be tweaked… again?
Where to find the show:
- Apple Podcasts: http://ow.ly/Arq450BGFMo
- Google Podcasts: http://ow.ly/QVac50BGFMp
- YouTube: http://ow.ly/HJBG50BGFMl
- Spotify: http://ow.ly/GTq250BGFMm
- Sticher: http://ow.ly/CRwr50C7fi8
- TuneIn Radio: http://ow.ly/ova750C7fuO
- Web: http://ow.ly/RKvF50BGFMn
To learn more about Corey and his partners, visit https://coreylajoieracing.com/
To learn more about Samaritan’s Feet and their mission to provide shoes to kids and families around the world, visit https://www.samaritansfeet.org/
Have a great weekend, y’all!!!
PS – If you’re wondering which driver is getting my support in Sunday’s NASCAR title fight now that Harvick is out, stay tuned to social media.
To all my fellow geeks or sports lovers who AREN’T NASCAR fans… if you ever wanted to see why folks like me enjoy this sport, watch tonight’s Cup Series All-Star race on FS1. Coverage begins at 7 pm ET with the All Star Open (qualifier event where those drivers who didn’t make the main field try to race their way in) followed by the All Star race itself.
The event will be held for the first time on the historic Bristol Motor Speedway (a half-mile, high-banked “short track”) and will be contested for NO POINTS. That means drivers have every incentive to go all-out for the win because tonight’s results — for better or worse — don’t count toward their season-long chase for a title.
Translation: Expect TONS of action!!!
Ian’s Pick for the Win: Kevin “the Closer” Harvick from Bakersfield, CA, driver of the No. 4 Busch Light Ford (not a stretch for those who know the sport).
Ian’s Dark Horse Pick: Aric Almirola from Tampa, FL, driver of the No. 10 Smithfield’s “Vote for Bacon” Ford (he’s been hot lately).
Have a great night, y’all. I hope you enjoy the race!!!
HUGE news broke today in the world of North American Motorsports.
In response to COVID-19, the Indy 500 is being moved to Aug. 23, while the Indianapolis Grand Prix (typically run in the first week of May) is moving to the July 4th weekend where it will run as part of a doubleheader with NASCAR (click here for coverage from the India polis Star).
IJM on the 500
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway staff had no choice but to postpone the Indy 500. It was only a matter of time. Even if we, as a society, are somehow on the downhill slide of fighting this virus by Memorial Day — and that’s a big if — there’s no way they’d be able to pull together an event of this scale on that much of a truncated timetable. Logistically speaking, it’s just not possible.
Moving the 500 to late-summer was the only way to preserve the integrity of what this event is while caring for fan safety.
Having said all that, every sport has its nasty little community of trolls who dump on any sort of change in the name of dying on Tradition’s Hill. IndyCar is no different.
Don’t listen to those fans. They’re idiots.
IJM on the IndyCar/NASCAR doubleheader
This is a ginormous story for A LOT of people… I’m just not one of them. it’s not that I dislike IndyCar. I really don’t. Heck, I used to be one of their biggest fans back in the early 2000s. Somewhere along the way, though, I simply fell out of love with that series, and it never came back.
These days, my time cup runneth over with everything from family obligations to day job duties and church stuff, plus writing, of course. That only leaves me so much time for sports. Thus, if I’m to choose but one racing series to follow, it’s gonna be my bread and butter — NASCAR.
As for the doubleheader, I honestly don’t care who NASCAR partners with for its race weekends, July Fourth or otherwise. So long as the guys I root for each week are on the track at some point — i.e. Kevin Harvick, Bubba Wallace, Brad Keselowski, etc. — then everything else is gravy in the Malone house.
Much like Alabama and Auburn fans or in-laws at a family reunion, NASCAR and open wheel fans haven’t always mixed well in a crowd (open wheel = wine and cheese, NASCAR = beer and pizza). Some think that’s changed over time, and maybe it has. Nevertheless, I’ll be interested to see what the fan reaction is when those two groups collide in the stands at Indy come Independence Day weekend.
Again, all of this is assuming that we’re back to racing by then, which I, for one, sincerely hope we are.
Think I’m going wrong in my analysis of this story? Track me down on Facebook or Twitter (@ianjmalone) and throw me your beef. Trust me. I can handle it. 😉
Stay safe, y’all.
(Photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Star)
Race fans were treated to a fantastic read this week from ESPN’s Ryan McGee about why there’s still plenty to love about NASCAR despite grumblings to the contrary.
I happen to agree with a lot of what the article says. There’s no shortage of changing coming down the chute for NASCAR, probably as soon as 2020. Rightfully so. Much about the sport has gone stale, from the schedule to the drivers and even the on-track product itself in some instances. Nevertheless, there’s a reason why fans like me fell in love with this series, and a lot of that spirit still exists. You’ve just got to beat through the weeds of pessimism and Twitter trolls s to find it.
Don’t let the trolls win, folks. Grab yourself a cold one and pull up a chair for Daytona this weekend. After all, it still is — and always will be — the Great American Race!
PS – Be sure to catch up with me tomorrow (Sunday, Feb. 17) via Facebook Live at 2 pm EST on the IJM author page. I’ll drop updates about my future writing projects, as well as my predictions for the 500.
There’s a great article from NBC Sports this weekend on Danica Patrick’s exit from NASCAR, and the sport’s need for new “mega star” drivers moving forward.
I was a huge Danica supporter, dating all the way back to her rookie season in IndyCar. She brought a ton to the table in terms of exposure (see her 2005 Sports Illustrated cover, promoting her maiden run at Indy). Still, Kevin Harvick is exactly right when he says in this article that eventually, star power has to be paired with results on the track or it’s all moot.
Danica was in top-flight equipment for most of her career, in IndyCar and stock cars. But what did she bring home for that? A handful of top-ten runs at Indy (no small deal, granted), one fuel mileage win in Japan (the only major victory of her career), and a pole at Daytona (rookie season in Cup). That’s it. In more than a decade of bigtime racing, that’s all the success she managed to find.
I wish Danica well in her future endeavors. I really do. I’ll also never argue with anyone who says she’s the Anna Kornikova of motorsport.
On a related note, with guys like Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart having retired from active competition, the NASCAR garage needed someone to step up and “call it like he sees it” on issues of the sport’s health. I’m glad that someone is Harvick, and not just because he’s my driver. Harv is widely regarded in sports business as a sharp dude, especially when it comes to branding. So when he says “the sport needs to grow/market itself in this direction,” most agree that he knows what he’s talking about. Couple that with his on-track credentials — Cup Series title in 14, Daytona 500 title in 07, 90 career wins in NASCAR’s top three series — and the man possesses both the on-track resume and business savvy to be a voice of reason in this discussion.
Good on ya, Harv.
As always, this is merely my opinion. Take it for what it’s worth. Now, onward to Texas!
PS – Harvick cites Chase Elliott as having the potential for mega-stardom. I wholeheartedly agree with that because of his name. I’d be remiss, however, if I didn’t add Bubba Wallace to that list. The kid’s personality, on and off camera, is downright infections, plus he’s got skill. Now, if he just had Chase/Danica’s funding and equipment, he’d be good to go.
Hey, y’all. Hope all is well and you’re having a great fall.
I’m taking a break from writing about books today to rant about something else that I’ve always been passionate about — NASCAR.
As a lot of you know, I spent a good chunk of my career working in sports. I worked with Florida State athletics, EA Sports, the Indy Racing League (now IndyCar), and even the Charlotte Motor Speedway while in graduate school.
Nowadays I don’t write about sports unless it’s for fun, which is why from time to time I pen posts like these.
Before I go any further, I do want to say congratulations to Martin Truex and the entire 78 team on winning the 2017 Cup Series championship at Homestead last weekend. I remember Martin when he entered Cup racing via JR Motorsports from what was then the Busch Series. He was a talent then, and he’s a talent now evidenced by one of the most dominate seasons in recent NASCAR history. He’s also, best I can tell, one helluva good guy with the makings of a great champion.
Way to endure, Martin. Truly, you are the man.
So, why NASCAR and why now?
A lot has been made of NASCAR’s dire financial situation in 2017. I’m not here to discuss that, although if you’d like to know more, I’d highly recommend reading this excellent column from Jenna Fryer of the Associated Press. I’m here to talk about solutions.
In short, NASCAR today reminds me in many ways of the National Hockey League following the 2004 lockout, which saw the league forfeit an entire season. Radical change was the only way the NHL would ever recover, and radical change it embraced. It moved forward with three things in mind:
- How do we make our product as exciting as possible for fans?
- How do we maximize our league’s value for owners and potential sponsors?
- Who can we partner with to grow our renewed brand?
Fast-forward a few years, and the NHL is quite healthy in 2017. Still, it all started with the league’s willingness to retract, cut costs, adapt, then move forward with a strong foundation.
This is the path NASCAR should embrace today.
What would Commissioner Malone do?
The following are six far-fetched (as in, they’ll never happen) ideas I’d pitch were I tasked with fixing NASCAR.
Step 1: Slash the schedule and realign
There is absolutely no reason for a sport — any sport — to run a 10-month season. Thirty-six races are entirely too many, and that’s not even including exhibition events like the All Star race and pole winner shootout.
I’d cut ten weeks from the schedule. That’s nine points races and the All-Star race (no sport in America has a thriving all-star event, so why bother?). This, in turn:
- Puts a premium on remaining races
- Makes significant cuts to travel costs for teams
- Ends the season during the summer with minimal competition from other sports for TV viewership
Once the final list of tracks has been established, I’d design a schedule with as much emphasis on geography as possible to prevent teams from crisscrossing the country for dates.
My ideal season would consist of 27 races (20 regular season and 7 postseason). It would begin in February with the Daytona 500 then end on Labor Day in NASCAR’s backyard — Charlotte, North Carolina.
Bonus Thought: The Memorial Day date would go to the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.
Step 2: Rebrand the “playoffs” as “the tournament,” reduce participants
Dear NASCAR. Stop calling your postseason “the playoffs.” You’re not football, and honestly you look ridiculous pretending otherwise. Be who you are.
I get that NASCAR wanted to put an emphasis on wins by giving automatic postseason berths to race victors throughout the regular season. It makes sense. The problem is you inevitably end up with one or two drivers who fluke out a win then eek into the title hunt with no real right to be there.
That’s not competition; that’s a gimmick, and it cheapens the crap out of your title.
The time has come to reward consistency again. I’d do this by crowning a regular-season points champion after race 20, then giving that driver the top seed in a seven-week tournament (ala the NCAA Basketball Tourney) using much the same format as exists today (twelve drivers trimmed to eight after three races then four after six, creating a four-driver shootout in the final event).
This rewards the old-school fans who value consistency while giving NASCAR’s television partners something exciting to sell with the postseason.
As for how these 12 drivers would be selected: I’d do so on points, while allotting major point bonuses to stage and race winners throughout the regular season (yes, I’d keep stage racing).
Step 3: Cut the cost of racing… A LOT
Some reports claim it takes $25-30 million per year to field a competitive Cup Series team. That’s freaking absurd! NASCAR should find ways to slash that in half, minimum. This would achieve two major goals:
- Creates enormous value for sponsors (NASCAR Sales Pitch: “Hey, Outback. Would you rather spend $10 million annually for eight weeks of scoreboard sponsorship at Dolphins Stadium, or be featured front-and-center on the hood/fire-suit of our champion for seven straight months, including the postseason? Oh, and he’ll eat a steak in Victory Lane!”)
- Creates parody within the sport since more race teams can afford to compete at high levels (good equipment, equal testing time, etc.)
As for how best to do that, I wouldn’t begin to speculate, although the schedule changes shown above are a great way to start.
This is one of those areas where NASCAR leadership would need to sit down with their stakeholders (owners, tracks, manufactures, racing engineers, television partners, safety crews, etc.) and heed their expertise in formulating a plan.
Step 4: Partner with blue collar brands
NASCAR’s core fanbase has always been blue collar, always. They’ve lost a lot of that identity, and frankly, it’s time to get it back. This begins by reinjecting value into the sport via the means above then realigning it with companies/brands who cater to that same working-class audience.
So, who are these people?
They’re most Americans, which is to say they live on a budget. They drink Miller High Life beer because it’s $6.99 a twelve-pack. They grocery shop at Walmart. They wear clothes from JC Penny, and occasionally they treat themselves to a nice dinner out at the Olive Garden because they had a Groupon.
Does this mean blue-collar folks don’t spend money? Not at all. They’re just a lot more intentional about how they do it.
Examples of companies that might resonate with NASCAR fans:
- Superstores like Walmart and Target
- Wrangler, Lee Jeans
- TV streaming services like Hulu, Netflix, and Sling TV
- Redbox movie-rental service
- Domestic beer companies
- Discount wireless services like Straight Talk, Boost Mobile, and Cricket
- Bargain-hunter websites like Overstock and Priceline
- Fast food chains
- Bulk/wholesale chains like Sam’s Club, BJ’s, and Costco
- Bargain clothes stores like Payless Shoes, Ross, and TJ Max
- Popular grocery store brands for cereals, coffee, or frozen pizza
It would also behoove NASCAR to invest in the American family. This means offering father-son discounts on race tickets, or partnering with charities that support impoverished homes. This advances goodwill toward the public, and helps build NASCAR’s next generation of fans who, in a time before computerized engines and iPads, learned about cars in the family garage with their parents and a toolbox.
This segues nicely into…
Step 5: Cut costs for fans
NASCAR’s equal footing with the big-league sports lasted a hot minute then ended years ago, though you’d never know that from the cost of a race weekend. Between tickets, travel expenses, hotels/camping, concessions, and race swag, fans can expect to shell out primo bucks to attend an event.
Time for that to change, too.
NASCAR should take the minor-league sports approach to event costs. That means cheaper tickets, reduced costs for concessions (i.e. Dollar Dog Night), discount bins on old swag, and *GASP!* free parking at the track.
No fan should ever pay $120 for a race ticket again, period. $120 for a full weekend, maybe. But not just a Cup race.
Other things NASCAR can do to create value for fans:
- Strengthen partnerships with other series like ARCA and IndyCar to provide additional on-track action for race weekends
- Spotlight local racers with “big track” heat race events (many large tracks feature built-in short tracks that could facilitate this)
- Continue adding concerts and non-racing attractions to bring more fans to race weekends
Step 6: Bring on the NASCAR Network
NASCAR needs to get with the times and launch its own digital network (ala the WWE Network). This would provide them a platform through which to connect with a whole new generation of cord-cutting fans while simultaneously creating a one-stop-shop for original content, classic race footage, and expanded coverage of NASCAR’s national touring series.
Other features of the NASCAR Network:
- Make the Truck Series the network’s crown jewel property and run it offseason from Cup and Xfinity (ideally Truck Series teams would operate for pennies on the dollar compared to Cup)
- Coordinate with grassroots tracks to live-stream weekly events like the K&N Pro Series, though blacking out broadcasts in local markets to maintain fan attendance at venues (this would also offer tons of value to smalltime sponsors of hometown race teams)
- Create NASCAR-themed entertainment such as reality shows, lifestyle pieces, and live-streamed video podcasts (i.e. The Glass Case of Emotion Podcast) to create a more rounded viewing experience
In closing, some might say I’m thinking too small with this model — that the goal should be to challenge the NFL, not run from it. Maybe that’s true. However, NASCAR tried that, and it seems to me that all it gained in the long-run was a boatload of empty stands, dwindling TV ratings, and a legion of fleeing of sponsors.
Put simply: It’s better to be a healthy niche sport in the black then an overextended has-been that’s hemorrhaging fans with no sustainable future. Alas, that’s just one humble sci-fi writer’s opinion.
Got ideas of your own for how NASCAR should change? Feel free to weigh in via the comments below.
Cheers, gang. Take care, travel safe this week if you’re hitting the road for the holiday, and Happy Thanksgiving!!!
Hmmm. I can’t decide what I want to cook for Bristol tomorrow night. Really been craving some wings lately, but it’s somewhat of a chore to pull out, cook with, then tear down and clean my smoker to make that happen.
On the other hand, there’s always my fallback option: Bratwurst parboiled in beer with sweated onion and garlic then grilled over low heat and served in a hearty baguette with spicy mustard and veggies steamed in a beer bath.
I can’t even lie, man. The brat sounds pretty darn good. That should tell you something about my wings that this is even a contest. Alas, such is the plight of a lone race fan in Raleigh-Durham.
Bristol is, without a doubt, one of my favorite tracks on the NASCAR schedule. It’s just a fun watch, mostly because it’s one of the few venues left where we still get quality, door-to-door racing (when they haven’t ruined the track surface, anyhow).
So, who takes the checkers tomorrow night in Thunder Valley?
*drums fingers again*
As much I’d love to see my boy, Harv, take the win in the 4, it’s tough to bet against the 18 at Bristol. “He Who Shall Not Be Named” is always good there, plus that entire team has been hotter than a firecracker of late.
Other drivers to watch out for tomorrow:
- Martin Truex (dominant this year)
- Kyle Larson (speaking of firecrackers)
- Matt Kenseth (my dark horse is auditioning for rides next year)
Happy Friday, y’all. Have a great weekend and best of luck to your respective drivers tomorrow… unless, of course, that’s Kyle, in which case I hope your night sucks.