On June 25, the NASCAR Cup Series visited Nashville Superspeedway for the first time under the lights in its three seasons of competition at the 1.33-mile concrete oval.
Nowadays, night races seem like a foreign concept to those who have been fans of the sport for even the last five years. Night races have almost gone the way of the dodo, and in 2023, just six races on the schedule have a scheduled start time of 6 p.m. ET or later (excluding exhibitions races), down from nine just 10 years ago.
There are several tracks on the schedule that have lights but don’t host any scheduled night races in the Cup Series, including World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, Richmond Raceway, Texas Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway.
A lot of these racetracks end up using their lights during a race, as at a race that starts at 3:30 p.m. ET that takes place at an east coast track, there is potential for races to go into the night (see this year’s race at Gateway). But none of these tracks have races scheduled to start and end in the evening.
Other tracks such as Nashville, Bristol Motor Speedway’s dirt race and Atlanta Motor Speedway changed their race start times from afternoon to evening. In the case of Nashville and Atlanta, the change was made due to high temperatures in the afternoon; a cooler air temperature takes less of a toll on the drivers.
So why aren’t there more night races, especially in the summer? It’s been documented recently at tracks like Nashville that the heat gets so brutal that drivers frequently end up sitting next to their cars and receive treatment from emergency crews, including bags of ice to pour over them, or trips to the infield care center for an IV.
It’s time to bring back Saturday night races wherever possible, especially in the summer. Some summer tracks such as Sonoma Raceway and New Hampshire Motor Speedway don’t have lights, so unless NASCAR changes the schedule to avoid going to those tracks, day racing is impossible to avoid.
During the summer months, NASCAR typically travels to tracks with high heat indexes, so the addition of Saturday night races could help the drivers exponentially by avoiding said heat. Not to mention the fans who have to sit stationary in the stands for hours in the beating sun.
Plus, rain has been a topic of conversation in recent years; it seems like almost everywhere NASCAR goes, the threat of rain follows it. Typically in the event of a rainout, NASCAR will postpone the event to the next day around 11 a.m. or noon ET.
If a Saturday night race gets rained out, NASCAR can push it to early Sunday and allow more fans to return for the race instead of being forced to head home due to strict travel plans or having to go to work or school the next morning.
Now, late afternoon start times on Sundays are supposedly good for TV ratings; it allows west coast viewers to be able to catch the race at a reasonable hour.
Some tracks also host all three of NASCAR’s premier series in a weekend, and unless it wants to consistently push the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series races to Thursday night or schedule doubleheader after doubleheader with the Trucks and the NASCAR Xfinity Series, it would be a little difficult to coordinate.
But a bigger push for night races could result in bigger crowd turnouts should a postponement occur, and could help drivers, fans and personnel avoid baking in the sun for hours.
Plus, Saturday night racing opens up a whole different kind of racing. The track and car handle different in the cooler nighttime, which could completely change the outcome of a race. The Next Gen car hasn’t really had too many chances to prove itself in pure nighttime racing, so maybe it races really well in the night.
And who doesn’t love the way bright paint schemes shine in the night? It would also give Alex Bowman more chances to run the night version of his Ally paint scheme, but I digress.
As the 2024 schedule release draws closer and closer, it might be wise of NASCAR to consider more night races for the health and safety of its fans, drivers and personnel, as well as more logistical options in the event of a rainout.
Let us return to Saturday night showdowns.
About the author
Anthony Damcott joined Frontstretch in March 2022. He co-authors Only Yesterday (Wednesdays) and Fire on Fridays (Fridays); he is also the site's primary Truck Series reporter and writer, and contributes to SRX coverage, too. A proud West Virginia Wesleyan College alum from Akron, Ohio, Anthony is currently pursuing his master of journalism at Temple University. He is a theatre actor and fight choreographer-in-training outside of Frontstretch. He is a loyal fan of the Cincinnati Reds and Carolina Panthers, still hopeful for a championship at some point in his lifetime.
You can keep up with Anthony by following @AnthonyDamcott on Twitter.
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