Race Weekend Central

Holding A Pretty Wheel: Street Racing Should Be on a NASCAR Schedule – But Don’t Overdo It

Sunday’s race on the streets of Chicago was a first for the NASCAR Cup Series. Cup cars have run on ovals, road courses, a beach-road-oval hybrid, airports, a circle, dirt, asphalt, concrete and once (under caution) through a cemetery, but until Sunday, a street course wasn’t on the list.

Street courses offer a tantalizing option to NASCAR because they’re temporary. Cars could race in any city that would have them, in and out in a few days (plus equipment staging) with a brand-new ready-made audience.

This weekend’s semi-successful foray into street racing has some people ready to add more of them, dedicating a bigger portion of the Cup schedule to road and street racing. 

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There was a lot to like about the Chicago race. The track was wide enough to have a couple of passing zones. There was plenty of action thanks to a wet track and tire barriers that didn’t like to let cars out of them. And there was a first-time unexpected winner. Plus, an estimated 80% of fans in attendance had not seen a NASCAR race in person, and television ratings had NBC happy.

It’s worth trying again, but it wasn’t perfect. Rain made for a NASCAR Xfinity Series race without a single pass for the lead before Cole Custer was declared the winner despite the race not reaching official length because there wasn’t a Monday option. The Cup Series ran into a rain delay, started on a track that was borderline flooded with large puddles in some sections and cut the race 25 laps short when daylight ran out. There was a Monday option for Cup, but it came at a cost, and the city was reluctant to keep streets closed another day.

Had the track been dry, there would not have been much action early on—much of the excitement was created by cars sliding into the tire barriers and sometimes each other. One section of the track never dried except for one narrow strip.

The finish was a decent one with a brief battle for the lead, but it would not have had the same impact if the two drivers involved were the usual suspects. In other words, circumstances made it seem like a better race than it was.

Still, area businesses did well, especially during the rain delays, and fans got treated to something different. If it’s something NASCAR wants to do once a year, it’d be a good thing. But just once.

NASCAR is in a position where they have an opportunity to make major schedule overhauls. There are several venues that have or could enter the sport in the next couple of years. 

The bigger question, at least for now, is whether the Next Gen racecar can be improved to be as competitive on every type of track layout as it has been on the intermediate ovals. NASCAR has made changes to that end and seems open to more—there’s at least one test scheduled this summer to try some more things, and higher horsepower on road courses and short tracks could help solve some problems.

The car has to come first, and it could take some radical changes to make it all right. But the return on that investment stands to be great. The Next Gen races well on the intermediates, better than any recent iteration of a Cup car. If NASCAR can make it race well everywhere, then the right schedule could make a great season of racing.

What would the ideal combination of tracks look like? Keeping a 36-race points season and a pair of exhibitions, there’s an opportunity to have a variety of tracks in a variety of markets while staying in keeping with the sport’s history and the wants of fans.

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Here’s an example of how the schedule could look: a nod to history, enough spiciness to keep fans entertained, keeping every current venue on the list with the exception of Auto Club Speedway – which is currently undergoing massive changes and a return is questionable at this point.

Six superspeedway races: two at Daytona International Speedway, two at Talladega Superspeedway and two at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

One at Pocono Raceway.

One at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval. 

One at Michigan International Speedway.

Seven 1.5-mile races: two at Charlotte Motor Speedway, one at Texas Motor Speedway, one at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, two at Kansas Speedway and one at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Four one-mile-plus races: two at Darlington Raceway, one at World Wide Technology Raceway (Gateway) and one at Nashville Superspeedway.

Four one-mile races: one each at Dover Motor Speedway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Phoenix Raceway and Rockingham Raceway.

Eight short-track races: two at Martinsville Speedway, two on Bristol Motor Speedway’s concrete surface, two at Richmond Raceway and one each at North Wilkesboro Speedway and Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway.

Four road/street races: Watkins Glen International, Sonoma Raceway, Circuit of the Americas and one street race.

The non-points Clash could either remain at the LA Coliseum, return to Daytona, or potentially run at another track altogether, like Irwindale Speedway, provided safety features are in place.

The All-Star Race could potentially rotate among tracks or could run at a track, perhaps Rockingham, that doesn’t host a points race. That would leave a spot for another intermediate or another road course, like Montreal’s Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, during the regular season.

The playoffs should include a variety of tracks that tests the championship contenders, NASCAR is likely going to keep the title race at Phoenix for the foreseeable future after a multi-million-dollar upgrade, though Homestead has proven to be a worthy venue in the past. Here’s the lineup of tracks I’d include, which represent a variety of skills for drivers to demonstrate as would-be champions:

Darlington

Watkins Glen

Rockingham

Bristol

Charlotte

Richmond

Atlanta

Homestead

Martinsville

Phoenix

NASCAR is in a good position to give the schedule the right overhaul in the next few years by adding a couple of historic venues, a street race and a variety of tracks that tests drivers in many ways but is still in keeping with tradition.

If the Next Gen cars can be given the changes needed to make the shorter, flatter tracks race as well as they used to without sacrificing the intermediates, the schedule can and should have something for everyone.

About the author

Amy is an 20-year veteran NASCAR writer and a six-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found working on her bi-weekly columns Holding A Pretty Wheel (Tuesdays) and Only Yesterday (Wednesdays). A New Hampshire native whose heart is in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.

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DoninAjax

Why have events on street courses and rovals when there are plenty of actual road courses out there? Right! NA$CAR greed!

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