Race Weekend Central

5 Points to Ponder: Should Summertime Night Races Stay On Track?

1. Should NASCAR Zero in on Summer Night Races?

Unless you are hosting a gathering of friends…or new friends that smell you smoking meat for a few hours and want a taste of what’s for dinner, whether or not a race is run at night has minimal impact on your watching of a race.

But if you’re in the stands during the summer months, it makes a world of difference.

In the summertime, pop-up, out-of-nowhere rain showers happen, especially in the south. You can’t control that, obviously. But what you can control is when to schedule races, and whether that was the intent or not, running this weekend’s races at Atlanta Motor Speedway at night was a plus for the fan experience. That’s because to say it was scorching hot this past weekend was an understatement, with real-feel temperatures around 100.

It’s too bad there was no Allman Brothers tribute band available this past weekend because it’d have been appropriate since the Allman Brothers, who called Macon, an hour from AMS, home, once recorded a song called “Hotlanta.”

As hot as the heat was to walk around in, it would have been horrendous to sit in for fans. But the impact of running the race at night was more than that. It was almost night and day, no pun intended, for how much racier and multiple-lanes developing the racing was compared to how chilly it was in Atlanta this past March.

Intentional or not, moving the summer Atlanta race may have been the best thing for its annual slate of NASCAR events.

See also
Waid's World: Here a Rule Change, There a Rule Change, Everywhere a Rule Change

2. Should Rain-Shortened Wins Count toward Postseason Spots?

William Byron did NASCAR a huge favor on Sunday (July 9) night. In winning, he beat three drivers to the line who would have clinched a postseason spot with a victory – Daniel Suarez, AJ Allmendinger and Michael McDowell.

Byron was already locked into the postseason, so win or lose at Atlanta, his postseason was not impacted by winning a race that ended up being 285 miles long, well short of the advertised 400-mile distance.

Had any of the other top four drivers won, you would’ve had a driver in the postseason winning a race that was barely halfway done. Let’s repeat that – someone would be in the postseason for winning a race barely halfway over.

This is not to devalue victories shortened by weather. Just because a race ends early due to rain, a driver still gets a trophy and there is still a winner. But in a postseason format that puts an incentive on winning, barely completing half of a race is not worthy of a postseason ticket.

For that reason, NASCAR needs a higher provision in place for at least three-fourths of a race to finish for a postseason spot to be clinched.

3. Would Bubba Wallace Missing the Playoffs Cost Someone Their Job?

There’s a lot of time to enable postseason hopes to sink or swim for drivers on the NASCAR playoff bubble. But if the postseason were set now, it’d be McDowell in the final spot with Bubba Wallace out. Both are by no means safe with drivers below them very capable of winning – namely Chase Elliott and Allmendinger with two road courses looming. But coming up short would be a gut punch for Wallace.

There’s no way around it. This team can win races. The No. 23 has proven that it can do just that, as has the other car out of 23XI Racing. But if Wallace falls short of the postseason, what more can the brain trust there do? If there is indeed an expectation to make the playoffs and Wallace again misses out, the next question has to be what has to happen to ensure that does not occur again.

There’s a better chance of Ron Swanson endorsing a vegan diet than Wallace being booted from his ride. This is a sponsor-driven sport, and 23XI is not going to throw away sponsorship, some new to the sport, that likely exists because of Wallace.

Wallace’s team had issues on Saturday with an apparent mechanical issue calling off a qualifying run, and those are self-inflicted wounds that the No. 23 has to rectify if it’s to be in the postseason.

If not, it could place anyone atop the No. 23 pit box on the hot seat.

4. Are Shorter Races the Answer?

From the word go on Sunday night, urgency was the operative word in the Quaker State 400. Clearly, the race was a sprint to halfway due to the fast-closing weather. There was no luxury of being able to ride around to work on your racecar and be there in the end for the final 100 miles.

That showed right away. If you were expecting a two-wide parade for a few hours, Sunday night was not for you. Two-wide? Atlanta gave us three-wide at times and, on occasion, even four.

Yes, the weather played a role, but having less time made things more exciting, both in person and on TV. NASCAR is to be commended for trying outside-the-box things in terms of where to race at. But it now needs to continue that by shortening races.

Yes, I know the argument from fans may be “I paid XXX dollars for a 500-mile race, why should I pay the same for 350?”

But NASCAR is in the entertainment business, and drivers being able to be passive for part of a race and get away with it is not entertaining.

See also
Monday Morning Pit Box: Weather Shakes Up Strategy at Atlanta

5. Is the Playoff Window Closing for Chase Elliott?

Unless you include fan reaction at Atlanta, Elliott was a non-factor on Sunday. There’s no way to sugarcoat it. In a most likely sense, the Georgia driver needs a win to get into the postseason. Atlanta, given that Elliott won there last season, was seen on paper as a prime way to do so, and that never came to be.

Elliott two years ago would have been a shoo-in pick to win at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course or Watkins Glen International, but the playing field has since appeared to level.

There’s not really a track you look at between now and the end of the regular season and you can say “That’s a sure Elliott win.”

As each week goes by, the window closes tighter for Elliott’s postseason hopes, and the possibility of a further question – how will the postseason ratings be impacted without the sport’s most popular driver being part of it?

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6 Comments
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jim

Questions # 1,2, and 4
Nascar knows best…just sit tight

Tony

The only thing NASCAR knows best is how to gain short-term profits and alienate long-term race fans.

DoninAjax

“NASCAR is in the entertainment business”

Wrong! NA$CAR is in the business of putting on stock car races and they have taken the stock car” and “races” out of it and replaced them with greed.

Kurt Smith

I always cringe when I hear “this is entertainment”. That has always been the excuse behind perverting the points system, creating conditions that cause wreckfests, and putting obviously unqualified drivers behind the wheel.

If it’s entertainment, then script it. Stage everything so everyone gets the ending they want. Might as well if it isn’t about honest competition.

Carl D.

Southern Heat: Why not run the southern races, with an exception or two, in the spring and fall, and the northern races in the summer? It won’t stop races from getting rain delays, but at least the heat won’t be as much of an issue or the fans. I have sat through some brutal summer races. Atlanta is hotter than hell in July. I know; I live in central SC.

Kudos for the ABB “Hotlanta” reference. BTW, only old timers like me remember that song, an instrumental. I could go on and on about the Brothers, my favorite band, but this is a racing column…

Bill B

By all means run the race at night, BUT WHY SUNDAY NIGHT?
Saturday night works much better for the people that have to work. What a kick in the nuts that fans have to choose between sleep to be a responsible employee or NASCAR. You’d think they’d want to make with their fans, not against them. Also, if it does rain on Saturday night, then you have a whole other day to work with.
For me it doesn’t matter, I am retired but I’d be pissed off if I weren’t and I’d hate NASCAR for not thinking about their fans.

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