Race Weekend Central

2-Headed Monster: Should Texas Keep a Cup Playoff Race?

Texas Motor Speedway is one of the racetracks rumored to be moving dates on the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series schedule. The racetrack is rumored to have its one race moved from its current playoff date to April.

Yet according to The Athletic racing reporter Jeff Gluck, roughly 60% of fans thought the race on Sunday (Sept. 24) was good.

That got our reporters wondering: should Texas keep its playoff race? Mark Kristl and Wyatt Watson debate in this week’s 2-Headed Monster.

Keep TMS — But Make it a Night Race

TMS has a longstanding history with NASCAR with at least one race there for over a quarter century. Texas itself is the second-most populous state and the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area has approximately 7.5 million people, the 10th-largest in the country. It is too big of a market to abandon.

The fans at TMS this past weekend are also loyal fans as the weather there was incredibly hot.

With loyal fans and a decent rating, TMS belongs on the NASCAR schedule.

Does it deserve a playoff race date, too?

Yes, it does.

Of its 43 Cup races, 42 have had at least 10 lead changes. That’s a product that generates excitement about playoff drivers benefiting the TV broadcast and really allowing comers and goers. The challenge, of course, is the race date. The temperature was very hot for the race weekend and this race occurs during football season. TMS Cup race or watching Texas, Texas Tech, Texas A&M, Baylor or Texans’ other college football teams?

Even for myself, that’s not an easy choice.

See also
Did You Notice?: 4 Non-Playoff NASCAR Storylines 4 Races In

NASCAR has shown out-of-the-box thinking with the schedules, adding the Bristol Motor Speedway dirt track, the Chicago street course, and moving the second Daytona International Speedway race to the regular season finale, among others.

Here’s another idea: make Texas a Sunday night race.

Yes, a Sunday night race, not a Saturday night race.

The first concern of course is a weather delay, but if Mother Nature wishes to affect the Texas race, the race start time is immaterial. She doesn’t discriminate based on location, start time, or any other factor.

What about families taking their kids to the race on Sunday night being unable to have their kids back in school on Monday? How’s that going to help grow the fanbase? It’s a calculated risk, but with the amount of eyes that going to be drawn elsewhere on a Sunday afternoon, is Monday really that much worse? NASCAR would have an opportunity to really shine on Sunday night compared to a Sunday afternoon start time, competing against one game versus 12.

Because what other sporting events take place on Sunday nights? Sunday Night Baseball and Sunday Night Football, neither of which will guarantee to feature either of the Texas sporting teams. Regarding SNF, because it is earlier in the NFL season, NASCAR could try to work with NBC, which also airs SNF, to have a game between two teams not from Texas on that night. Again, more Texas natives could go to the NASCAR race without having to choose between football and racing.

NASCAR only holds a few Sunday night races. The Southern 500 and Coca-Cola 600 both run on Sunday nights on a holiday weekend – but also all marque events.

With NASCAR shortening the TMS race distance from 500 to 400 miles, the time to complete the race took about an hour less, from almost four-and-a-half hours in 2022 to three and a quarter hours in 2023.

That means running the Cup race will not take as long, so a night start time of 6 p.m. CT would end around 9:30 p.m. CT. Add in fans at the racetrack watching post-race festivities, picking up their belongings and leaving the racetrack and they would leave the racetrack around 10:30 p.m. It is a late night, yes, but again if you’re going to a Sunday night race, you’re probably missing work on Monday. In my few years camping at Michigan International Speedway, a good amount of campers stay until Monday anyway so they too are not going to work that day.

Again, betting on a dry weekend in September is safer wager than one in April.

Ratings could rise with fewer other sporting events competing against Cup, fans hopefully would not have to endure sweltering heat and Texas would get another unique distinction to really make it stand out on the Cup schedule. It’s a win-win for this 1.5-mile racetrack to keep its playoff race date. – Mark Kristl

Texas Impressed, But Will Lightning Really Strike Twice?

Before the infamous reconfiguration of Texas Motor Speedway in 2017, the 1.5-mile sister to the old Atlanta Motor Speedway was had iconic moments.

They included Jeff Burton’s 2007 spring win chasing Matt Kenseth and passing him on the last lap; 2007 when Jimmie Johnson made the pass on Kenseth with two laps to go; fall 2010 when Jeff Gordon and Burton had a scuffle on the back stretch. Few will forget 2014 when Gordon’s tire was cut by Brad Keselowski in the inaugural playoffs, essentially knocking Gordon out of contention for the championship and causing one of the most massive melees on pit road in NASCAR history.

This track once produced moments like these, but now however, the track has since 2017 produced snooze-fest after snooze-fest and has remained a main stay in the playoffs even though the track had struggled with tire fall off and dirty air hindering passing.

Now after surviving possibly the worst All-Star Race of all time (at least North Wilkesboro offered nostalgia) and a race that featured way too many tire failures, despite a record-breaking day for heat at the track with a green flag temperature of 100°F, finally produced a decent, memorable race that shook things up in the playoffs.

See also
Couch Potato Tuesday: Texas Broadcast Brings Playoff Focus, Not Much Else

Does this mean that Texas should be in the playoffs come 2024?

No, absolutely not.

The track regardless of its spot on the schedule, needs a makeover to fix the product once and for all.

The perfect reconfiguration would be mirroring Charlotte Motor Speedway’s design – returning Texas to a classic symmetrical 1.5-mile quad oval and providing more passing opportunities for teams and multiple different lanes to choose from with a car that produces its best product on the type of tracks.

With the unfortunate loss of IndyCar’s date at the track in the spring, the rumor of Texas moving its lone date to the spring are close to being true.

One final take is that prominent drivers agree that Texas should either be moved or downright torn down. Kyle Larson last season mentioned that he’d rather tear it down, and this week, Kyle Busch had strong comments regarding Texas’s playoff status:

“Texas has been very lackluster lately,” Busch said. “Being a playoff race – I’m not sure we’re indicative of that, I’ve actually seen a lot of people say it shouldn’t be on the calendar period. All of us drivers would highly, highly, highly not want it to be reconfigured again into an Atlanta-style race track, but I hear rumblings that’s where its heading. That wouldn’t be fun.”

I echo Busch’s comments.

I do not want to see Texas become another new style Atlanta. The schedule has enough superspeedway races, and Atlanta, at this point, should be its own unique track. Turning more 1.5-mile tracks starts to eat away at the legitimacy of the sport. Shifting focus to fixing the turn 1 and 2 banking, returning the track to its previous configuration would help Texas gain its reputation as a good place to race at.

Now, with Texas out of the way and assuming the rumor of the Charlotte Motor Speedway oval potentially returning for its fall weekend in 2024 turn out to be true, what race should replace Texas in the playoffs?

The answer, and this may come as a surprise to some, is Nashville Superspeedway.

Nashville has produced some of the most exciting racing this season, and with it having a few years under its belt, I believe throwing the 1.33-mile racetrack in the Round of 12 would spice the playoffs up dramatically.

While I am happy that I got to experience a somewhat decent race in person, It doesn’t change the history of disappointing racing in the past, and a welcome move to the spring for the track will be necessary if NASCAR wants a more exciting playoff schedule come next year. – Wyatt Watson

About the author

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Mark Kristl joined Frontstretch at the beginning of the 2019 NASCAR season. He is the site's ARCA Menards Series editor. Kristl is also an Eagle Scout and a proud University of Dayton alum.

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Wyatt Watson has followed NASCAR closely since 2007. He joined Frontstretch as a journalist in February 2023 after serving in the United States Navy for five years as an Electronic Technician Navigation working on submarines. Wyatt writes breaking NASCAR news and contributes to columns such as Friday Faceoff and 2-Headed Monster. Wyatt also contributes to Frontstretch's social media and serves as an at-track reporter, collecting exclusive content for Frontstretch.

Wyatt Watson can be found on Twitter @WyattGametime

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John

Did you say “eat away at the legitimacy of the sport?” This quit being a sport when the Chase was added to “give us ‘what we wanted.” The sport’s talking heads chide those who dare speak of the traditional sport that attracted 17.2 M viewers to the Daytona 500 in 2008. This is all about entertainment today even at the expense of the purity of something as simple in concept as a race. Ben Kennedy is reacting to what he sees and hears without looking at longer term trends. And I frankly don’t know what the people in the motoring press are looking at. The only thing that predictably increments racing is how Chase Elliott is running. So lets give the masses what they want and go back to the phantom debris cautions that occurred whenever Dale Jr was about to be lapped. The fans want to see Chase on the lead lap and winning races…legitimacy of the sport be <darned>.

DoninAjax

NA$CAR took “Racing” out of their name and sport to make way for Brian’s WWE-based “entertainment” product.

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