Race Weekend Central

NASCAR 101: Curb Your Enthusiasm

Last week was all about how no one can seemingly make up their mind. That’s nobody as in NASCAR, fans, drivers, sponsors, Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Aric Almirola on retirement.

The point is the collective NASCAR industry is painfully indecisive, and with the release of the 2024 NASCAR schedule this week, more head-scratching reversals were blatantly revealed.

It was not that long ago when NASCAR road racing was in demand. The “we want more road courses” chant echoed louder and louder from many. The left and right turns, the giant curbs, the fender-to-fender battles and the ringers were highlights for which many could not get enough.

So what did NASCAR do? It gave the people what they wanted: more road courses, so much so that it was no more than a few years ago that road courses made up nearly a quarter a NASCAR’s season. That was a sharp contrast to the traditional approach that saw the NASCAR Cup Series utilize only two weekends a season for road racing.

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Then came 2018 when Charlotte Motor Speedway decided to ax its second oval race and build a first-of-its-kind ROVAL (a relatively new racing term used for a road racing course built inside a purpose-build oval layout). And fans and industry insiders alike loved it! Who could forget that epic finish?

Thus the floodgates opened. Here came Circuit of the Americas, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, the Daytona International Speedway road course, the Chicago street course. Road Racing was alive!

And then came the 2024 schedule.

Next year will mark the fewest road courses Cup has utilized since the 2020 season. In true indecisive NASCAR fashion, many could make the argument that this is a sign of an impending road course decline. This is not necessarily a big talking point. After all, there are still five road races on the 2024 Cup schedule.

What is the major talking point is what we’ve lost. It’s the absence of Road America and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course that really hurts. Prior to the road course invasion mainly from the Cup Series, NASCAR utilized road courses in the NASCAR Xfinity Series to give the developmental circuit some different flavor on some weekends to help it get out of Cup’s shadow and give it some unique identity.

Tracks like Road America and Mid-Ohio became perfect standalone races for Xfinity, and eventually the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in the case of Mid-Ohio. Even the long-lost Canadian Tire Motorsport Park could be lumped into this category. While purist oval fans could stay focused on the Cup ovals, more neo-traditional road racing fans could find some compelling action on occasion. Thus the best of both worlds was met.

Even more intriguing was the fact that you could actually find ringers like Alex Tagliani and Boris Said duking it out with NASCAR stars for race wins.

However, the road course invasion of the last few years has really killed the neo-traditional element of the developmental ranks. Standalone Xfinity races either became companion events or, aside from a trip to Portland International Raceway next year, have been axed. Two great road courses have been lost, and more importantly, one of the few things the that NASCAR did to make Xfinity unique was just erased. What a reversal.

With the current state of road courses now known for next year, is the luster even there any more? Many have complained about a lack of cautions and competitive races. The new car has been quite disappointing. Ringers, once one of the most compelling storyline, are simply not that competitive even in good equipment (yes, Chicago being the caveat).

Just think about this for a second. How quickly do we go from thinking we do not have enough road courses to thinking we have too many? The consequence is that our decisiveness just made all the uniqueness of an entire series pretty much go away.

See also
NASCAR Mailbox: From Field of Dreams to Cold Nights in Atlanta

Even as a slight aside, the 2024 schedule removed all dirt races too (both from Trucks and Cup). Didn’t we think dirt was so cool back in about 2013? Norm Benning would certainly agree. What is happening?

It is hard to even elaborate upon the state of fan interest in different types of racing. Everything has evolved and changed to the point that no one seems to have any idea about what they or anybody else likes. Frankly, NASCAR probably does not even know with everything it has done. It is an identity crisis of monumental proportions.

So the bottom line is obvious: Racing is intoxicating. That’s why millions of people stick around to consume this tornado. Nothing else makes sense. But do not blame anybody involved in NASCAR. They are human.

Blame the people who built the second automobile, because in the words of Henry Ford, “auto racing began five minutes after the second automobile was built.” And darn, did they build something thrilling or what, because otherwise it all makes absolutely no sense.

About the author

Never at a loss for words, Zach Gillispie is a young, talented marketing professional from North Carolina who talks and writes on the side about his first love: racing! Since joining Frontstretch in 2018, Zach has served in numerous roles where he currently pens the NASCAR 101 column, a weekly piece delving into the basic nuts and bolts of the sport. Additionally, his unabashedly bold takes meshed with that trademarked dry wit of his have made Zach a fan favorite on the weekly Friday Faceoff panel. In his free time, he can be found in the great outdoors, actively involved in his church, cheering on his beloved Atlanta Braves or ruthlessly pestering his colleagues with completely useless statistics about Delma Cowart.

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