Race Weekend Central

2-Headed Monster: Is NASCAR’s Short Track Fix-It Plan to Simply Replace Them?

Another NASCAR short track weekend has come and gone, and once again, the NASCAR Cup Series compared to the support races left a lot to be desired. If you drove a ruby red Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet (did you know it was the 40th anniversary of their first win?), it was probably the best race all weekend, but for the multitude of fans who look forward to pin hot dogs and curb hopping at Martinsville Speedway, it was simply more of the same.

Drivers as well have had their fill with Denny Hamlin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. weighing in immediately after to express their frustration with the on-going ‘keep doing what you’re doing’ approach the sanctioning body has taken.

With rumors of Richmond Raceway losing a date following its less than compelling competition and additional road courses in Canada and Mexico being floated around, is NASCAR’s solution to the short-track shortcomings simply to step away from them? This week Chase Folsom and Luken Glover sort it out in 2-Headed Monster.

See also
Did You Notice?: Top U.S. Markets in Need of a NASCAR Track

Install Intermediates Immediately

In just over two seasons of the Next Gen car, the quality of different track types has taken a sharp turn towards intermediates.

Throughout the Gen 6 era, the performance on 1.5- and 2-mile tracks left a lot to be desired, with fans calling on more short tracks and road courses to be added as time moved on. Intermediate races became strung out with a few different aero packages bringing the quality of racing to a stagnant level of mediocrity.

Enter the Next Gen car.

Since the debut of NASCAR’s seventh generation car, several intermediate tracks have seen rejuvenation in their events. Kansas Speedway and Darlington Raceway are two of the best circuits on the calendar while Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Michigan International Speedway have seen more intriguing races under the current model.

However, Charlotte Motor Speedway might be the prime example of this turning of the tide with the Coca-Cola 600.

Once regarded as a test of both man and machine, NASCAR’s longest race suffered throughout the Gen 6 era, even to the point where many deemed its luster lost. 2016 may have been the peak when Martin Truex Jr. absolutely curbstomped the field, leading 392 of the 400 laps in a race that only featured four cautions.

Races did not typically see drivers struggle to keep their cars under control, and passing was limited at several points. However, just look at the comparison of Coca-Cola 600 races between the Gen 6 car and Next Gen car since stages were implemented in 2017.

YearLead Changes# of Leaders# of CautionsCaution Laps
20172310953
2018941154
201930111680
20202011852
20212313426
202231131890
202331131683
Coca-Cola 600 competition stats of Gen 6 Era (2017-2021) and NextGen (2022-present)

While the stats are somewhat comparable in a couple of cases, the quality of the Next Gen races have been much better. The field has not been as strung out, drivers have spun on their own in dirty air, and there have been more comers and goers.

Further analysis of where the intermediate package is currently comes from Jeff Gluck’s Good Race Poll, which he has done since 2016. The 2022 fall race at Darlington received its second-highest rating at 93.5%. Last season’s Kansas spring race saw the track’s best race according to the poll, rated at 93.3%. The Coca-Cola 600’s highest rating came last season at 91.2%. And Michigan, Las Vegas and the now-defunct Auto Club Speedway received their highest-rated events from their 2022 showings.

Meanwhile, short tracks and road courses continue to suffer.

Virtually no one can pass, as a pit road penalty or bad pit stop is almost nothing but a death sentence. This past weekend’s race at Martinsville made passing a kidney stone look easy, with cars going about the same speed, and tire wear not playing a major factor.

The first 2024 road course race at Circuit of the Americas was lackluster, with passing once again an issue and strategy mostly being eliminated from stage cautions. But even Indianapolis Motor Speedway saw its road course shifted back to the oval, while there are increasing rumors that Charlotte will return to two oval dates instead of hosting the ROVAL event in the fall.

NASCAR is seeking to keep the schedule constantly evolving, with several tracks losing one of their two dates and more to likely follow suit. So why not add more intermediates to the schedule, especially when some of the sport’s top drivers are calling for it?

They could always return to a track like Chicagoland Speedway, which hosted some classic races the last couple of years before being taken off the schedule in 2021. Iowa is the newest oval on the schedule (2006) followed by Kansas Speedway (2001).

Kentucky Speedway could also be a track that might benefit from the revamped intermediate racing, though a return to that venue seems unlikely. Or, how about NASCAR performs a Field of Dreams moment, and builds a new track? Bill France Sr. and Bill France Jr. were never afraid to think outside the box, instructing the construction of some of the sport’s fastest behemoths.

As Frontstretch’s Editor-in-Chief Tom Bowles highlighted in his Did You Notice column, there are several top markets where NASCAR could benefit from having a race in one, and it may be worth taking a look at for NASCAR.

Regardless, intermediate tracks need to be cashed in on right now. The short track and road course products are vital and need to be fixed, but it is clear which track type hosts the best racing right now. It is an opportunity NASCAR cannot pass on. – Luken Glover

See also
Couch Potato Tuesday: Martinsville Was a Hendrick Celebration

Short Tracks Are What Make NASCAR

Following another lackluster Cup Series short track race at Martinsville, the questions about the state of short track racing in NASCAR have once again begun to swirl, from questions about the cars to the tracks themselves. 

With the current short track package continuing to struggle, and the economics of attendance and viewership being more important than they’ve ever been before in the sport, the newest question to arise is, should NASCAR start moving away from short tracks entirely? 

The answer to this question is a resounding NO, and if NASCAR ultimately decides to move in such a direction, then they have failed as a sanctioning body, and we’ve altogether failed as a sport.

Dating back to the beginning of the sport in 1949, short tracks have been a staple in not just the NASCAR Cup Series but racing as a whole. While the historic definition of a short track is racetracks under one mile in length, the modern definition has evolved to include tracks exactly at one mile, so we’ll use this definition for the following points. 

During NASCAR’s inaugural season in 1949, racetracks one mile or less in length made up seven of the eight races on the schedule, joined by the 4.15-mile Daytona Beach Course. All seven of these tracks were dirt tracks, and it included two of NASCAR’s most iconic venues in Martinsville Speedway and North Wilkesboro Speedway. 

Fast forward 10 years, and NASCAR’s schedule still revolved around short tracks at its core. Out of 44 races in 1959, 40 of them were on racetracks a mile or less in length. Jump ahead another 10 years and 37 of 54 races on the schedule in 1969 took place on a short track according to the specifications listed above. 

Now it’s well-known that everything listed above took place before NASCAR’s modern era, so what did the state of short tracks look like during some of the sport’s most popular times?

In 1995, the year Jeff Gordon outlasted Dale Earnhardt Sr. for his first career Cup Series title, 11 of 31 races took place on short tracks. 

It was at that point that NASCAR took a turn towards intermediates as the cookie cutter boom began, and the sport began to lose some of its identity. As time passed, North Wilkesboro was used as the example of the mistake that was made and what we left behind, as the track sat to rot for 26 years while fans begged for it to return to action.

By some miracle, and a little help from Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his weed eater, the track returned in 2022, with NASCAR making its triumphant return to the Wilkes County short track in 2023. It was less than one year ago that the fans celebrated the ultimate victory with North Wilkesboro’s rebirth, which was followed by Iowa Speedway’s addition to the schedule. Why are we suddenly trying to destroy what we’ve worked so hard to build back?

Take a look at grassroots racing, the core of the sport, where the short-track racing roots still hold strong and help the sport survive at a regional level and new racing stars are born. Tracks like South Boston Speedway and Hickory Motor Speedway are still staples of the grassroots world, holding strong having once been tracks featured on NASCAR’s premier series.

If the sport moves away from the very thing that helps it live at the regional level, what does that say for grassroots racing? What kind of message does that send to the short track scene if they don’t receive proper representation at the highest level? The answer is not a good one, that is for certain. 

It was just four years ago when Martinsville and Bristol Motor Speedway were arguably the two best tracks on the schedule with the Gen 6 race car, and even the NASCAR Xfinity and Craftsman Truck series continues to put on outstanding racing at those tracks.

It’s a car problem, not a track problem, and one that NASCAR created. Therefore, they should be responsible for fixing it, rather than letting short tracks suffer. – Chase Folsom

About the author

Luken Glover joined the Frontstretch team in 2020 as a contributor, furthering a love for racing that traces back to his earliest memories. Glover inherited his passion for racing from his grandfather, who used to help former NASCAR team owner Junie Donlavey in his Richmond, Va. garage. A 2023 graduate from the University of the Cumberlands, Glover is the author of "The Underdog House," contributes to commentary pieces, and does occasional at-track reporting. Additionally, Glover enjoys working in ministry, coaching basketball, playing sports, and karting.

Chase began working with Frontstretch in the spring of 2023 as a news writer, while also helping fill in for other columns as needed. Chase is now the main writer and reporter for Frontstretch.com's CARS Tour coverage, a role which began late in 2023.  Aside from racing, some of Chase's other hobbies include time in the outdoors hunting and fishing, and keeping up with all things Philadelphia sports related.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

9 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Charlie

If you are not part of the solution, you are the problem. Once you two begin shaving and move out of the old basement, your opinions will hold water. There were too many intermediate tracks. Cookie-cutter. Leave the tracks and let the teams fix the issue.

Tom

I really think many tracks should only host 1 race regardless if it’s short track, intermediate, super speedway. Daytona, Talladega, and Charlotte should be the only tracks that host 2 races.

DoninAjax

There should only be 1 event per season for restrictor plate demo derbies.

wildcatsfan2016

NASCAR created the problem with changes to the car. Let the teams fix the car (or have NASCAR get the heck out of the way and allow the teams more leeway). Going to MORE intermediate tracks is not the answer. There are already too many intermediate d-shaped tracks. That configuration is what created some of the MOST boring racing ever. Most tracks IMO should only have one race per year. That would also reduce the schedule of races.

Kevin in SoCal

Of course the cars are going to be going the same speed at Martinsville. Its only a half-mile and there’s only so much room to brake and accelerate. And every week at every track, the pre-race show mentions how hard it is to pass and how pit road is a factor. The drivers are saying more horsepower and more tire wear are the answers. Why not listen to them?

Bill B

Exactly! I’d like to slap whoever is in charge of these decisions at NASCAR to wake them up. What is their reluctance to try more drastic measures to fix this problem? It’s like they are being stubborn just not to have to admit they were wrong.
Nothing new there, I guess.

DoninAjax

One word: EGO!!! The Brian Trust ideas are never wrong, including the Francenstein Monster.

Echo

You listen to Hamlin, forget it. The racers keep telling them they want horsepower, listen to them and then write a column about horsepower. Y’all are the media, keep shoving HP down Nascar’s throat until they have to listen to the drivers and fans. Every media article and program should talk HP HP HP.

DoninAjax

More HP means more speed and the constantly evolving “race car” can’t handle what it has now.

Share via