by Julian Spivey
People who know me well know that I’m a longtime fan of NASCAR, but if they’ve been paying attention over the last few years they might question why as I’ve become admittedly more and more jaded with the sport over the years.
But lately NASCAR has made some attempts to please me and other fans of the sport with the continue fall in both ticket sales and television ratings for the sport. Before the season the sport changed the racing package of the cars in an attempt to make the racing closer and more competitive. The changes, unfortunately, have not worked all too well and in some cases might have made things a bit worse, but the fact that NASCAR attempted to better itself (something the sport hasn’t done in seemingly forever) was pleasing to me.
On Tuesday, March 26 the sport took its biggest swing thus far in trying to better the sport by mixing things up when it unveiled the 2020 NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series season schedule and it looked world’s different than it has in basically ever. I don’t believe anybody – fans, media or even drivers and teams – saw the sheer number of changes coming to the schedule that were announced on Tuesday. Now, whether or not these schedule changes will actually make the sport better is to be seen, but it’ll at least make things more interesting next season and once again I applaud NASCAR for making major changes to try to better the sport. It’s nice to see they finally seem to care about the future of the sport.
I’ll talk about the biggest changes and highlights below…
The most controversial change on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule for next season is likely to be that the sport has moved the second Daytona International Speedway race from its traditional July 4 weekend slot, where it has always been, to late August where it will serve as the final race before the playoffs begin. Admittedly, I do sort of hate that the tradition of this race is being done away with, but making it the final race to lock in a playoff spot could throw major excitement into a cutoff race that has almost always been boring and uneventful because Daytona is always unpredictable and is a track that offers underdogs a shot at victory, which would clinch a team a spot in the playoffs.
Anybody who’s followed NASCAR for a while knows that Indianapolis Motor Speedway just does not put on good stock car races like it does for the IndyCar Series. That’s incredibly unfortunate, but because of the major landmark that Indianapolis is and the importance of winning it to the drivers the track is never going away in the sport. NASCAR has been looking for ways to spice up the Brickyard for years. Last year they made it the cutoff race before the playoffs … snore. This year they’re giving it the July 4 weekend race. It won’t make the racing better, but I do commend the sport for not keeping it as a cutoff race before the playoffs any longer.
One of the most interesting aspects of the 2020 Cup Series schedule will be the sport’s first ever doubleheader weekend where the Cup Series will see races on back-to-back days at Pocono Raceway. The IndyCar Series has been doing doubleheader weekends for quite a while now and it always adds some excitement into the weekend. Maybe this isn’t the biggest selling point for Pocono to have a doubleheader, but the track – which has typically seen it’s two dates come in the middle of the summer as the closest dates between races at the same track on the schedule – hasn’t always been the most exciting and I’ve long believed the track should only have one date. At least we’ll now get Pocono out of the way in one weekend. And, two big races in one weekend no matter where they’re located can’t be a bad thing.
Homestead-Miami & Phoenix:
One huge change to the schedule that I don’t think anybody really saw coming was taking Homestead-Miami Speedway away from the season finale, where it has always been since it entered the sport in 2002. Miami-Homestead will be moving to March. A lot of people loved Miami-Homestead Speedway for the season finale because it’s an intermediate track and a rather competitive one at that, but I think putting the season-finale on a smaller track like the one mile ISM Raceway (Phoenix) is interesting and could potentially lead to a bit more fender rubbing and banging to a title.
Martinsville Speedway saw some of the biggest changes on the 2020 Cup Series schedule. One of which is the spring race, which is being pushed back about a month and a half from mid-March to early May, will be the first ever NASCAR night race at the track since it installed lights a few years back. Will a night race change the racing any? Probably not, but maybe a night race at Martinsville will have some of the luster and allure that the night race at Bristol Motor Speedway used to have. Maybe my favorite change of the many to the 2020 schedule is the fact that Martinsville will not be the penultimate race of the season and the one that will decide at least the final two spots in the Championship Four before the season finale at Phoenix. A short track where drivers frequently have to beat and bang and bump and run deciding who does and doesn’t make the championship race is frankly as delicious as anything in stock car racing could be.
One interesting thing about the 2020 Cup Series schedule is something that might just be a one-season thing because NBC, NASCAR’s television partner for the second half of the season, will be airing the 2020 Summer Olympics. NASCAR has graciously built in two back-to-back off weekends into the schedule, so the network won’t be forced to ship its biggest races off to a smaller NBC owned network like CNBC or USA Network for the races. But I think having back-to-back weeks off for drivers and teams before the final third of the season and the playoff push will do wonders for everybody in the sport. It’ll be a nice chance for everybody to rest up and then hit the gas once again for a great end to the season.