The mystery, the questions, rumors and gossip can now come to an end. We now know that when the turn of the century comes on the calendar, NASCAR has an entirely new look for the schedule.
The talk of what could happen, and even what should happen, has been going on for years as to who deserves a race, or not, and where a race should be. Talk of changing up the playoffs was quite the talk at the end of 2017, of making some significant changes when the newer schedules came out. The biggest change a year ago was deciding that Charlotte was going to become a road course in the playoffs, and we all saw how that worked out.
Now that there is a significant bit of adjustments for next year’s slate of races, much like every time something like this goes down, tracks and drivers see some wins and losses.
So who exactly came out on the great end of this deal, and who ultimately got shafted?
WINNING TRACK: Martinsville
There is without question, no matter how the schedule is viewed, the track that ultimately got the best deal in this is the one NASCAR was just at. The little paperclip in Virginia has been a big favorite of many drivers, and fans enjoy the tight racing that has come at this place ever since it began hosting races. Over 60 years of action deserves something in the end, and next year they are getting it.
The first race at the 0.526-mile track is moving ahead, by over a month, from late-March to Mother’s Day weekend, specifically on May 9. This is enormous in itself simply because the weather in Virginia when spring begins has always been a hit-or-miss deal.
Last year the race got moved to Monday, while this year it remained rather cool but with the sun out. Moving it to later in spring gives a higher probability that this race will be run as scheduled.
But, fans got a taste of what 2020 will bring just two years ago, when the fall race in the Playoffs was delayed, yet finished on the same day. The reason: lighting up the night. Finally, Martinsville added lights to allow for racing at night if needed, but had not ran an official night race. The night the lights turned on for the first time saw a battle to the finish, and ultimately a heated argument between a Virginia native and a Georgia boy, one that saw the fans get riled up for the guy not from the state.
So, in keeping with tradition that Kansas has done, next year Martinsville will turn on the lights for the first race of the year, and it will be one that will immediately draw in the fans.
Move ahead to the playoffs, and this little track remains as part of the third round. But, it’s no longer the kickoff race. Instead, it’s the one that will decide the four that will battle for a championship. That alone will create even more drama, and already some are thinking back to last year’s fall race where Joey Logano bumped out Martin Truex Jr. for victory. Imagine if Truex needed to win that race to make it in, and then Logano stole it from him…oh the stories we could have at that point.
Two races at the best time of the season for the smallest track, ultimately will lead to the largest audience. Big win for this track, no doubt.
HONORABLE MENTION TRACK: Darlington
So why exactly is Darlington not one that totally wins in this case? Well it’s pretty simple, the “Lady in Black” was not losing it’s weekend that it just got back a few years ago. I mean, if they were to lose Labor Day weekend again, the rioting would be outrageous. So, yes, Throwback Weekend is intact.
But, what they did do is gain something next season. Darlington is throwing it back but with a new beginning, as in the beginning of the Playoffs.
The first round of the Playoffs is quite the combo, because you have this track that cannot be compared to any other facility on the circuit, then it’s to Richmond, and then Bristol’s night race will finish the Round of 16. However, the winner in the first round will be Darlington, because the toughest, and most grueling, track is the one that says “Welcome to the post-season, boys.”
I’d say that isn’t a bad deal for the track at all. Teams celebrate the past while also looking to the future; well done.
LOSING TRACK: Phoenix & Indianapolis
This was a hard choice, and in the end I really couldn’t decide. These two places have been staples on the schedule for many years, but now one is getting moved again, another becomes THE race, and both take over big weekends in NASCAR.
Indianapolis has always been a late-summer event, but obviously as we have seen over the last decade, the Brickyard has not been as big a draw as it has been over previous seasons. Maybe it was the cars, or as in the case one year the tires, that kept fans away. NASCAR tried testing a different package at this track, and drivers were not exactly thrilled (although they were not really saying so), but it wasn’t helping. So, last season the big race at Indy went from being in summer, to being the last race before the Playoffs.
What were they rewarded with…rain, and a move to Monday. Yeah, that didn’t exactly pan out.
So, for 2020, now Indianapolis takes over hosting the weekend that has always been at Daytona, the Fourth of July weekend. In a way it makes sense, because now Indianapolis can say they host races at two of the biggest holidays each year. Of course, we know they host the Indy 500 on Memorial Day weekend, and now months later they help ring in America’s independence.
But, Indy…in July…again? Questionable, but worth taking a chance.
Unfortunately, the fact that Phoenix now goes from being the next-to-last race to the one that decides a champion is one many are going to be questioning for the remainder of 2019. Yes, the track has gotten a bit of a new configuration, but it’s not like in 1997 when Atlanta went from being a true oval to being the high-banked, high speed quad oval we know today. All that happened was new grandstands, pit road, and garage. The track itself didn’t change except for the move of the start/finish line.
And let’s face it, if we were to have the finale this season at Phoenix, the guy everyone is pointing to for victory is Kyle Busch. Since the track got the change, he’s been undefeated, as he won the Cup race last fall, and swept the weekend earlier this season.
Many are questioning this move of having Phoenix be the track to decide a champion, including me. So, guess we just have to wait, because no changing it now.
HONORABLE LOSING TRACK: Daytona
Say what…Daytona, losing in this schedule? Well, yes, but for a reason many may not be considering.
Although I like the idea of Daytona being the bookend for the regular season, has anyone forgotten already that Talladega, a similar track and style of racing, was the deciding race in the Round of 12 for a few years? Would you want to have a track where control is more about those around a particular driver rather than the driver itself? Immediately this is what came to mind, and it got me concerned.
We aren’t even thinking about the new package for these cars since we’ve not even used it yet at Daytona, and already it has me concerned in the same way that a plate race does.
The other reason I feel Daytona is losing, but maybe not as bad as Phoenix and Indy, is the timing. I mean, let’s face it, weather in Florida during the summer is unpredictable, but you get into late summer you’re still in the heart of hurricane season, and the heat index is peaked during this month more than it is in July. Although I am not one to throw stones; I’m the one 16 years ago who went and realized you need at minimum SPF-75 during a summer weekend in Florida. I came home with a sunburn so bad I was blistered around my shirt collar, but I digress.
So, will this be the same Saturday night delight that has traditionally happened on Independence Day Weekend? Maybe, but it will be hot…figuratively, and literally.
CHALLENGING TRACK: Pocono
It’s clear to everyone that this will be the ultimate test of driver, team, fans, and officials. It’s never been done before, so there’s no way to know what to do. How do teams even prepare to do a double-header at one track over the course of a weekend?
YOU CAN’T…IT HASN’T BEEN DONE!!
Let’s be honest, everyone has already circled June 27-28, 2020, on the schedule as a weekend that teams and drivers need to be at their absolute best for what is now the longest weekend of the schedule. Two races, two days, 800 miles.
Let’s break this down for a second, literally starting at the shop level. Teams almost are going to need to be considering treating this weekend exactly like they treat Daytona Speedweeks. Teams are required to bring two separate cars for that weekend, one designated for the Clash, and the other for the 500. Can the car for the Clash be a backup for the 500, if it makes it through the race without damage, sure. But, teams need to be prepared in case it can’t, so they bring a third car, and in some cases a fourth (which a few years ago was a savior for Carl Edwards, since he destroyed every car he ran that weekend).
So, teams literally would have to prepare two cars for two separate races. Then there’s the fact if one of those cars wrecks, the car that was to be for Sunday now becomes the primary for Saturday, and now another car is needed to be run for the second race. Then there’s the fact that the drivetrain for the first race will be so worn down, especially with engines having a sealed block, that it likely won’t be running again the next day. To put 800 miles on a single engine over one weekend is unheard of, and that’s just in the race. There’s the laps in all the practices and qualifying to consider.
And then, let’s not forget the work Goodyear will have to do in order to supply enough tires for up to 40 teams for two events. That means possibly 14 total sets for two races, meaning upwards of at minimum 560 tires for use, and possibly more depending on the allotment that is given.
Everything about this particular weekend is so unique, and the drivers themselves have to be in more shape than ever to make it through both events. It may not be the Indy double, but it’s as close as NASCAR will get.
Stamina, focus, health and diet will be key for all team members that weekend, and if by chance one team somehow makes it through the weekend and win both events, they can call themselves the best of the weekend. I actually will take it a step more, and NASCAR is welcome to use this term if they want.
If one team can win both races of the Pocono double header, then that team can be called the “Titans of the Triangle.”
Talk about pressure, for everyone. Pocono officially will be the most challenging weekend in NASCAR.
Am I way off in thinking this? Tweet or comment your thoughts.