NASCAR looking to make schedule changes in 2004

CHARLOTTE, NC - NASCAR announced on Tuesday that they are setting forth a plan to realign the Winston Cup schedule, starting in 2004. The realignment would include reducing the number of dates currently used by the three Carolina tracks: Lowe's ...

CHARLOTTE, NC - NASCAR announced on Tuesday that they are setting forth a plan to realign the Winston Cup schedule, starting in 2004. The realignment would include reducing the number of dates currently used by the three Carolina tracks: Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte, Darlington Raceway in South Carolina and Rockingham Raceway in North Carolina.

The three tracks are within a hundred miles of each other, concentrating a large part of the Winston Cup schedule in a very tight geographical area. Currently, neither Rockingham or Darlington sell out race weekends.

All three tracks currently host two Winston Cup dates each season, and Lowe's also hosts the annual all-star non-points event, The Winston. Discussions involve moving some of those dates to other facilities around the country.

NASCAR vice-president George Pyne made the announcement with vague references to whom the schedule changes would affect. After many questions, Chairman Bill France took the podium to clarify NASCAR's intent.

"There [are] four good candidates: Atlanta, a race here at Charlotte, Darlington and Rockingham," said France. "We're going to work in concert with (the tracks). If they don't want to do it, they don't have to do it. This is not a threat at all, but at the same time, we've got to continue to grow the sport."

France also made mention of a new policy to allow the "parent" companies of tracks swap dates among venues.

"This is going to be available to every track operator," said France. "If Dover would like to take one of their races and shift it to St. Louis or Nashville, or if Humpy and Bruton would like to take an Atlanta race and shift it to Texas where they'll sell all their tickets -- from what I read -- we're going to be entertaining that."

One thing that will not change anytime soon is the length of the Winston Cup schedule, already logger-jammed by 38 events in a 41-week period.

"The schedule is pretty well maxed out. If it's not, it's pretty close to it," NASCAR President Mike Helton said.

"We've been fortunate to be able to grow over the past several years, getting into new market areas like Kansas City, Las Vegas, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Chicago and Miami." Helton continued. "Those opportunities don't exist anymore. We have 38 weekends we're racing in a 41-week window. So the idea here is make more efficient use of that, working along without abandoning past practices of putting the schedule together."

Among other avenues NASCAR is pursuing for the 2004 schedule, is a change in broadcast times. George Pyne also stated that the sanctioning body would look to push the start time of races later into Sunday afternoons. The later start would hopefully maximize audience appeal, especially for West Coast viewers, where races now start egregiously early weekend mornings.

In addition, there is talk of running the sports biggest single day event under the lights in the near future.

"The broadcast partners today is a significant partner to us, so we have to start making decisions that's relative to their involvement," Helton said. "And it could be a prime time Daytona 500 some day, sure. We just want to make more efficient use of our schedule."

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Mike Helton