When Las Vegas Motor Speedway announced a second Monster Energy Cup date, the news was well-received.
That is unless New Hampshire Motor Speedway was your favorite venue — or if you believe NASCAR’s Playoffs are already over-saturated with intermediate tracks.
Count me in among the latter.
For years, track builders couldn’t construct 1.5-milers quickly enough. As NASCAR racing exploded in popularity, gems such as Texas Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway, Homestead-Miami Speedway, Chicagoland Speedway, Kentucky Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway blossomed.
Soon, the series now known as Monster Energy Cup featured 11 intermediate-track events on the 36-race schedule. As things now, five of those intermediate-track races make up 50 percent of the 10-race playoff.
As the appetite for racing changed, NASCAR attempted to keep pace with the evolution of stock cars. From Generation 4 (1992-2006) to the Car of Tomorrow — or Generation 5 (2007-2012) so the acronym CoT can be mentioned again — and now some iteration Generation 6-3.0, NASCAR’s R&D Center has busied itself with creating a vehicle to recapture the magic of old.
The importance tracks play
But the problem with competition today is the racing is less about the cars and more about the tracks. Want side-by-side racing? NASCAR isn’t going to accomplish that task with the current car — even by artificially creating restarts with Stages.
“The tracks are just as important as anything,” Brad Keselowski told Motorsport.com. “When we race, what time, the grip levels, the tire combinations, the car sensitivities are all huge as to the excitement level I think you’re gonna feel in a race. But I think looking at the stages in general it’s an enhancement, but it’s not a cure-all for everything that we want to make better in our sport.
“I sense at least that a lot of people within the garage understand that, that there are other areas that we can continue to work on, but I think this is the right step in general for all the tracks to make the racing more compelling and to make more moments matter for our fans. But I think we have to be careful labeling it as kind of the end-all, be-all because I think there is still more work to do.”
I’m a fan of the new segments for several reasons. First, the “Stages” are similar to heat races. No fan at a short track is going to leave his or her seat during a heat race when it’s a short dash that provides a “winner." With NASCAR awarding points for positions 1-10 in the first two of three stages, there’s additional incentive to watch. And the newly created TV timeouts between segments allow ample time for pit stops — on and off the track — as well as refreshing a cold beverage or two.
More road courses
What I’m not a fan of is six 1.5-mile tracks in the Playoffs. NASCAR needs a road course more than ever among the 10 races that will determine the series champion. The mix of races should be more representative of the regular-season schedule. And the last time I checked, only 23-percent of the regular season races were contested on intermediate tracks. The Playoffs should more accurately reflect that ratio.
This is why racing on the road course at Charlotte Motor Speedway appeals to me — even if it is a ‘roval.'
“I like outside the box opportunities,” added Keselowski. “I think it’s very critical for us that the schedule be freshened up and those type of ideas accomplish that, so I’m supportive to ideas that freshen up the schedule and keep it new and exciting every year for tracks and for fans.
“But I’m a little careful to say that there’s one specific idea that’s gonna be the answer, because I think it’s more of a culture and mindset.”
Yes, race fans can be fickle. They have a hard time embracing change. There are old-school fans who still don’t care for road course racing — even if it provides some of the most scintillating action in the Cup series.
“It’s interesting because 10-15 years ago road course racing was some of the least liked racing by the fans and the competitors in this sport, and now it’s turned in to some of the most appreciated racing,” Keselowski said. “That’s part of the ebbs and flows of the sport over time.
“I think if we go down the path of more rovals and things like that, or road courses I should say that turn into rovals, I think 10-20 years from now we’ll look back and say, ‘Oh, I miss all of those mile-and-a-half races.’ So I just think it’s part of how this sport flows.”
Hopefully, when NASCAR rolls out the 2018 schedule, the sport will flow into the direction of a road course — or roval — at Charlotte. While it would be nice to have a dress rehearsal at the All-Star Race in May, there’s not sufficient time to have purpose-built cars or tires created in time.
Still, how many times have we been told the Monster Energy Cup drivers are the best in the world? If that’s the case, then Boys (and girl), have at it. See you on the roval in October.