Defending Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick offers solutions.
TALLADEGA, Ala. — Kevin Harvick is spot on.
NASCAR needs to shake things up with the Sprint Cup calendar. The defending Cup Champ is too politically correct to say the schedule is stale, but Harvick believes the sanctioning body would benefit from sharing the racing around.
Whether it be Formula 1 or any other form of racing, there are not many ovals.
Harvick on lack of road courses
“If you want to talk about growing the sport I believe that some venues need one race,” Harvick said. “I believe that the schedule needs to be mixed up. People like things that change they don’t like stagnant things. In my opinion the most stagnant thing in our sport is our schedule and our venues that we go to.
“You can beat a dead horse as much as you want, but it doesn’t come back to life. And sometimes you just have to change things up to keep the excitement and enthusiasm in the sport. I think our schedule is definitely the weak link along with some of the venues that we go to. That is my opinion.”
Different year, same story
It’s been the same ol’, same ‘ol schedule with the exception of Kentucky Speedway’s debut in 2011 and flipping a few dates around. While it’s wonderful that NASCAR incorporated the Kentucky/Cincinnati market into the Sprint Cup schedule, was it really necessary to add another intermediate track? Of the 23 tracks that NASCAR’s Cup tour visits each season, eight are 1.5-mile tracks. The last two tracks added to the schedule prior to Kentucky were Chicagoland and Kansas Speedway in 2001 - again, two cookie cutter tracks.
In the Chase, half of the playoff races are held on intermediate tracks. Although that's understandable since more than one-fifth of the regular season races are run at 1.5-mile tracks, it simply feeds the mediocrity.
If Harvick had his druthers, NASCAR would consider adding a short track such as Iowa and road courses to attract the international fan base.
“The first place I would go is Iowa,” Harvick said. “I think that everybody wants to see more short tracks and more venues. I think road racing – we have a couple of road races on the schedule and most every team has two road race cars and spends a lot of money on their road race program. Adding a road race here or there would definitely be something that I would vote for just for the fact internationally road racing is very recognizable to race fans.
“Whether it be Formula 1 or any other form of racing, there are not many ovals. You could take your pick on road courses, Montreal (Canada) does a great job, you could go to Laguna Seca (California), you could go anywhere in the world and race on a road course. There are lots of good venues.”
Harvick isn't opposed to introducing “a wild card” race each season — which would expose NASCAR to a new market. Despite multiple attempts to break into the Northwest region, the sanctioning body was unsuccessful in its efforts. The last time one of the three top tours ran there was in 1999 when the truck series still competed at Evergreen Speedway in Monroe, Wash. and Portland (Ore.) Speedway.
“Go to the Milwaukee (Wisconsin) Mile and really you could go to test these venues and see how the markets react,” Harvick added. “And see the reaction you get from the market, even if you only have 30 or 40 thousand people in the grandstands if you put on a good event for TV and do the things that it takes to have a unique event that is really what people want. They want unique things.”
Why no changes?
While the rumors have been rampant over the last few years that NASCAR would incorporate new venues to the schedule, it hasn’t happened. Harvick has a theory for the delay.
“Two publically traded companies,” Harvick said of International Speedway Corporation and Speedway Motorsports, which host the lion’s share of the races. “I think when you look at what NASCAR has done when you look at what the manufacturers have done. When you look at the teams and then sacrifices and the changes that all three of those groups have gone through, I mean they have gone through major changes.
“When you look at the body style changes and the effort that the manufacturers have put into this and the rule changes for these particular superspeedway races and the safety effort that NASCAR has put in, it’s not that the tracks aren’t putting in an effort it’s just there needs to be a different type of effort. This is just my opinion. We are just talking today.”
Timing is everything
Harvick also advocates Sunday afternoon races as opposed to Saturday night events — which in addition to producing lower TV ratings, conflict with competition at local short tracks.
While there wasn’t much difference between Richmond’s overnight rating of 3.1 last Sunday on FOX compared to one year ago on Saturday night (3.0), Texas’ night race drew a 2.9 rating overnight — the lowest for a race on FOX.
“We talk about Saturday night races a lot and a lot of people like Saturday night races, but more people watch Sunday at 1 p.m.,” Harvick said. “That to me – we need to be on the TV when the most people watch, because the sponsors are a big part of what makes this go around.
“And the fans watching on TV and in the grandstands seeing those products are important, but the TV numbers are the most important thing we have.”