Major schedule changes have come, should there be more?
Chris Symeon, Motorsports Editor
Long Pond, PA (Sports Network) -
With the 2011 schedule for all three of its national touring series expected to be released within the next couple of weeks, NASCAR is making some significant revisions to its Sprint Cup schedule, in hopes of generating more fan interest, as well as improving sluggish track attendance and television ratings.
During a news conference last month at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, NASCAR chairman and chief executive officer Brian France said, "We'll have some pretty impactful changes to the schedule that I think will be good for NASCAR fans."
We're now getting a glimpse of NASCAR's schedule modifications for next year, as several racetracks already have announced their plans for the upcoming season.
Last week, Atlanta Motor Speedway revealed it will give up one of its two Cup dates in 2011. Speedway Motorsports Inc. will move its Atlanta spring race to Kentucky Speedway. NASCAR and Kentucky track officials confirmed on Tuesday that the 1.5-mile oval, located roughly 40 miles south of downtown Cincinnati, will host its long-awaited first Cup race -- 400 miles in length -- on July 9.
"I always hate to see a racetrack lose a date, because I know there's a lot of fans that do make both of those races and love that race track and love the area where the race track is," NASCAR veteran driver Jeff Burton said. "At the same time, it's capitalism. If there's another venue where more people can come in and more people can enjoy it, then that's where you can expect the show to be going."
Also on Tuesday, Kansas Speedway announced it will receive a second Cup date, while Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, CA will lose one of its two races, starting next year. International Speedway Corp., the parent company of both tracks, recently requested the transfer of California's fall event to Kansas. NASCAR approved the realignment, with Kansas hosting it races on June 5 and October 9 -- the fourth event in the 2011 Championship chase.
Phoenix International Raceway, also an ISC property, will move its April race to February 27, the week after the Daytona 500. California previously followed the Daytona 500, but next year, the two-mile track will move to a better- suited date of March 27.
Officials from NASCAR and Chicagoland Speedway said on Monday that Chicagoland will kick off next year's Chase, replacing New Hampshire Motor Speedway as the opening playoff race. New Hampshire and Dover International Speedway likely will follow Chicago in the Chase.
Chicagoland beginning the Chase -- the final 10 races of the season -- probably is good for NASCAR, since the track is located in the country's third largest television market area. However, Chicago is a huge sports city, and several of its professional sports teams are in season, particularly the Chicago Bears from the NFL and the city's two MLB teams -- the Cubs and the White Sox. Chicagoland's September 18 race date might be a tough ticket to sell.
"I think it has everything to do with NASCAR trying to create the best product that they can, trying to be in front of the right audiences, the right time of the year for certain racetracks, so the stands are full, action-packed tracks for the Chase and so our television numbers are up," four-time defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson said.
The one thing I hoped would have happened or will happen in the future with the Cup schedule is a change in location for the season-ending race. Despite warm temperatures in South Florida in November, Homestead-Miami Speedway no longer seems appealing for the season-finale.
Move Homestead to earlier in the year, and place either Las Vegas Motor Speedway or one of Charlotte Motor Speedway's two dates to the last race of the season.
Why Las Vegas or Charlotte?
NASCAR's top series now holds its annual awards banquet in Las Vegas, so it would be convenient to place LVMS as the final stop on schedule.
As for Charlotte, let the season conclude in NASCAR's hub city. Then head to Vegas for the big party.