Answering key questions on the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series schedule

On Wednesday, NASCAR unveiled the way the 2022 Cup Series schedule will look. Was it as drastic as this years? Obviously not. The amount of road courses is similar going from 7 to 6. Bristol Dirt is back. So is COTA and Road America. The season still starts at Daytona on President’s Day weekend and ends at Phoenix the first Sunday of November.

That’s all the same. But, that doesn’t mean changes weren’t made.

Daytona’s road course is gone. So is the Clash at Daytona. Homestead moves to October in a playoff shakeup that will see half of the races altered from this year. Indy moves back up to July. Watkins Glen moves back. Bristol Dirt is on Easter night. World Wide Technology Raceway gets added while Pocono loses a race.

All of this sparked questions. Lets try to answer them below.

Ben Kennedy called this schedule the third evolution of the NextGen schedule.

“I think it is a testament to the entire industry coming together, obviously a collaboration with our broadcast partners, getting a lot of feedback from our teams and OEM partners, and from our fans as well to ultimately create what we think is the best Cup Series schedule that we’ve had so far,” Kennedy said.

Why Move The Clash?

I do feel like something had to be done about the Clash. My vote was to eliminate it all together as I don’t feel like the road course worked for it. While it was honestly a good ending back in February, it just felt awkward to have a road course race kick off Speedweeks, or scratch that, week. Plus, it wasn’t a big rated event anyhow.

Fox Sports 1 saw 1.577 million viewers for this year’s race. That’s down almost 1 million people as 2.455 million tuned into the 2020 Busch Clash. Granted, the 2020 race was on the oval and was held on a Sunday afternoon compared to a weeknight, it still shows that doing the same thing again in 2022 wasn’t going to be ideal.

The problem was, holding it on the oval didn’t make a whole hell of a lot of sense anymore anyways. It had become the Busch Crash instead of the Clash. Most, if not all cars in the field, would end up with crash damage which made the event very expensive for race teams.

See, if you were in it, there’s no way you bring your Daytona 500 car for it. You’d have to prepare a completely different throw away car for the Clash and then prepare a new car for the Daytona 500. Throw in a backup car for the ‘500 and the big teams were bringing three cars down to Daytona for Speedweeks.

The other thing is, the Clash went away from what it initially was founded off of. This was a race for pole winners only. Now, it has been expanded and extended from the original 20 lap format.

The original concept for the Busch Clash was for a Sunday afternoon show a week before the Daytona 500 and to fit it all in during a half an hour TV window on CBS. Well, the race had become 55 laps longer than the inaugural event in 1979, in recent year, was as boring as ever until a crap show at the end.

Due to the distance and like in 2019 having only 18 cars racing in it then, why put yourself in harms way by drafting early and often? With a guaranteed caution coming on Lap 25, you could ride around in a high speed parade and keep your car clean for the end.

That’s what happened the last two years on the oval.

The first segments were full of 18 cars running in tow with one another. The second segment was run with cars trying to save fuel until the end, then having manufacturers pit together.

From there, it was the usual crash fest in the end. Just look at how the last one on the oval ended. We’d see a six car crash that was sparked by a block by Joey Logano with 10 laps left in regulation. Then, on the restart with three laps remaining in regulation, we saw a bizarre crash in the tri-oval between nine cars. From there, a crash on the first overtime restart when Denny Hamlin cut a tire while leading, took out 10 more cars which was followed by a three car crash on the next restart.

That left six cars on track for the third overtime, one of which being a lap down.

So, I ask, why race for 75 laps when 65+ of them are run single file and we get every car crashed in the end?

I mean when you show up with 18 cars for this race and all of them have damage, there’s a problem. In 2018, 17 of the 20 cars crashed in one accident at the end before the rain fell too.

That’s 38 cars and 35 of them crashed in a two year span.

So I applaud the change. I also applaud the change to LA. It gives the spark to the event back again. You can bet your ass that even if you’re against this move, you’ll still be turning in. The ratings and attendance for this race on Feb. 6 next year is going to be one of the more highly anticipated ones of the entire season. New events always are.

This move was to bring NASCAR to a big market. Just look at what Kennedy said.

“It will be moving to Los Angeles, our No. 1 market for NASCAR fans, No. 2 market for viewership, at an iconic and historic venue,” Kennedy said.

“You think of the number of Olympics they’ve had there with two, a number of Super Bowls, Rams games, Chargers games, USC Trojans have played there since 1923. They are coming up on their hundredth year anniversary. We will be the first big event they will have there as part of that. Looking forward to that. Looking forward to seeing the Clash on February 6th next year.”

Plus, it’s the week before the Super Bowl which just so happens to be played in the same town. Talk about a win-win. While it could also wad up a bunch of cars too and not end well either, I give NASCAR props for the change. They could always change it again in 2023.

Kennedy didn’t rule out a return to Daytona, but said next year’s race is worth taking a look at.

“It’s something that we’ll continue to look at. I think we saw a good race on the road course this year. It was fun to shake it up and see some road course racing at Daytona and on Tuesday night leading into the 500.

“That said, we made a pretty big shift in moving it over to Los Angeles and the Coliseum a week before the Super Bowl and two weeks before the Daytona 500. I think and hope that will drive even more momentum into the biggest event of our season, Daytona.

“To answer your question, it will be something that we’ll continue to look at for sure.”

The luster for the Clash was gone. No one was showing up. Crowds were so scarce that I’d estimate 5-10k in Daytona anymore. Ratings were getting lower from 2019 to 2020 and the race was growing more expensive.

It wasn’t a good move for anyone involved.

So, in comes a new event. I like it.

Are Metropolitan Markets The Future Of The Sport?

NASCAR has found that they had to change the schedule up. You can’t go to the same tracks, in the same places, in the same weekends each year. It gets dull and stagnant. Sometimes you need to change it up. We’ve seen how these new tracks are receipted by fans. NASCAR notices too.

“I think the biggest takeaway that we’ve seen is in particular with some of these new venues that we’ve introduced to the schedule, some of the changes in the schedule, is the amount of excitement and engagement we have for a lot of these new tracks,” Kennedy said.

“Take Nashville Superspeedway as an example in the 2021 season. To have a sold-out crowd, so much energy around that event, I think it really speaks to the decisions that were made, again, how many fans we have in that Nashville area. Same thing goes for Road America, as an example. A ton of great fans out there.

“I don’t know if it is eye-opening, but one of the neatest things to see is kind of the reception we’ve had from the fan base and from the industry for a lot of these changes we’ve made within the schedule.”

So, what’s next then? What’s the next venue or venues to host NASCAR races? Well, I think NASCAR has a clear vision on the future schedules now. The aim is bigger markets. In saying that, how do you bring fans in big metropolitan areas to your sport?

That answer they’ve now found simple – you come to them.

“To your point, exactly. I’m sitting in downtown St. Louis right now. I’m only a five-minute drive from World Wide Technology Raceway,” Kennedy said. “I think to your point, it’s an opportunity to bring the racing action to our fans and to bring some new fans out to the track to sample our sport and sample the Cup Series that haven’t had the opportunity to do so before. I think that’s part of the calculus.

“On top of that, as well, going to the Los Angeles market, we’re excited to be back out in Fontana Auto Club Speedway again in late February of next year, but also going to downtown Los Angeles, which is another five- to 10-minute drive from the Los Angeles Coliseum.

“I think it brings an opportunity to really bring the racing action to the fans that are in these larger markets where you have a lot of fans and give them the opportunity to not only come out and experience the race but also come out for the first time to even see what it’s like.”

Los Angeles in a football stadium. St. Louis in a race track. They’ve been flirting with street races, most notably in maybe Chicago. The next drastic change moving forward is going to be finding spots in downtown areas to race.

Why Race On Easter?

For decades, NASCAR has avoided a clash with Easter. They’ve felt since 1990, that they’d observe the holiday weekend for the premiere series. Well, that changes for 2022. Why?

For starters, dirt races are at their best under the lights. The cars look better. The atmosphere is better and most of all, the racing is better. Night time conditions are the right time conditions for dirt because of the natural moisture that it gives to the racing surface. NASCAR got feedback from the drivers and felt like they had to agree with them on that following a ho-hum day race this past year.

“A decision that we made. I think in the spirit of this year’s event, we learned that it’s important for us to make sure that that dirt event is into the evening or under the lights,” said Kennedy. “We were able to secure that prime time window on FOX that evening.

So, why Easter though? Why change now? Well, the reasoning is clear. Other sports have other holidays locked down. Easter is open. Why not NASCAR becoming synonymous with Easter?

“When you think about all the other sports leagues with NFL on Thanksgiving, NBA on Christmas, this is our opportunity to run on Easter Sunday and drive a lot of momentum for our fans that are watching at home through FOX’s season and NBC’s season from start to finish.”

NASCAR wants to build their brand on the next holiday weekend that’s open. Was there any reserve about this weekend though? Why that night? Why Sunday night and not Saturday night?

“Yeah, we put a lot of consideration into that. I think to that end, having it later in the day, and on prime time on Sunday, we want to make sure that for fans, families, team members, drivers, that they have the opportunity to celebrate earlier on in the day. Then for fans that may be tuning in at night or coming out to the track that evening, the ability to come out there and continue to be together and watch NASCAR racing we felt like was important.

“A big part of the calculus of that decision was making sure that that event was later on in the evening on that day.”

Plus, as Kennedy noted multiple times on the call, Cup racing is at its best on Sunday afternoons. The night racing niche came around in the late 80s and had a boom through the 90s and into the 2000’s. But, as the cars have evolved and the way fans watch races has too, sometimes what’s best is just going back to what worked before and that’s the traditional Sunday afternoon race.

“I think from a fan perspective our fans, again, are accustomed to tuning in on Sunday afternoon and seeing NASCAR Cup Series racing. For a fan going out there to the track, to have the biggest event of the weekend on that Sunday afternoon I think gives them something to look forward to and builds anticipation around the weekend.

“I would say a lot of our fans, myself included, are accustomed to turning racing on, NASCAR racing in particular, on Sunday afternoon. I think we all have that habit. Certainly helped us kind of drive the decision to move that there.”

Why The Homestead/Kansas Moves?

From 2004 through 2019, the Homestead-Miami Speedway had always served as the playoff finale. That has since been moved. In 2020, the race was ran in June. This year, it was moved up to February. Next year, it goes back to the playoffs. This time though, it’s not the championship decider but rather a race in the Round of 8 instead. Why the move back into the postseason?

“Something that we’ve heard from our fans for a while now is they love the racing action at Homestead-Miami Speedway,” said Kennedy. “Of the mile-and-a-half tracks we go to, probably one of the better mile-and-a-half tracks we go to from a racing product.

“Being that time of year in October, a lot of our fans love to vacation in South Florida. A lot of potential new fans are down there as well. I think a great opportunity to introduce that to the Playoff slate as well.”

Another playoff move was Kansas going from the Round of 12 to the Round of 8 to now in the Round of 16. Why?

“I think on that one, we moved Kansas a little bit later in the Playoffs as a part of the new Playoff schedule that we had in 2020 and 2021. We felt like it was important to move Kansas a little bit earlier into the season to help from a weather standpoint,” Kennedy continued.

Why Just 1 Race At Pocono?

I’ll just defer to Ben Kennedy on this one.

“I think on the Pocono front, similar to the rest of our schedule, we’re always looking at both our existing tracks and our new tracks. As we shifted over to St. Louis, ultimately those shifts come from somewhere. Last year Chicagoland and Kentucky came off the schedule.

“What I will tell you is we do have great racing out in Pocono. The Mattioli and Nick Igdalsky, the entire family, have been great partners of us for several decades and they’ll continue to be partners of ours going into the future as well.

“Want to continue that relationship, partnership. The Northeast is an important area for us to be in. Only a couple hours from another very large market in New York. Really important for us to continue to be there and continue to with the team up there.”

Why Just 1 Off Week

NASCAR’s season is already the longest in sports. 36 weekends out of a year + an All-Star race. That’s 37 weeks. But, when you have a 38 week span to fit 37 races into, that could lead to a lot of weary competitors by time we get to the end of next season.

Why did they land on just one off week all season?

It’s something that we’re certainly looking at. It’s nice to have the two week off period with the Olympic break,” said Kennedy on the off weeks and this year’s with two weeks off for the Olympics. “I think it was a natural break for our season this year.

“That said, if you look at our schedule kind of overall, starting on Presidents’ Day weekend as we traditionally have with the Daytona 500 and ending our season at Phoenix with the championship race, by the time you lay out the entire schedule, really ultimately it leads to only one off week if we’re running on Sundays and on weekends.

“With that said, we felt like it was important, especially for our fans that are sitting at home watching the event or coming out to a race, to have a lot of momentum from the start of our season at Daytona, the Daytona 500, all the way to Sonoma where FOX will close their portion of the season, and then from Nashville Superspeedway where NBC picks us up all the way to the championship race at Phoenix. Wanted to drive a lot of momentum.

“We know we only have one off week between FOX and NBC. Like I said, that will drive a lot of momentum for our sport and fans. Something we will continually look at as future iterations of the schedule where those off weeks are and where they’re located.”

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