On Wednesday, NASCAR released the 2023 schedule for all three national touring divisions. This schedule further proves why they finally have a direction on what they’re searching for. For years, NASCAR had an identity. Then they went away from it. Now, they found a purpose again and a direction on where they’re wanting to go.
Last year Ben Kennedy spoke on his vision for the Cup Series schedule and he grew up with NASCAR on TV on Sunday afternoon’s. He and the TV partners at Fox Sports and NBC Sports agree with this philosophy.
Last year was a shift from Saturday night primetime races to Sunday afternoons. This 2023 schedule further exemplifies that shift in philosophy. Just 2 of the 36 points paying races in 2023 will be on Saturday night with 2 more on a Sunday night.
Yes, Sunday night.
NASCAR knows that it can be hot in the south in the summer. Letting fans roast in the grandstands in Atlanta isn’t wise. So instead of a day race in July, it’s a night race. The caveat? It’s a Sunday night race not a Saturday night event.
Same for Richmond. A shift up to the end of July can make fans swealter. Also they wanted to differentiate between the 2 stops. A day race and a night race. The summer races makes more sense to utilize the lights. Like Atlanta, they’ll race on a Sunday night.
This is all by design and one that the TV ratings show that racing on Sunday is way better for the viewer than on a Saturday night.
Martinsville’s race this year was further proof on why NASCAR has went forward with more Sunday races than Saturday night. Nearly 4 million (3.958-million) people tuned into FOX a week prior to that one for the Richmond race. The Martinsville race was more than half of the amount of people tuning in.
From 3.958-million to 1.8-million. That’s a stark drop. Hell, the Truck race on dirt almost had as many people watching than the Cup race at Martinsville a week prior.
While some could say a race on FS1 will naturally drop off than one on FOX, you don’t lose 3-million people because of that and the Truck race was on FS1 too.
Atlanta had 4 million tune in, Phoenix had 3.991 million, COTA had 3.7-million. Richmond was 3.9 and now Bristol 4.5 million. That says a lot I feel with new races having over 4 million and Sunday’s being the better of the days to race on.
Primetime TV for sports is declining in general. It’s a fundamental shift that NASCAR is working on again and they’re not hiding behind that fact either. Richmond and Atlanta as an example next summer will race under the lights on Sunday night instead of Saturday night. Kansas will be a day race against the NFL this Fall. Why Sunday’s and not utilizing Saturday night’s anymore?
“I think from a fan perspective our fans, again, are accustomed to tuning in on Sunday afternoon and seeing NASCAR Cup Series racing,” Ben Kennedy said last year on this topic. “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.”
In both 2009 and again in 2010 we had 10 scheduled night races on the schedule. They were at Phoenix, Richmond (x2), Darlington, Charlotte (x2), Daytona, Chicago, Bristol and Atlanta. This year, that number is down to six (Martinsville, Bristol (x2), Charlotte, Darlington and Daytona). Out of those 6, half will take place on a Sunday night at that. That’s down from 8 of 10 in 2010.
Plus, among the past tracks with lights, Phoenix and Atlanta doesn’t use theirs anymore for Cup with both visits now being day races. Chicago is also gone.
The shift is clear. Lights are basically a backup plan now for tracks for the event rain pushes them to night to complete. However, they’d prefer not to have to use them and get them all done in a Sunday afternoon window.
NASCAR has wanted to move into the bigger markets too. The question was, how can you do that? It’s not like you’re going to build a race track in a downtown metropolitan area. So how do you reach those untapped markets?
You go to them.
The Clash in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum was a hit. They’ll be back there for Year 2 next February. If that is another success, then it opens up the possibility to race in football stadiums which almost always are in downtown markets.
They’ll also race on the streets of Chicago next July. Again, if this is a hit, you open the possibility of racing anywhere in the world that you could want.
LA, Chicago, St. Louis and Nashville area all new areas added to the schedule in the recent years. That’s not a fluke.
Shift From Bigger Tracks
Another thing Ben Kennedy noted is that in their fan feedback surveys, they noticed the tracks fans wanted most were short tracks, road courses and superspeedway’s. The ones they wanted the least amount of? Intermediate tracks.
Kennedy said that their on track data also showed that the 1.5-mile tracks were lacking in excitement too.
So you’re probably noticing a shift from new tracks added vs. track being left off. No more Chicagoland. No more Kentucky. 1 date taken away from Texas and Michigan. Fontana moving to a short track after next February’s race.
Indy moving to the road course, COTA, Road America, Chicago street race, etc coming on board.
This is all by design.
Plus with Atlanta moving to a superspeedway between last year and this, it’s further proof of this thinking because NASCAR said the 3rd other track that fans were after is superspeedway’s.
Tracks Getting 1 Trip, Not 2
NASCAR is an ever evolving schedule. Not many tracks are keeping two weekend’s anymore. The thing is, just Richmond, Kansas, Daytona, Vegas, Phoenix, Atlanta, Martinsville, Bristol, Talladega, Darlington and Charlotte each host two races each season now.
But, if you break them down, NASCAR owns the tracks at Daytona, Talladega, Phoenix, Richmond, Martinsville, Darlington and Kansas. SMI owns the rest (Vegas, Atlanta, Bristol and Charlotte). Among the SMI dates, Bristol and Charlotte have two separate weekends with Bristol’s spring race being on dirt and Charlotte’s Fall race being on a ROVAL. Vegas and Atlanta are their only two outliers.
Dover, Texas, Pocono, Michigan and Loudon each lost a weekend lately. Chicago and Kentucky are gone.
With NASCAR constantly adding new tracks now, the dates being taken away are those who host two. It’s working as well.
Just look at the tracks that are down to 1 race weekend. Each are seeing some of the biggest crowds at those respective tracks in decades.
The last 2 years Pocono was down to 1 race weekend but a doubleheader on it. This year it was just 1 race in general. As a result, they just produced the best attended race since 2010. Michigan last month just had the biggest attended race there in over a decade. They too are down to 1 race weekend now after being a doubleheader also in 2020.
Since Loudon went to 1 race weekend each year, the grandstands are fuller. For the first time in years, Dover’s attendance gained as prior to the pandemic, the crowds shrunk each year. In 2020 they had COVID restrictions and a doubleheader. Now, they’re gaining again.
Which is good for them but bad for tracks with 2 dates already. It’s like the circus, they come once a year. Don’t show up, you have to wait 365 more days until they’re back.
Return To Indy Oval?
Kennedy noted that while the IMS road course has been a great addition, they’ve not closed the door on a return to the oval either. I’ve been hearing over the past year that they’ll eventually do a revolving road course/oval contract. Maybe do the road course for 2-3 years, then do the oval, then do the road course another 2-3 years, back to the oval, and so on.
Kennedy mentioned those discussions are taking place.