The 2023 schedule was unveiled two months ago, but on Wednesday, NASCAR unveiled the start times as well as TV networks to go with those dates. The main thing that stood out to me is the fact that they’re adopting the use of Sunday night’s in the summer rather than Saturday night in primetime.
Out of the 39 races if you include the Clash and All-Star race, 9 of them will air under the lights. Out of those 9, 7 of which will occur on Sunday night’s. That’s a massive shift.
The Busch Light Clash (Feb. 5) will air at 8 p.m. ET on FOX. The third iteration of the Bristol Dirt event will be a 7 p.m. ET on Easter Night (April 9) at 7 p.m. ET on FOX. The All-Star race (May 21) at North Wilkesboro will take place at 8 p.m. ET on FS1. The annual Coca-Cola 600 (May 28) will be the standard 6 p.m. ET on FOX timeslot. The next two are where it gets interesting. Both Nashville (June 25) and Atlanta (July 9) remain on Sunday’s. However, both moved to primetime though with Nashville kicking off NBC Sports’ coverage at 7 p.m. ET on network NBC while Atlanta will be two weeks later at 7 p.m. ET on USA. 2 of the final 3 primetime races are on Saturday night’s with the Coke Zero Sugar 400 (Aug. 26) being at 7 p.m. ET on NBC and the Bristol night race (Sept. 16) being at 7:30 p.m. ET on USA.
Sandwiched between them is the annual Southern 500 (Sept. 3) at 6 p.m. ET on USA.
That’s an interesting new trend. We know Ben Kennedy wanted to make more cup Series races on Sunday’s which means a shift from Saturday night’s, but even with adding more night races, they’re keeping them on Sunday night’s too.
As far as data? Well look no further than this past spring.
Martinsville’s race this past 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 Martinsville for the Richmond spring race. The Martinsville race was more than half of the amount of people tuning in.
From 3.958-million (Sunday afternoon) to 1.8-million (Saturday night). That’s a stark drop. Hell, the Truck race on Bristol 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.
This past spring, 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. Nashville and Atlanta as an example next summer will race under the lights on Sunday night instead of Saturday night. 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 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.
Just 2 of the races in 2023 will be on Saturday night…