Monday, June 04, 2012

Can NASCAR Shorten Its Sprint Cup Schedule?

NASCAR’s twice-annual Changing of the Television Guard happens this week, with TNT seizing the baton from FOX for a brief, six-race slate of Sprint Cup Series coverage. ESPN/ABC will televise the final 17 events, culminating with the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November. 

Wallace says the schedule should be cut
Recently, TV commentator and former Cup Series champion Rusty Wallace suggested that NASCAR shorten its longstanding, February-to-November schedule, trimming a handful of stops from the 36-event championship agenda. Now, Wallace has an ally in the person of NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver. 

Dale Earnhardt Jr. joined Wallace in calling for a shorter Sprint Cup schedule this week, saying the move, “would be a good thing, and would definitely change some things for the better."  

Earnhardt drew an analogy between NASCAR and the 800-pound gorilla of television sports, the National Football League to argue that less is more when it comes to national exposure.

"The model that the NFL uses is a pretty productive model,” said Earnhardt, an admitted follower of the sport. “They seem to have it about right. When you're a football fan, you can't wait for the season to start, and it seems like an eternity before it does. And (once) it's here, it's gone just as fast and you can't wait for the next one.”

Earnhardt said the NFL keeps its fans “enamored with it all the time… trying to get all the information you can get. So they have a good model." 

"Too much money involved."
NASCAR currently has the longest season of any North American professional sport. As endless as the current schedule seems however, it used to be worse. In the early years of the sport, NASCAR sanctioned approximately 60 point-counting races for its headline Grand National circuit, often running 3-4 events in a single week. The arrival of RJ Reynolds Tobacco as major sponsor in 1971 produced a dramatic reduction in the total number of events, but the revamped, 30-race schedule still began in late January on the old Riverside (Cal.) road course and ran through mid-November. A surge in popularity in the late 1990s saw new speedways constructed in California, Chicago, Texas, Las Vegas, Kansas City, Kentucky and Miami, with the schedule expanding to its current 36 races.

Once the green flag flies in Daytona Beach, the Sprint Cup Series enjoys only two off-weekends, in April and July. The schedule is physically and emotionally draining, and has prompted periodic calls for the total number of events to be reduced. 

Slashing the schedule, however, is more difficult than it might seem. NASCAR’s 36 championship events – along with plus the season-opening Daytona Shootout and All-Star Race in May – each produce multi-million dollar windfalls for their host speedways. 

Four ownership groups control the bulk of the Sprint Cup schedule. International Speedway Corporation -- owned by members of NASCAR’s founding France family -- and Bruton Smith’s Speedway Motorsports, Inc. host all but four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races each year. Pocono Raceway – owned by the Mattioli family – and Dover International Speedway – a Dover Motorsports, Inc. property – make up the balance of the schedule. 

None of those venues are anxious to lose a date, and in this difficult economy, there is doubt whether a major motorsports facility can survive on just one Sprint Cup date per annum. 

The sport’s current television contract runs through the end of the 2014 season, making immediate schedule contracture before that time problematic. The current eight-year, $4.8 billion deal helps grease the wheels of NASCAR commerce, paying out approximately $16.5 million per event in revenue to teams, tracks and the sanctioning body itself. Fewer races means less money for all parties, and with the struggling economy impacting sponsor revenue for all but the most fortunate teams, a cut in TV dollars would be ill-timed, at best.

Earnhardt admitted as much last week, saying, "Shortening up the schedule is probably the last thing I would expect to happen. There's just too much money involved… too much money moving around and changing hands for a half of dozen dates to be cut from the schedule. The impact on the economy in those areas, per race, would be reduced.

"I think shortening the season would be a good thing, and would definitely change some things for the better.

"But I don't think that’s even a possibility, more of a daydream than anything else."

Photo Credits:, LAT Photographic


  1. Anonymous10:20 AM

    Can NASCAR shorten it's season - yes, but like Earnhardt Jr said, it won't (or can't) happen.

    I believe that part of NASCAR's "problem" with dwindling fan numbers can be traced, in part, to over exposure. Truth be told, I've been an NASCAR fan for +/- 35 years and by the end of September I'm ready for a break from racing.

    I remember reading an article a few months ago where the NFL was considering more games on Thursdays & Fridays. Troy Aikman was quoted that he feared over exposure could cause the same drop in fan participation that NASCAR is seeing.

    Chuck from Alabama

  2. Anonymous2:22 PM

    For Dale Jr. to be saying this is great. If Jr. notices we have a problem we have a problem. Compounding the issue is the network switching that goes on every season. Taking NASCAR off broadcast and putting it on cable excludes many many fans (especially today) who don't have or no longer have cable or satellite TV. Shorten the season (April to October except for Daytona) 29 total races. Put Sprint Cup on Fox, Nationwide on ABC. Run Saturday nights instead of Sunday afternoon during football season, or even switch to a Thursday night for a couple of races.Cutting the two race tracks to one race would lighten the load.

    Something has to be done. without better TV scheduling and a shorter schedule, it could go back to the bad old days or being a filler on a Saturday Afternoon or early Tuesday morning like drag racing gets.

    Doug from NJ

  3. Schreib2:51 PM

    Myself, I suffer from withdrawls only one week after Homestead. Ive heard drivers,owners, and crew members alike say that by the end of December,theyre ready to go again. I dont watch the NFL,and am not a fan,so maybe im a bit biased,but I love the schedule the way it is,and as a hardcore NASCAR fan and supporter,I look forward to Pre-season thunder with impatience every year!I dont need a break,thank goodness for Sirius radio during the offseason!

  4. Doug, the sport arguably suffered it's biggest boom in the mid to late 90's when it virtually changed networks every week! So I don't think that argument holds water as far as fan following goes. I actually think the switching made for a better television product because the networks had to be better since if TNN struggled with one area, ESPN could pick right back up the next week. You didn't get lulled by a group.

    Anyways, I agree with Jr and Rusty. 32 races would be perfect. Love the racing as much as anyone, but you can still have the Feb-Nov. run, just add some more off weeks inbetween.

    The argument over money is a little frivolous because both the Truck and Nationwide schedules lost multiple races going into this season and no one seems to be arguing how those series lost money.

    This is squarely an ISC/SMI problem. THOSE entities will not sacrifice a date because they are too concerned with lining their own pockets to act in the greater good. Dover Motorsports Inc learned that they could do more with less. Shame since great tracks lost races entirely (Memphis, Nashville, Gateway)

    Even reducing two races would be a help at this point.

    Don't know where they would come from, but I am sure if NASCAR, the tracks, the networks, and the teams all pulled in the same direction to do what was best for the sport that this could be done in a heartbeat.

    1. Anonymous2:50 PM

      Respectfully, fans today will change the channel if their friends tweet them something else is happening, and cable has lost over 2,000,000 households since 2008 (I just read that and can't find the link or page).

      The late 90's WERE the late 90's. it's 15 years later, what worked then doesn't work now. Just like I need blood pressure medicine now when I used to need a cup of coffee in the morning, the sport needs RADICAL change immediately before more sponsors and fans slip away. Id you only have an audience of 6,000,000 households and 100,000 live fans, why wouldn't you as a sponsor find better bang for your buck?

      Doug from NJ

  5. Wayne9:18 AM

    Racing Sat nights kills local short track attendance.

  6. Judy Smith2:11 PM

    My family and I have been NASCAR Fans for many years, and would not want to see the NASCAR Season shortened!!

    We look forward every week to each NASCAR race, and that would even make NASCAR racing less attractive to a new fan base.

    Also, shortening the races is not the answer either, in our opinion, as we and other fans drive a long way some times to watch the races and like the 500 mile races. Also we like the Coca Cola 600 very much. Thank you.

    Judy from Charlotte