While there is certainly much to lament as far as the loss of races is concerned due to the COVID-19 pandemic, NASCAR could potentially be able to use the aftermath of the restrictions on social gatherings that have resulted in postponements and cancellations as a testing ground for long talked about ideas. Obviously, not playing a part in the further spread of the illness is the immediate priority for all sports leagues, including NASCAR. But when this crisis ends and life returns to some degree of normalcy, the NASCAR events lost will potentially be rescheduled.
So far, NASCAR has been forced to postpone races slated for Atlanta Motor Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway. The word postponement was used rather than cancellation which implies that both will be rescheduled. Of course, this could all change if the current situation persists for much longer and more race events have to be pushed aside.
But for now, let’s say that the two races lost so far prove to be all that are lost since that’s what we know for sure at this point.
The number of open weekends on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule, not to mention that of the NASCAR Xfinity Series and the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series slates, are very limited. And when it is considered that one of those open weekends coincides with the Easter holiday, the number of openings on the racing calendar is even further reduced.
Granted, NASCAR has scheduled a two-week break of sorts on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule that could be used for these two lost contests but the prospects of Georgia and south Florida in late July and early August might not seem terribly appealing to many.
One potential solution to this scheduling difficulty could be that of racing midweek in prime time at some point during the 2020 season. This is an idea that has been kicked around for some time now but has not really been acted upon as some of the stake holders involved(tracks and teams in particular) may be leery of holding a race on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday evening.
Obviously, these would have to largely be made-for-television affairs as the number of fans able to attend will, in all likelihood, be limited to those who live and work within a tight radius of the track itself. But when it is considered that much of the revenue for the sport now comes from television, this would open a whole new set of possibilities as the broadcast networks could fill time in the midweek when there might not be nearly as many live sports options to compete against.
Further, NASCAR has demonstrated that it is willing to run races entirely without fans as it was initially announced at the onset of the crisis that the Atlanta and Homestead events would be run in front of empty grandstands. So racing during the midweek with a relatively small crowd in attendance would be at least a slight improvement over that.
As far as the possibility of testing this midweek scenario is concerned, it has now been made easier with the movement of the two biggest track operating companies, International Speedway Corporation and Speedway Motorsports, Inc., away from publicly traded status and back into private hands. And being that each of these tracks is owned by one of those two entities, the businesses would theoretically experience the same impact.
Add to the experiment of a trial run of midweek racing the possibility of allowing teams to skip one or the other races with no points penalty or running both races and using only their best finish of the two. And make these race one-day shows with a single practice session, qualifying, and the race itself all completed in the same day. That would lessen the number of personnel needed at the track which would help the teams cut costs.
Finally, indications are that there will be significant schedule changes for the NASCAR Cup Series in 2021 and we have already been given some insight into that with the condensing of Daytona’s SpeedWeeks next February. The use of midweek races could allow the sanctioning body to get in as many races as possibly while still reducing the amount of calendar used in so doing.
NASCAR has been presented with an opportunity to try some things within their schedule during this 2020 season that might serve as a preview for upcoming years. This might prove to be an opportunity to turn what looked like potential disaster into prosperity.
Of course, if the current crisis situation does not significantly improve over the next couple of weeks, this may all be a moot point.
*Just after the posting of this piece the CDC recommended no gatherings of more than 50 people for eight weeks.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association
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