NASCAR announced yesterday that Phoenix Raceway will once again host NASCAR’s Championship Weekend in 2024. The move was met with collective groans from NASCAR fans both because of the subpar Phoenix racing product and the lack of variety in the finale. But, if fans don’t want to go to Phoenix, then where can NASCAR go?
Now, it is important to be realistic with where NASCAR can hold its’ finale. Therefore, two factors were considered when making this list.
First, the race would likely have to be at an ISC owned track since that is where the date has been since the move to Homestead in 2002, and NASCAR probably wants complete autonomy over that last event. Therefore, any track that is independently owned such as Indianapolis or Pocono, or any SMI owned race track such as Bristol, Charlotte, or any of those related tracks are all out.
Secondly, the race needs to be in a location with reasonable weather during the first week of November. Any track north of the Ohio River is probably out of the question for this reason.
This leaves NASCAR with eight candidates for the finale aside from Phoenix. With that in mind, here are all of the reasonably possible venues for NASCAR’s finale listed in order from least likely to most likely.
8 & 7. Talladega Superspeedway and Daytona International Speedway
On paper, a championship race at a superspeedway sounds like it could be unbelievably dramatic. That is until you start to critically think about the implications of such an event. That was shown with the ridiculous ending to the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona last August, the last race to get into the playoffs.
The probability all four championship contenders being taken out by an accident that is no fault of their own is way too high for an event with as high stakes as the Season Finale. Putting a superspeedway in the playoffs makes sense as every type of track should be represented in the postseason. The Championship Race though, that is a disaster waiting to happen.
6. Auto Club Speedway
If the 2.0 mile configuration was still in use, then this venue would be higher up the list. The Next Gen racing product was spectacular, and the skill needed to get around that track with multiple grooves makes it a compelling venue for the Season Finale. Unfortunately, it’s now a short track in a very iffy NASCAR market.
NASCAR has had a penchant for putting these playoff races in big markets as evidenced by the playoff opener and season finale. The Playoff opener was at Chicagoland, then Las Vegas from 2011-2019. The last three scheduled finale venues since 1987 were Atlanta, Homestead-Miami, and Phoenix.
However, is Southern California really the right market for NASCAR to put its’ finale? NASCAR has hosted finales in California before at Riverside and Ontario, but it is still not a NASCAR dominated market. Add to that the product of new short track being built is a complete mystery, and that means Auto Club is a questionable venue for the final race.
5. Richmond Raceway
Richmond Raceway is a traditional NASCAR venue, and there really is no other track quite like it on the schedule. It is a short track, but, with increased tire wear and the higher banked corners, it races sort of like an intermediate. The problem with Richmond is two-fold.
One, the racing product has been very hit or miss the last few years, especially with the Next-Gen short track package. This track is also the farthest north of any track on this list, and weather is definitely iffy. Sure, it’s likely reasonable to run a race here in early November under most circumstances, but if a cold front comes through at the wrong time, not ideal.
4. Darlington Raceway
Most factors would say Darlington is a great venue for the Season Finale. It is one of NASCAR’s most historic race tracks with a good racing product, and the weather in November is pretty reasonable. However, the glaring issue comes with the schedule.
One option NASCAR has is to move the Southern 500 from Labor Day to November, which would receive a mixed reaction from fans. NASCAR could choose to move Darlington’s spring date to November, but that means two races on the same track in the Playoffs which is not great. I guess if NASCAR tried to move the schedule back a week so Darlington was no longer in the Playoffs this could work, but that is still a short amount of time between races.
3. Kansas Speedway
Kansas recently hosted the best race of the 2023 season so far, and the Next-Gen seems to run 1.5 mile tracks better than any other. It’s a track that has the same banking as Homestead-Miami, so it’s kind of like Homestead with a dog-leg. The question comes with the weather.
The reason that Kansas’ fall-date was moved up was partially because of weather. The average high in Kansas City in November is 54 degrees. NASCAR could make that work, but the weather is hit or miss.
2. Martinsville Speedway
As far as the schedule goes, Martinsville is the easiest track to slot into the finale. All NASCAR would have to do is move Martinsville one week later in the calendar, and there is the finale. That alleviates concerns about weather, and it puts the finale right in NASCAR’s core audience.
There are detractors though. First off, the short track product would likely have to improve in order to consider Martinsville; however, the playoff race last year showed that playoff implications could mask racing issues. Secondly, it’s in a small market, which NASCAR typically does not like to go to for their season finales.
1. Homestead-Miami Speedway
This is the most popular pick amongst fans was a return to Homestead-Miami Speedway. The track hosted the finale from 2002 until 2019 with a good racing product and ideal weather. It seems like the perfect venue for the season finale.
The one drawback is NASCAR probably does not want to go backwards. Remember when fans used to complain about the finale being at Homestead every year and begging for a change? I am not certain that 100% of the NASCAR fanbase would be on board with this, but it’s definitely a better option than Phoenix.
Unfortunately, NASCAR cannot just put their season finale anywhere. There are multiple things to consider, and there is no perfect solution. However, where they put it is more important than any other because NASCAR’s playoff system puts so much stock in the season finale.