The NASCAR schedule is longer than any major professional sport in the United States in terms of time on the calendar, and it is longer than any major motorsport in terms of events held. It is a grind of a schedule, and the 2023 season had only one off-weekend during the regular season not counting the weekend off between The Clash at the Coliseum and the Daytona 500. With so many races packed as tightly as they possibly can be, should NASCAR look at shortening the schedule? Well, NASCAR has actually been on both ends of the spectrum.
How Did We Get to 38 Events in 40 Weekends?
The NASCAR Cup Series schedule used to have around 50 races or so per year, give or take, before the modern era. In 1972, the start of the “Modern Era”, the schedule was condensed to 31 races per year. From 1972 until 1996, there were between 28 and 31 races per year on the schedule, with NASCAR finding its sweet spot between 1986 and 1992 with 29 races.
This allowed there to be 8 off-weekends throughout the schedule, which ran between Valentine’s Day weekend and the third Sunday in November. It was nice for the race teams and the drivers to be able to get a break every few weeks or test and tune new equipment, especially after big events such as the Daytona 500 or right before the season finale in Atlanta. However, it was a bummer for the fans to have multiple weekends throughout the season where there was no NASCAR racing.
However, starting in the late 1990s, NASCAR was expanding, and they began creating new race dates for some of their new race tracks. This evolved gradually until 2001 when NASCAR settled on the 36-race calendar with usually around 2 off-weekends per season. The schedule has recently been condensed further with only one off-weekend in 2023 and two off-weekends in 2024 for NBC to broadcast the Summer Olympics.
Long story short, NASCAR has packed the schedule as full of racing as they can, which creates lots of racing for fans, but it also creates a hectic schedule for race teams. On top of that, this schedule has plenty of repetitive events with some tracks having two dates on the calendar.
The Problem of Tracks with Two Dates
NASCAR does not have 36 races at 36 different venues, rather, it has a few tracks that they go to twice per season. In the 1970s, this was primarily done out of necessity. With so few race tracks in the country over 0.5 miles in length, NASCAR had to host multiple events at pretty much every venue they went to so they could have a full schedule.
Now, it is primarily done to fill out the schedule. There are 10 race tracks on the 2024 schedule that have two dates as follows: Daytona, Atlanta, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Bristol, Richmond, Martinsville, Talladega, Kansas, Darlington. On top of that, Charlotte hosts two events per year, but, one is on the oval with one on the Roval. Tracks that have gone from two dates to one such as Pocono have thrived with the one race date.
If NASCAR wanted to shorten the schedule, the easiest thing to do would be to take away any repeat visits to other race tracks. That could immediately cut the schedule down to 26 races, which would leave room for NASCAR to add some new venues to the schedule. People have been clambering for venues such as Rockingham, North Wilkesboro, or the Nashville Fairgrounds to earn points dates, but, some tracks have to give in for that to happen.
However, this would take races away from popular race tracks like Bristol, Daytona, and Talladega. Fans were not fond of Bristol’s concrete track sacrificing a date for Bristol Dirt, so, this may not be totally popular with fans. In order for a shorter schedule, this is something that would likely have to happen.
Some considerations need to be thought of when thinking about a shorter schedule. First off, less racing may mean a more relaxed schedule for race teams, but it also means that fans are going to have some weekends that they cannot watch NASCAR. On top of that, the cost may be a few events at some iconic venues that fans and drivers love to go to.
On top of that, the reality is that NASCAR and the race teams bring in more money when they have more races. From an extra race of fan attendance to broadcasting revenue, every extra race means NASCAR makes a little bit more money, and it doesn’t all just go straight into the pockets of executives. More money means more resources that can go to race teams, track upgrades, prize pools, etc. Therefore, there is an incentive to run as many events as possible in whatever window NASCAR has.
It is a double-edged sword, and NASCAR seems pretty set on the current schedule length for now. The next TV deal may be the time for the schedule to make that drastic of a change, but, it’s unlikely that will happen. Still, it is a worthwhile question to ask whether or not NASCAR should shorten the schedule.