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Why Is NASCAR’s Speedweeks Schedule So Controversial?

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Joshua Lipowski

Joshua Lipowski

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What’s Happening?

NASCAR released their preliminary schedule for “Speedweeks” this year, and fans were not happy about the lack of on-track activity leading up to the Daytona 500. Fans do not love this schedule, but, is there a good reason why Speedweeks has gotten to this point?

  • “Speedweeks” features only 5 days of on-track activity, and no practice before qualifying or the Duels. This is a far cry from what Speedweeks used to be.
  • To some, “Speedweeks” used to start in January with “Preseason Thunder”, but it formally started the weekend before the Daytona 500 with the Clash. Now it starts with Daytona 500 Pole Day, the Wednesday before the Daytona 500. NASCAR has gone from multiple weeks of on-track activity to just a few days.
  • Fans do not like the lack of on-track activity—particularly the lack of practice before qualifying and the Duels.

What Caused This Recent Change?

Three major changes catapulted NASCAR to change Speedweeks, and not all of it directly involved NASCAR. Some of it, however, involved things the fans asked for.

The Super Bowl Move

In 2021, the NFL expanded their regular season from 17 to 18 weeks. As a result, they moved the Super Bowl back from the first Sunday in February to the second Sunday in February. How does this affect NASCAR?

Well, NASCAR used to have on-track activity that weekend, which was a week after the Super Bowl. The Clash would run on Sunday afternoon throughout the 1990s and early 2000s before moving to Saturday night, then back to Sunday afternoon. Daytona 500 pole qualifying was always on Sunday afternoon.

Now that the Super Bowl is that weekend, it’s not in NASCAR’s best interests to put anything on TV that weekend. NASCAR experimented with a midweek Clash on the Daytona Road Course in 2021, but the ratings were bad.

In 2022, NASCAR moved the Clash to the LA Coliseum in the NFL off-weekend before the Super Bowl. It works well for Fox to have a NASCAR race that day since Fox can promote the Clash throughout the NFL Playoffs up until the NFC Championship Game one week before the Clash. Frankly, this is probably the biggest reason for the changes.

The Decrease in Testing and Practice

Throughout the 2020s, NASCAR has decreased practice time at the race track. In 2020, there was no practice for many races due to the pandemic. NASCAR eventually brought back practice, but it is only a 20-minute session for each car.

The Daytona 500 lead-up has simply followed suit. It’s just like other races with limited practice and qualifying, and this means less on-track activity for Speedweeks.

Testing has also gone down in recent years with NASCAR banning private testing in 2015. As a result, “Preseason Thunder”, which marked the unofficial start of the season, was canned except for a one-year return in 2022. This also likely hurt the “Clash” as well.

The Change to the Clash

The Clash was an event that fans wanted to see a major change to. With the elimination of “Preseason Thunder”, the Clash became the best test session that big teams could use. It was extra on-track activity that teams could take advantage of.

That may have played a major role in how the races began to play out. A race that was once billed as a “No holds barred” exhibition that drivers would do anything to win became single file parades that would often turn into wreck fests at the end. The 2020 Clash was the epitome of this era.

A combination of the factors already listed caused NASCAR to move the Clash to where it is now. Now that this race is gone, that’s even less on-track activity.

How Can It Get Better?

Fans do not like the lack of on-track activity during Speedweeks. There are two things that could happen to change Speedweeks.

Given where the Daytona 500 falls on the sports calendar, an expansion of Speedweeks would likely not happen unless NASCAR pushed the Daytona 500 back on the schedule. NASCAR did move the Daytona 500 back to the final Sunday of February between 2012 and 2017, so, it’s not unprecedented.

However, this does mean pushing the end of the schedule back even further than it already is, which means racing deeper into November. NASCAR has gone from racing until the week before Thanksgiving to racing only one week into November in 2023. It’s obvious NASCAR is not keen on pushing the schedule further back.

While NASCAR has not been keen on increasing practice in recent years, but, it seems reasonable to add a practice session before qualifying. Maybe it’s just a short practice session to allow teams to take care of minor issues. This can prevent issues that teams like The Money Team had in the Duels in 2023.

However, NASCAR seems set on limiting practice for the time being. Even then, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to add an extra practice session.

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Joshua Lipowski

Joshua Lipowski

All Posts