Goodyear conducted a test at the one new "track" the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will compete on during the 2018 season.
It's Charlotte Motor Speedway with turns. Track officials created a 17-turn, 2.28-mile course that incorporates turns through the infield between Turns 1 and 2, a makeshift chicane using cones and the apron going into Turn 3 and a new chicane in the trioval grass just before the start-finish line.
CMS officials made the changes for the race weekend in September, after years of lackluster races on the traditional 1.5-mile oval that will still be used annually in May, including the 600-mile marathon on Memorial Day weekend.
NASCAR could have its 2019 schedule set by April 1 -- the five-year sanctioning agreements with the tracks, which run through 2020, require NASCAR to have the schedule set by then. But NASCAR often asks for at least two additional weeks, and sometimes more, before setting the final slate.
NASCAR must have the track owner's consent to move a race date beyond a couple of weeks off its current date.
But with the new Charlotte road course on schedule, what else should NASCAR look at as far as changes to its schedule?
NASCAR is in a bind with the schedule in some ways. The 24 tracks are pretty much owned by two companies. Only Indianapolis and Pocono are privately owned. Dover Motorsports, a publicly traded company, owns Dover.
International Speedway Corp., the stock of which is primarily owned by the France family, owns 12 Cup tracks (Chicagoland, Daytona, Darlington, Fontana, Homestead, Kansas, Martinsville, Michigan, Phoenix, Richmond, Talladega and Watkins Glen). Speedway Motorsports Inc., controlled by Bruton Smith and his family, owns nine (Atlanta, Bristol, Charlotte oval, Charlotte road course, Kentucky, Las Vegas, New Hampshire, Sonoma and Texas).
NASCAR has not taken a race away from a track without the consent of its owners since 1984, when it left the Nashville Fairgrounds. And although its sanction agreements clearly state no guarantee of a race beyond the length of the contract, that wouldn't preclude a shareholder of a public company or another public entity bringing a lawsuit against NASCAR if it moves a race from a track without the consent of the owner. The lawsuit might not be successful, but there are grounds for the filing of litigation based on historical business practices.
So, where should NASCAR go, and who should lose a date? Well, that's a tough call. It appears road courses and short tracks are the places to be, so that's where NASCAR should focus.
Five tracks NASCAR could add
Iowa Speedway: This is the one most often mentioned. NASCAR fans say they love their short tracks (FYI, it appears on the Martinsville Speedway website that there are plenty of tickets available this weekend, but that's another topic). The 0.875-mile oval already has SAFER barriers all the way around and has had rave reviews except for the one road in and out from the highway. But there's one problem: The track is owned by NASCAR. If NASCAR moved the race -- and the likely $11-14 million in television money that comes with it -- to itself, that would makes it a pure target for antitrust litigation. Plus, with races at Kansas and Chicagoland, is there a need for another race in the Plains?
Circuit of the Americas: This is the 3.4-mile road course in Austin, Texas, where Formula One races. Couldn't NASCAR put the Cup cars there, as well? It could, but it might depend on any NASCAR agreements with Texas Motor Speedway and whether it could sanction a race in Austin, which is roughly 200 miles away. And would NASCAR want a race there when it already has two races in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, at a track where it packs the infield and has respectable grandstand attendance at a facility that, as of last season, seated 137,000?
Road America: The 4-mile road course in Wisconsin has its challenges for stock cars, particularly the fact that there would be so few laps. The first two stages in the Xfinity race there this year are set for 10 laps apiece, and the final stage is 25 laps. That 45-lap race took 2 hours, 12 minutes to complete last year, so you're talking a 60-lap race for a three-hour event. Whether that's enough time for spectators to see cars to warrant the ticket price is debatable.
Mid-Ohio: This is a cool road course (either 2.25 miles or 2.4 miles, depending which layout is used) but the garage area, pit road and media capabilities would be among the things that need improvement. The track certainly would need some infrastructure improvements as far as getting to/from the facility and the highway to have a NASCAR Cup race. If NASCAR wanted to cut Pocono to one race, this would serve the Pennsylvania-Ohio fan base well.
Nashville Fairgrounds: This would be such a cool tribute to NASCAR's past. It would be supported by the people there who have fought just to keep the track open. If NASCAR wants to bring back old fans, this half-mile track is the place to lay that foundation.
Five places NASCAR could cut
Chicagoland: There is nothing wrong with the Chicago track per se, but its location and it being part of the glut of intermediate tracks make it a challenging venue. ISC has to field two races at Kansas as part of the Hollywood Casino deal, so there is ample opportunity for a weekend trip from Chicago, especially if Indianapolis stays on the circuit (more on that later). We'll see how the Sunday afternoon in July date works (Chicagoland used to have a summer race before becoming the first race of the playoffs) and whether that adds enthusiasm to a race in need of enthusiasm as it was overlooked in September amid the Bears and potential Cubs/White Sox postseason runs. Of all the tracks that might want to consider a reconfiguration to a smaller oval, this is the one.
Charlotte: No, we're not talking about either of its points races. We're talking the All-Star Race. It's about time to move the thing. Make it a special event at another track where it will create some buzz.
Pocono: Give credit to Pocono brass for improving the facility and working hard to promote races at a place that -- it must be noted -- wanted races at a time when other tracks did not. Its proximity to New York City (about two hours) makes it attractive for two dates. It has a unique layout that can make the races interesting, especially on restarts. But two races within eight weeks of each other can feel like one too many. If NASCAR doesn't add another road course, the Pocono road course that includes the infield inside its oval could be something to look at.
Indianapolis: NASCAR has not sold well to the Indianapolis fan base for its summer events, so NASCAR has tried to throw life into the venue by moving its event to the last race of the regular season. It should be much cooler in September, and, if the community isn't in a Colts frenzy, it might work. Kudos for trying something different (and not the road course there). To leave Indianapolis, though, would be like waving the white flag and a kick in the gut by saying motorsports can't make it in a place where it should make it. Just like ...
Michigan: There's no way NASCAR would take a race away from the home base of Ford and Chevrolet, would it? If it does, there is something so, so, so wrong with that. It would be like giving up on the car culture completely. But the fact that the track is down to fewer than 60,000 seats shows that NASCAR and ISC don't have a lot of faith that the area will rally behind this race and this track, which sits about an hour from Detroit. Like Pocono, its races are awfully close together (nine weeks apart). If NASCAR moved away from Michigan, it certainly would be a sign that desperate times call for desperate measures.