Oh, those NASCAR changes

Published 5:12 pm Sunday, March 31, 2019

“It’s been a long, a long time coming

But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will” – Sam Cooke

By now, if you’re a NASCAR Cup fan, you’ve probably seen the 2020 schedule. Reactions to it remind me of when Uncle Dub tried Grandma’s milk pudding for the first time. There was a look on his face caught somewhere between wanting to upchuck and wanting to force a smile, just to keep from hurting dear ol’ Granny. Oh, and tears were starting to well in the corner of his eyes.

‘S kind of how I feel about the schedule: some good, some bad, and some things you just want to cry over.

Highlights of the new schedule: a new season finale, new playoff races, Daytona ends regular season, Playoff Round 1: Darlington-Richmond-Bristol, Round 2: Vegas-Talladega-Charlotte Roval, Round 3: Kansas-Texas-Martinsville, Title: Phoenix.

Briefly, because this is a column, not a dissertation, I’m going to review what I like, and what I don’t ….

I like Martinsville deciding who goes to the championship. Rock-em, sock-em short track racing ought to be in the mix right up to the end. However, my joy at that revelation was tempered by their decision to race in the Virginia hills on Mother’s Day for the spring race – where, it will at least be run under the lights.

I have mixed feelings on the year-end title race being held in Phoenix instead of Homestead. There’s a rhythm to starting the season in the Sunshine State and ending there. Once upon a time, it ended in Atlanta.

Speaking of which, the Georgia capital now gets a race in ‘warmer’ weather, not February like it has been for years. March 15th may not be true azalea springtime, but it’s better than holding it so close to the time we greet the groundhog.

Punxsutauney Phil may or may not have seen his shadow by the time the season starts, but beginning a week early (Feb 9) with the Clash gets the 36-race schedule out in early November. The sport’s year-ender banquet is headed from Vegas to Nashville in a couple of years, which gets racing all done before Thanksgiving, and that’s a bonus to the owners, drivers, crews, everybody. (I always wanted to see the banquet moved to a ‘real’ racing town; I once even suggested Greensboro).

Speaking of starts, the West Coast swing shuffles some dates (Fontana coming before Phoenix), but still gambles on a warmer clime for opening the season. Keep in mind, though, the Santa Ana winds and tons of rain also comes to California around that time of year too.

Talk about gambles: back-to-back dates at Pocono. And, no – not back-to-back weekends like I first thought, but back to back race days (Saturday, then Sunday)! What are they going to do if the whole weekend gets rained out!?! Maybe that’s why they built in back-to-back off weekends in mid-July at the uncomfortably hottest time of the year. It’s a convenient safety valve; not to mention also the time when broadcast partner NBC will be covering the Olympics.

Speaking earlier of racing on Mother’s Day, another racing Holy Day has been shuffled: your July 4th ‘Firecracker’ race moves from Daytona to Indianapolis. And, if this is a concession to the Florida July weather, did they check the mid-summer thermometers in Indiana!?! I seem to recall complaints about racing in Indy in August. I don’t see this as much of an improvement, weather-wise. And something else about Indy; did they move it to a holiday date because the Memorial Day race (Indianapolis 500) attracts crowds!?! Good luck at the worse attended race track on the schedule.

Speaking of moving dates, Dover Downs moves from October – and part of the Chase – to August. While it’s bad for the First State, “The Track Too Tough To Tame” (Darlington) now becomes part of the action. Winning there once meant a million dollars to Chase Elliot’s dad some years ago; now, it might mean advancing a long shot driver to Round-2.

And, to end on a high note, love or hate Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick, those two have to be grinning from ear to engine room that the 2020 Chase ends in Arizona because that pair have owned that track; Harvick with nine wins and 14 top-10’s in 15 races, and Busch, who’s posted the last two wins and fourth, or better, in the last eight. So, if one – or both – makes the final: we could be setting ourselves up for a wild finish to what seems now like a suspect season.

Gene Motley is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at gene.motley@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7211.