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Roundtable: NASCAR needs a new schedule

What would you do if you ran NASCAR? (AP)

With the news that NASCAR (might) be for sale, we decided to take a big step. No, we’re not buying NASCAR, but if all of you want to throw in on a Kickstarter, we’d be happy to do it. In the meantime, your favorite Yahoo Sports NASCAR writers, Jay Busbee and Nick Bromberg, will be bringing in several notable NASCAR figures from all over the sport to discuss what they’d do if they were handed the metaphorical keys to this great American pastime. 

Our first guest is Jordan Bianchi, NASCAR writer extraordinaire and a frequent Twitter presence at @jordan_bianchi. If you’re not following him, you’re missing out on some of the sport’s best coverage. Jordan, congratulations … you now own NASCAR. Now, what will you do with total control? 

BIANCHI: First and foremost is taking a giant stick of dynamite and blowing up the redundant and overly long schedule. Fans rarely agree on anything, but near universally they’re agreement on one thing: the schedule is filled with too many races, specifically on intermediate tracks.

So instead of a schedule cluttered with tracks that more often than not produce boredom and cause fans to look elsewhere for excitement, we’re going to craft a schedule that is both compact and loaded with tracks that will regularly generate the kind of slam-bam action that is supposed to NASCAR’s calling card.

This means additional number of short tracks and road courses in form of races at Iowa Speedway, Nashville Fairgrounds, Road America, Mid-Ohio, Circuit of the Americas, and South Boston Speedway. And chopped from the schedule are second dates at Kansas Speedway, Dover International Speedway, Pocono Raceway, Texas Motor Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, ISM Raceway (Phoenix), and Michigan International Speedway, with Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Kentucky Speedway, and Chicagoland Speedway removed altogether.

We now have a schedule with 31 races (still a little robust, though more manageable) spread across an array of tracks. Most importantly, it is a schedule that best allows drivers to showcase their abilities and greatly increases the likelihood of stirring racing and the kind of fireworks that energizes a fan base. And because the schedule consists of more short tracks and road courses, this will narrow the competitive gulf that exists between the big teams and everyone else, creating greater parity between the haves and have-nots.

BROMBERG: I think schedule reduction is key, even if it’s simply via mid-week races during the summer. I realize the discussion surrounding mid-week races is tired, but NASCAR should have tried it five years ago. Not only would fewer races go against the NFL on fall Sundays, the sport would have the opportunity to own the July doldrums.

NASCAR has to figure out a way to take power away from tracks to have more flexibility with the schedule. In a perfect world, none of the companies that own tracks would be publicly owned. It’s a backwards structure to have a privately-owned sport run its races at publicly-owned venues. Shareholders are never going to go for radical changes that would disrupt their profits.

BIANCHI: Putting the proverbial genie back in the bottle and having the tracks being privately owned businesses and not publicly traded corporations would go a long way to open the road to introducing real and much needed change. It also provides NASCAR greater flexibility to negotiate separate deals with each specific track, and thereby likely reducing the 65 percent of the TV money currently allocated to the tracks. The money saved in renegotiating with the tracks then allows a bigger share dispersed to the teams, which are being squeeze economically due to the rising costs combined with the number of sponsors that have either cut back their support or withdrawn completely.

Ideally, the two companies that own a majority of the tracks, ISC and SMI, would be privatized. Yes, it would be expensive and require the clearing of several significant hurdles. Bur for the betterment of NASCAR in the long term, not having to answer to angry shareholders (and the continual threat of multi-million dollar lawsuits) would be worth whatever cost and headaches in the short term.

BUSBEE: Jordan, what role do you think the fans play in all this? There’s an argument to be made that fans have no obligation other than to support that which they like. But — particularly in a case like NASCAR, where the fans are frequently vocal about How Much Better Things Used To Be — could you make an argument that fans have a GREATER obligation to step up and be willing to embrace change if it’s intended to alter what’s not working and, say, bring “racing” back to racing?

BIANCHI: The fans are the driving force behind my proposed schedule changes. They are clamoring for the kind of racing that they believe NASCAR represents, yet the kind of racing that they see too infrequently. Unlike many of the changes that fans have been forced to accept whether they wanted them or not (numerous tweeks in how the championship is decided, Car of Tomorrow, etc.) completely redoing the schedule is a change that will garner almost universal praise.

Theoretically, old school fans will embrace that NASCAR is returning to its roots, while newer/casual fans should be excited by what is a consistently improved on-track product.

Of course, there will inevitably be those who complain and bemoan more changes in a sport that seemingly every few years changes its course of direction. But the goal first and foremost is to ensure the racing is of the highest quality, which if accomplished will quiet a large volume of detractors.

BROMBERG: I think it’s also a fallacy that the racing isn’t that good. Is the racing as epic and awesome as NASCAR would like you to think it is every lap of every race? No. That hype is part of the problem. But it’s not “bad.”

NASCAR likes to hype how the racing is closer and more competitive than it’s ever been. And while that may be true in some instances, how often do you hear of drivers talk about the importance of clean air or how hard it is to pass? Too often to count.

It’s another topic for another roundtable, but NASCAR’s rulebook may have teams too close together. While you can look at the practice speed charts and see teams all within a second of each other at an intermediate track, that doesn’t necessarily translate well to a race. It’s hard to pass a car that’s going the same speed you are. Ever seen two trucks try to attempt that on the highway in front of you? Yes, you have. And your blood is probably boiling at the thought of it.

BUSBEE: For me, it’s all about the story behind the racing. Watching the No. 18 and the No. 4 race each other with a checkered flag on the line is mildly interesting in the abstract — hey, look, two cars goin’ at it — but when you inject the personalities of the two drivers behind the wheel into the equation, it becomes that much more fascinating. Likewise, if you’re at a track which visually appears distinct, there’s that much more to latch onto — you can tell the difference between a Talladega and a Bristol; not so much the 1.5-milers, which leads into Jordan’s schedule idea.

Jordan, we’ll give you the last word here. Give us hope for NASCAR’s future, my friend!

BIANCHI: Without question, NASCAR is facing a host of issues to the point sweeping changes are needed almost across the board. But if you’re seeking a ray of optimism, it is that collaboration is permeating throughout the industry unlike ever before where multiple factions have not just a voice but an actual say in policy.
This coalition has resulted in several recent changes that can be classified as a positive, offering encouragement that NASCAR can devise a blueprint to navigate several key decisions that are upcoming. It will take even more putting aside one’s self-interests than what already has been exhibited, but it is not farfetched to think this could happen as opposed to when the France family ruled the sport with an iron fist and rarely sought outside counsel.
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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.

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