NASCAR Hits Nail on Head With 2018 Schedule - For Now
Seems like we've been asking for a third road course in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series for years upon years now. Well, in reality the proposition is relatively new, but guess what, we've finally got what we asked for.
With NASCAR releasing the full 2018 schedule Tuesday afternoon, many previous assumptions were confirmed.
-Indianapolis Motor Speedway will hold the 26th and final regular season race of the season - still on the 2.5 mile oval
-Las Vegas will serve as the opener of the 10-race playoff; Chicagoland moves to July 1st, preceding the Coke Zero 400, and remains in the daytime
-The second Richmond race will be the second playoff race; also of note: the spring trip to Richmond returns to Saturday night under the lights (likely to boost attendance, despite the superior action the day-version of Richmond has offered the past three years)
-The fall Charlotte race moves to the Charlotte RC (here's the layout), and will be the 3rd race, therefore a cutoff race for Round 1 of the playoffs
Other slight changes were made, but these are the ones that made big shockwaves. From the looks of it, NASCAR faithful are pleased with the changes, mainly because of the addition of a third road course. Don't get too eager, though.
With the way the Charlotte course is setup, there may be limited opportunities to pass. There is also the possibility of overheating the tires, namely the right rear. Assuming NASCAR allows the cars to race on the banking in 3 and 4 (now turns 12 and 13), there will be significant tire wear unless teams adjust their camber accordingly. In turn, though, that would create an ill-handling car when running the road course.
Some fans may be oozing over this conundrum the crew chiefs will be in, but casual fans may not. The effects are still to be seen, but the field could be spread out because of this challenge. Nonetheless, it's still a great road course race, right?
The Charlotte infield isn't a prime road course, simply put. No one really would expect it to be, with the oval being the feature. But, as NASCAR fans have effortlessly pushed for this change, it seems as though the road course has suddenly become an awesome place for stock cars, at least according to public opinion.
Sure, it's a nice track, but compare it to the likes of Road America, Road Atlanta, or even Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, and it's not looking so hotshot anymore. Unfortunately, with the way the track contracts are, there's no adding new tracks until 2020. It's the best NASCAR could do, and fans sure have to be happy NASCAR listened to them for once.
Sadly, we have seen this story before, haven't we? NASCAR appears to make a solid decision, and the fans generally approve, but it backfires. "We want winning to mean more!" Insert the Chase. "We want more exciting races!" Insert elimination format. "We want more mid-race battles!" Insert stages.
NASCAR has tried these things and much more, but never really gone to the root of the problem. Now, fans are asking for a revived schedule so the playoffs aren't so dull. The new variety the 2018 schedule offers is promising, but not much will change. Indy will still likely be a lackluster race. The playoffs will feature their fair share of average 1.5 mile races. The Richmond night race probably won't live up to its accustomed hype. Fans will still (rightfully) complain.
What NASCAR must learn to address is the actual racing product. Yes, it's easy to say, and very challenging to do. Nevertheless, it can be done. Good, hard-nose racing can be had. Clean air won't be completely eliminated, but it's impacts can be diminished. NASCAR has achieved progress the last few years, and must continue to steer away from the disastrous Car of Tomorrow.
Regardless of what the future holds, NASCAR did make the right move - in fact, many right moves when putting together the 2018 schedule. It will be compelling to watch how the season plays out, but full-on success is definitely no guarantee.
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