It’s been a tough year for NASCAR fans as the season opener has been postponed for the first time in nearly 70 years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But some tracks have adapted better to the new normal than others. At least 28 NASCAR races were run this year, with the majority being at night. However, only a select few remain as the other races have been canceled or modified due to safety concerns.
Daytona International Speedway, which is conveniently located in Florida and is one of the most historic tracks in all of motorsport, welcomed back its fans with a schedule jam-packed with 25 Racing Events (including the legendary Daytona 500). But nearly everyone agrees that NASCAR‘s most historic race shouldn’t be one of them. The opening race of the season, the Daytona 500, was held on February 26th with the rest of the events being held throughout the rest of the month.
Even before the pandemic, NASCAR was struggling to adapt to the modern era and make the step up towards competing with more mature sports. Last year, only 17 of the season’s 28 races were deemed “official,” meaning that they were streamed live online for free. But many tracks have already started rethinking their 2020 plans as the economy began to slowly rebuild.
Triple Crown And Others
While the majority of NASCAR‘s races stayed at night, there were a handful that took place during the day, specifically in the spring and summer. But even fewer made it all the way to the end. The most prestigious race of the year, the Daytona 500, was preceded by the season finale, the checkered flag on the fourth of July. Due to safety concerns related to the pandemic, the checkered flag was delayed until November.
But even without any pandemic-related concerns, the finale of the season would’ve been pushed back a few weeks. This year’s IndyCar Grand Prix, the crown jewels of the two racing series that share the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, was the last race of the season, scheduled for October 29th. But because of the pandemic, the race was pushed back to November 23rd. And speaking of pushing back, the Xfinity Series has already announced that their season finale, the Road To The Future – The Encore, will be postponed until 2021.
After the checkered flag, many tracks have been quiet, with the exceptions being the return of the famous Brickyard 400 and the annual Labor Day weekend event at Darlington Raceway. But even those are rumored to have been moved to the fall of 2021.
The Biggest Changes
But even without all the postponements, there would’ve been plenty of changes for fans to digest. Due to the pandemic, the season was drastically reduced, only 28 races taking place in all. The number of teams and drivers decreased as well, with Richard Petty Motorsports sending their entire roster home and the No. 11 team, which fielded former MNF and XFL player Shaquille O’Neal, only running two full-time cars. And the number of weekly TV appearances decreased for drivers and teams alike. NASCAR also canceled their All-Star Race, the Heroes & Legends Spectacular. Fortunately, the fan-favorite event, the Pepsi Pro-Am, was saved by a coalition of fans, teams, and sponsors and will return in 2021.
Additionally, NASCAR implemented a lottery system for the qualifying phase of the races, with fans getting to vote for their favorite drivers using a smartphone app. And for the first time in a while, they actually picked the right drivers. But perhaps the biggest change came at the end of the season, when NASCAR announced that all remaining races, with the exception of the Daytona 500, would be transitioned to the summertime.
Where Will NASCAR Halt Next?
The majority of NASCAR‘s races took place at night, but with the economy shifting to the digital world, daytime racing has become more popular as well. There’s also been a rise in popularity for shortening the season, limiting the number of races and the length of the season, so fans can get more racing in. As a result, many tracks have started to see a rise in attendance. With more people showing up to the races, safety has become a major concern for tracks, with many limiting the number of seats in the grandstands and banning fans from having large screens at the races, to reduce the potential for distraction. But even without the pandemic, tracks would’ve reduced the number of seats and limited the size of the TV screens as they look to better serve the patrons.
What Will Be The Next Biggest Changes?
Based on past performance, the next biggest changes to expect are more parity and more competitive racing. But even before the pandemic, tracks were already working to better themselves. In 2021, the IndyCar Series will be expanding to a six-team, 36-race season, with the first race being held in Saudi Arabia, followed by the United Arab Emirates.
But that’s not all. During the summer, the Xfinity Series will be adding a second championship, the GMC Series, with the inaugural running being held at the Mid-Ohio Sports Complex in May.
Although the future of motor sports looks bleak, there are bright spots. The economy has shifted to the digital sphere, paving the way for more interactive fan experience and the ability to follow races from different locations. And as long as there’s still an NFL, there will always be a need for professional football, which means there’s still some life left in NASCAR. But for now, at least, fans can still get excited about IndyCar racing and the Brickyard 400.