Here we go. Less than three months after the end of the 2019 NASCAR Cup season, the 2020 NASCAR Cup season will open next weekend with its most prestigious race, the Daytona 500.
The final practice for the Busch Clash, the exhibition all-star race, will be televised by Fox Sports One at 11:30 a.m. ET Saturday, followed by two sessions of practice just for Daytona 500 qualifying. Daytona 500 qualifying (Fox, noon) and the Busch Clash (Fox Sports One, 3 p.m.) will be on Sunday afternoon.
OK, the 2019 season ended last Nov. 17 with Kyle Busch winning the championship race at Homestead-Miami, so the âoff-seasonâ is really one day less than three full months. But the point is that NASCAR has a much shorter off-season, compared with the four major professional sports.
The Kansas City Chiefs won Super Bowl LIV on Feb. 2. Their 2020 season is likely to open on Thursday, Sept. 10. Off-season: seven months, one week.
The Washington Nationals won the 2019 World Series last Oct. 30. Their 2020 season opens March 26 against the New York Mets. Off-season: one week less than five months.
The Toronto Raptors won the 2019 NBA Finals last June 13. They opened the 2019-20 season on Oct. 22 against New Orleans. Off-season: four months, one week.
The St. Louis Blues won the 2019 Stanley Cup Final last June 12. They opened the 2019-20 NHL season on Oct. 2 against Washington: Off-season: three months, two weeks.
The 2020 NASCAR Cup season will be a week shorter than the 2019 Cup season. With two Cup races scheduled for one weekend at Pocono and some other shuffling, the Cup championship race will be Nov. 8 at Phoenix.
NASCAR will probably announce its 2021 Cup schedule in about two months. It may be even shorter. It may have races in new places, and no races in some old places. It is possible, but not likely, that the 2021 Cup season will end in October. It should end Labor Day weekend with the Southern 500 at Darlington.
The Daytona 500, which was moved up a week in 2018, is in an exclusive spot on the sports calendar, an event that non-race-fans watch, if for nothing else than to warm themselves up by looking at sun-splashed spectators and palm trees.Â The Daytona 500 can stay in February. It needs to stay in February.
But it seems like Kyle Busch just was having Silly String fired at him by his son Brexton in Victory Lane at Homestead. The 2019 NASCAR awards banquet was on Dec. 5, for crying out loud. Matt DiBenedetto tested a car on the road course at Indianapolis on Jan. 22. There is no down time, no time to build suspense.
It is too much, for too long. A 2020 season that opens with the Daytona 500 wonât be decided for another eight and a half months. The Daytona 500 winner earns a berth in the NASCAR Cup playoffs. The playoffs donât even start until September.
There has been little time for a build-up to the season. Further, the schedule diminishes the product. Suppose the Cup schedule was trimmed to 30 races, or even 24. That would mean that each race would become more important in determining the outcome, yes?
The 36-race season offers too many mulligans. The product might even be better with fewer races â more on-the-edge, go-for-broke racing for drivers who need to make up ground in the standings. A shorter season could mean the merciful end of the NASCAR âpostseason.â
Plus, a longer off-season would provide more time to look forward to the biggest race on the schedule, the Daytona 500, which is its first race. Speedweeks at Daytona are like an abbreviated spring training in baseball. By Opening Day in baseball, everybody is ready to get the show on the road.
For the last two years, television viewership for the Daytona 500 has been less than half of what it was in 2006, when stock-car racing peaked in popularity. It could be that the Daytona 500 is a week too early. Or it could feel like last season just ended, because it kind of did.
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