Monday, July 11, 2016

Musings From the Weekend: Consistency is Good When Scheduling

Josef Newgarden dominated the IndyCar race at Iowa. Lapped traffic decided the Indy Lights race. Drivers behaved themselves at Silverstone. Nico Rosberg and company violated the radio regulations and it only cost him 10 seconds. A few drivers won for the second consecutive weekend. World Superbike put on two good races from Laguna Seca. Teammates swept a weekend in Australia. Someone won for the first time in nearly three years. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Consistency is Good When Scheduling
Scheduling became a major topic in the NASCAR world heading to Daytona after Brian France was asked about possible scheduling changes and the potential for a Cup race to be run on a weeknight. France dismissed any changes and weeknight races being attempted.

Changes will be tougher as each track now has a five-year contract with NASCAR. Any new tracks added to the schedule will have to wait until 2020 at the earliest but a deal can always be made in the business world. Races are equivalent to the charters NASCAR issued to teams. If you want one, buy one. I am sure if a track not on the NASCAR schedule or a track wants a second Cup race, it could write a large check and buy one but as for a track losing dates at NASCAR's discretion, that won't happen.

People complain about the NASCAR schedule being stagnant and boring. Predictability is a good thing when it comes to scheduling in all forms of motorsports. Unlike team sports where schedule change every year because it's not realistic to schedule 82 games or 162 games in the same order year after year, NASCAR is a motorsports series that tours around country and needs to have date consistency for its events to be successful.

An apt comparison would be to tennis or golf. Like NASCAR, the ATP, WTA and PGA schedules are pretty much the same every year and they have their schedules organized to minimize travel and maximize on weather. Imagine if in tennis the Australian Open moved from January to August and Wimbledon moved from July to February and the US Open went from early-September to the middle of March. Those changes wouldn't just screw up those events but events leading up to the grand slam tournaments. All the events in Asia-Pacific preceding the Australian Open would have to move. The grass court events in Germany and the Netherlands would have to move if Wimbledon moved. It would be a massive headache for the players if the schedule were completely jumbled up every year.

That doesn't mean NASCAR shouldn't visit new venues but it has to be realistic. How many tracks currently not hosting a NASCAR Cup race could host one today? Other than Iowa, which it seems like everyone and their brother have been yelling for NASCAR to go to for the past five years, there aren't that many. Many racetracks built during the boom in racetrack construction that occurred from the late-1990s to the early-2000s lost out. They built tracks hoping a NASCAR Cup race would come and it never happened. Nashville Superspeedway opened the same year as Chicagoland and Kansas but after a decade without a Cup race and despite being regularly feed Grand National Series and Truck races, the doors were closed. Pikes Peak International Raceway opened the same year as Fontana and was closed within a decade without ever being close to getting a Cup race. Add to the list Gateway (which lost everything and has since gotten a Truck race back) and Memphis along with tracks such as Milwaukee, Nazareth, Mexico City and Montreal, which all had long histories prior to getting NASCAR's lower two national touring divisions but never were in contention for Cup races.

Other than Iowa, maybe Road America is the only other venue that could host a NASCAR Cup race today. Circuit of the Americas has the infrastructure but the finances likely aren't there. It isn't practical for NASCAR to add a new track every three seasons. NASCAR created an environment where tracks fought fortune but ended up eating themselves and getting nothing out of it.

Adding new venues doesn't solve NASCAR's problem of having too many races and its races being too long. NASCAR could live with cutting back the schedule by a couple races. It doesn't need to drop ten races but could live if it cut four to six races. As long as the Chase exists, and it looks like it is going to be here for the rest of eternity, NASCAR should want to end the season a few weeks earlier. The Chase now begins the second week of the NFL season. It is consistently head-to-head with the NFL on Sundays. NASCAR could absolutely benefit from starting the Chase in the middle of August when there is less competition from North American sports.

Maybe a new way of thinking is realizing the schedule is fine the way it is, there really aren't that many options in terms of new tracks for NASCAR and you shouldn't be looking for scheduling changes to create excitement.

A Couple Extra Thoughts From Iowa
Josef Newgarden might have dominated Iowa but he gave a lot of credit to J.R. Hildebrand, who has been testing for Newgarden since Newgarden suffered his injuries at Texas. I have to think Hildebrand is making himself look really good within the IndyCar paddock and as a cheap option in free agency next year. While Newgarden and even Conor Daly are making themselves look really good, Hildebrand is hanging around and finishes in the top ten each year in the Indianapolis 500. With Hildebrand's technological background, I would think he would be a great fit for Team Penske. The guy lectures at Stanford. He seems like the perfect fit for Penske. Hélio Castroneves might not like him after what happened at Indianapolis this year but with the ages of Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya, Penske could replace both those drivers with Hildebrand and Newgarden. That probably won't happen but Hildebrand deserves at full-time ride somewhere.

Perhaps Indy Lights oval races need to be a little bit longer. The one gripe with IndyCar oval weekends are the lack of on-track activities and the Pro Mazda Iowa race being cancelled due to low car counts didn't help solve that problem. If IndyCar and the tracks can't add more on-track products, then maybe the simplest solution is giving more of what is already there. The IndyCar race is already 300 laps and it took an hour and 52 minutes to complete. That is a fair amount of track time. The Indy Lights race was 100 laps and took just under 35 minutes to complete. There are some hurdles to extending Indy Lights races. First, Indy Lights don't do live pit stops. I can't imagine these cars could go much longer than 100 laps on one tank of fuel and one set of tires. The series would either have to introduce live pit stops for a few races or the series could run doubleheaders at ovals. There could have been twin-100s at Iowa. There are logistical issues. Rain early on Sunday cancelled Indy Lights qualifying and fortunately the Indy Lights could be raced as scheduled. Had it been a doubleheader, one race likely would have been moved to after the IndyCar race or cancelled altogether and canceling a race wouldn't solve IndyCar's problem of lack of on-track activities at ovals.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Josef Newgarden but did you know...

Lewis Hamilton won the British Grand Prix.

Tom Sykes won both World Superbike races from Laguna Seca.

Brad Keselowski won the NASCAR Cup race at Kentucky, his second consecutive victory. Kyle Busch won the Grand National Series race and William Byron won the Truck race.

Félix Serrallés won the Indy Lights race at Iowa.

Pierre Gasly won the GP2 feature race from Silverstone. It was his first victory since September 28, 2013 when he won at Circuit Paul Ricard in Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0. Jordan King won his second consecutive sprint race. Alexander Albon and Antonio Fuoco split the GP3 races.

Dane Cameron and Eric Curran won the IMSA race at Mosport in the #31 Action Express Racing Corvette DP. The #54 CORE Autosport Oreca of Colin Braun and Jon Bennett won in PC. The #67 Ford GT of Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook won their third consecutive race in GTLM. The #96 Turner Motorsport BMW of Jens Klingmann and Bret Curtis won their first race of the season in GTD.

Red Bull Racing Australia teammates Jamie Whincup and Shane Van Gisbergen swept the Supercars races from Townsville, Australia.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar makes its summer trek to Toronto.
MotoGP heads to Germany.
NASCAR will race at Loudon for the first time this season.
Just two weeks after hosting the Austrian Grand Prix, the Red Bull Ring hosts European Le Mans Series.
DTM will be at Zandvoort.
Super Formula will be at Fuji.