2018 NASCAR schedule gets a makeover

What was rumored for a couple weeks has now become official, as the 2018 NASCAR schedule was released on Tuesday afternoon. There are some major changes to the 2018 agenda for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, including a new, but familiar date for the biggest race of the season as well as a pretty hefty change to the 10-race playoff.


DAYTONA 500 GETS PRESIDENTIAL TREATMENT

Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

The Daytona 500 has been moved back to President’s Day weekend (Feb. 18), where it had been run for many years before. The World Center of Racing’s 500-mile event had been held one weekend after President’s Day weekend for the past couple years.

Another notable change concerning Daytona International Speedway is that “The Clash” and Daytona 500 pole qualifying will now take place on the same day, one week before the big race on Feb. 11. This will give fans a reason to come down, and stay down, at the speedway for Speedweeks earlier than just coming for the race weekend itself. The 60th running of the Great American Race has some nostalgia to it now, and that should make longtime fans happy.


THE BRICKYARD NOW HAS REAL IMPORTANCE

Photo: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images

For as long as there had been a playoff system in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Richmond International Raceway had been the host of the regular season finale and the 3/4-mile d-shaped oval determined who would and wouldn’t make the field for the title run.

Now, the illustrious Indianapolis Motor Speedway will undertake that role, as the 2.5-mile rectangular-shaped oval will be the 26th and final race of the MENCS regular season and will determine who does and who doesn’t make the 16-car playoff field.


PLAYOFFS TO KICK OFF IN VEGAS

Photo: Getty Images

We now know where the second race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway is going to be: the opening race of the playoffs. Sin City’s second MENCS race will take place on Sept. 16 and kick off the first round of the playoffs. This adds a second race on the West coast to the playoffs, with the first one taking place in Phoenix.

Chicagoland Speedway, which will kick off the playoffs this season and has for a few years, will be moved to July 1 and the summer race at Daytona will take place the following weekend.


ANOTHER SHORT-TRACK IN THE PLAYOFFS

Richmond will now be inserted into the first round of the playoffs, and arguably, hold more importance than the regular season finale event. After the circuit races in Vegas, they’ll travel back East to Richmond for the second race of the first round. This move ups the number of short-track races in the playoffs to two, joining its fellow Virginia-track Martinsville Speedway.


A ROAD COURSE IN THE PLAYOFFS

Photo: Charlotte Speedway

Following Las Vegas and Richmond in round one of the playoffs will be Charlotte Motor Speedway—but not the CMS that you know and (maybe) love. It’s going to be way different.

That’s right, the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course is going to be in the playoffs. It has been the worst kept secret in the garage that NASCAR was not only looking at adding another road course to the schedule, but add one in the playoffs. Zero NASCAR sanctioned events have been run on the 13-turn CMS road course, but the track has been working feverishly on improving the course when it comes to safety and to get it into “race shape” prior to the Sept. 30 event at the 1.5-mile oval that will now be 2.42 miles in length and be called a “roval.”


WHAT I LIKE

Another short-track in the playoffs. Richmond is called “The Action Track” for a reason, and the action will be heightened now that it’ll be a playoff race. I want even more short tracks in the playoffs, but increasing the quantity from one to two is a solid start to say the least.

I also like the fact that a road course has been added. Now we will have a short-track, intermediate track and superspeedway in the playoffs. A very diverse group of venues.


WHAT I DON’T LIKE

The Brickyard being the final race of the regular season. I think Auto Club Speedway would be a perfect venue for it. A  two mile oval that has multiple grooves, provides some of the best racing in all of NASCAR and is a short drive from Los Angeles, a huge media market to promote the playoffs. But NASCAR didn’t choose IMS for racing reasons—it was all about image.

Indianapolis has been a snooze fest for many, many years. I believe NASCAR made this move in hopes of increasing the at-track attendance for the race as well as creating intrigue for the event, which has previously held next to zero importance as it sat in the middle of the summer.

Photo: Chris Graythen/NASCAR via Getty Images)

Both races at Richmond will also be under the lights, which is counterintuitive, in my opinion. NASCAR moved the spring race to the daytime this season after a rainout forced the postponement of last year’s Saturday night event to a Sunday afternoon one. Both in 2016 and 2017, the daytime races were phenomenal. Drivers say it all the time: day racing creates more lanes, a slicker track and better on-track product. Night racing is cool, but it doesn’t produce.

I also don’t like that the road course NASCAR chose to be in the playoffs is one that has never been run at before. Why not choose Sonoma Raceway or Watkins Glen International, two road courses that the Cup series has run on for over 15 years and we know what they produce and we know what to expect. With the CMS roval, we have no idea what to expect.

I like the addition of the road course in the playoffs, but just not this one in particular. If it goes poorly, don’t come crying my way, NASCAR. Because I warned you.


GENERAL CONCLUSION

NASCAR is showing its fans that they’re open to change. For years and years, they were extremely reluctant to change the smallest things when it comes to the sport. In recent years, they’ve overhauled the points system, playoff system and now schedule, three MAJOR things to consider when rebuilding a quintessential American sport.

“Fan feedback was a major driver in developing these schedules, and we worked very closely with the industry to set the stage for an exciting 2018 season,” Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer said in a press release. “This season has delivered more dramatic moments to fans, and with the adjustments to the 2018 schedules we’re in a great position to build upon that success.”

Whether you like the changes or not, you must applaud NASCAR for trying something and not being afraid to fail. They still have a long way to go, but I’m happy with the progress.


2018 PLAYOFF SCHEDULE

Sept. 16: Las Vegas Motor Speedway (1.5 miles)

Sept. 22: Richmond International Raceway (0.75 miles)

Sept. 30: Charlotte Motor Speedway (2.42 miles)

Oct. 7: Dover International Speedway (1 mile)

Oct. 14: Talladega Superspeedway (2.66 miles)

Oct. 21: Kansas Speedway (1.5 miles)

Oct. 28: Martinsville Speedway (0.526 miles)

Nov. 4: Texas Motor Speedway (1.5 miles)

Nov. 11: Phoenix Raceway (1 mile)

Nov. 18: Homestead-Miami Speedway (1.5 miles)