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In The Pits: NASCAR needs to revamp schedule

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 17, 2014 at 4:49 pm •  Published: March 17, 2014
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BRISTOL, Tenn. (AP) — Of the many things NASCAR can't control, the weather is at the top of the list.

NASCAR can't make it be warm and sunny every race day and NASCAR can't stave off rain showers or cold fronts.

What NASCAR can control is the schedule. After rain delayed a second Sprint Cup race in this four-week-old season, it's time to consider some tweaks.

The Daytona 500 will always be the season-opening race, and nobody is suggesting that should change. But a rain delay of nearly six hours last month pushed the bulk of the race into prime time for the second time in three years.

There's something electric about running NASCAR's version of the Super Bowl under the lights, and the race pace showed the drivers felt it, too.

So just go ahead and make the Daytona 500 a night race. It may still rain on race day, but Fox won't be forced to fill hours of programming waiting for it to clear.

NASCAR then headed west to Phoenix, extended the swing a week with a stop in Las Vegas, then headed back home. Next up on the schedule was Sunday's stop at Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee, once one of the most coveted tickets in NASCAR.

The track has been one of the hardest hit since the 2008 economic downturn. A streak of 55 consecutive sellouts was snapped in 2010 and attendance for the spring race has dwindled every year. Some fans blamed a 2007 track reconfiguration for ruining the racing, and there were complaints about high hotel rates.

Both reasons are valid and true. But overlooked is that Bristol's first race of the season has slowly inched up the NASCAR calendar since 2005, when it went from the sixth race of the season to the fifth stop on the Sprint Cup Series schedule.

That was OK in 2005, when NASCAR had an early off weekend and Bristol's race date was April 3. But the next year, it was moved to March and by 2011 it was the fourth race of the season.

It's meant a race date of mid- to late March, and Sunday's running was the earliest on the calendar Bristol has hosted a race since 2008. Only two were run earlier — in 1976 and 1982, when the race was held on March 14.

Track officials were not surprised when the weather fluctuated wildly all last week, hitting the mid-70s early in the week before plummeting into the 40s when NASCAR rolled into town. The forecast for Sunday's race called for 100 percent chance of rain — and the two delays added up to more than five hours, with the race finishing deep into the night, under the lights.

Bristol general manager Jerry Caldwell believes he's got a valid argument to get a different race date.

"I think the right place for us is mid- to late April, given the weather conditions around here," Caldwell said Monday.

Caldwell readily admits the end result was one of the most stirring spring races the track has ever hosted, one that could make a compelling argument for Bristol to hold all its Cup events at night.

But that wouldn't work with Bristol's current race date.

"The thing that people want to look at is the average temperature at the time of the green flag. OK, it might be nice at the time the race starts," Caldwell said. "I encourage people to look at the nighttime temperature. You look at our fans, more than half come from the Northeast and the Midwest and a lot of them are camping either because of the lack of hotel space or because of the camaraderie. You look at the nighttime temperatures we have in March, and we are just losing so much because it is not appealing to be here and be outside.

"It's not about rain. You can have rain anywhere. It's about the cold at night here."

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