I’m not sure there is a grammatically or stylistically correct way to express a deep sigh in written word, so let me try putting it this way: In the pitch of Nancy Kerrigan from 1994, “Why? Why?”
Starting next year, ISM Raceway will be the new location for NASCAR’s season finales. A racetrack whose initials – Ingenuity Sun Media – no one knows at the first guess, looks weird cut down to just three letters in written stories, and resides in a location most likely haven’t even heard of. That’s right, don’t call it Phoenix, or use Phoenix in print, because that’s not technically correct. It was only called Phoenix Raceway for years because it sounded good – the actual location is Avondale.
With apologies to the fine folks associated with the track (they are lovely, and the track, newly-renovated, is quite enjoyable), I have to say that it doesn’t scream this place is special, or NASCAR championship weekend.
International Speedway Corp. did sink millions – more than 175 of them, to be exact – into upgrading the place and elevating it to the modern sports world. Such renovations were severely needed. But plastic surgery shouldn’t be a ticket to hosting the biggest race of the season.
Where, in the cries for NASCAR to shake the schedule up, was there ever a significant push for changing the finale? Yes, Kevin Harvick has lobbied for rotating it, but it has never been pushed as a priority. And how did ISM stand out as the go-to place? NASCAR fixed something that wasn’t broken. There were 35 other races to play with, which they did, and the new schedule otherwise looks great. Different, but great.
Yet what a slap to Homestead-Miami Speedway, the one race that didn’t need to be touched. NASCAR is as much a business as any other sport, and there comes a time when change is needed, but take all of that and the money variable out of it for a minute. “Money”, in this case, meaning not only did ISM get those renovations, but this year is reportedly the final of Ford’s deal to be the sponsor of Ford Championship Weekend in southern Florida.
Again, push all that away from a second. Homestead did absolutely nothing to deserve having the finale taken away.
Great facility? Check. A racetrack that has aged so well over the years that it produces great racing? You betcha! Full grandstands? Always. Inclement weather playing a role? Hard to remember the last time it was an issue.
Plus, Homestead was aesthetically pleasing. The visual of cars up against the wall or digging on the bottom as the laps wind down with everything on the line is easy to burn into your memory bank. As are the pictures of the nice long front stretch, where the sport’s biggest celebrations have been taking place under wonderful Florida sunsets or evening skies since 2002.
Nope, can’t picture any of that at ISM. But Avondale, Arizona will become the location of the NASCAR season finale. Perhaps it’ll end up just being a gap year before the schedule possibly changes again in 2021 with the addition of new venues and other shuffling.
Some thoughts on other schedule changes…
The NASCAR Cup Series will now have a double-header weekend at Pocono Raceway in the late summer. Just making one trip to Pocono? Sounds good. But questions remain as to whether it’s going to be two days of 400 miles, or maybe split them into 200 miles each. Hopefully, it’s the latter.
There are also now two back-to-back off weekends, and I doubt anyone will be complaining about additional downtime. It will be a nice break late in the year before making one last push toward the postseason and then into the most important part of the year.
The summer Daytona race is now the regular season finale, which will officially set the playoff field. Sign me up for the drama! A restrictor-plate race brings the possibility of an unexpected driver stealing a win to grab a playoff spot. However, it also means a driver sitting near the cutline on points could get kicked out on the last weekend if they are caught up in the inevitable wreck.
I can’t imagine drivers and teams are going to be happy that the playoff field will be set in a race where luck often overrides skill. Oh well. Put those complaints in a pile next to the ones we have every year about how Talladega shouldn’t be in the playoffs.
Good on NASCAR for trying some different things, and showing it is indeed listening as the sport moves forward. The next few years look to bring a multitude of changes with schedules, cars, and sponsorship models. It’s an important time in NASCAR history and should bring plenty of excitement.
But ending the year in Avondale? Not so much.