NASCAR president Steve Phelps understands his comments recently on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio about there not being “massive, wholesale changes” coming to the 2021 schedule might have been taken differently than he intended.
Given a chance to clarify his thoughts over the weekend at Daytona, Phelps said he does believe there will be changes on the ’21 schedule, but he doesn’t know how deep those will go.
“We are working with all the stakeholders,” said Phelps. “I am confident that we are going to come to a schedule that our fans are going to like. How deep, where we’re going, the changes that we’re having, there are lots of models that are being developed, and asking NBC what their ideal schedule is, we’ve done that. Asking Fox what their ideal schedule is, we’ve done that. Asking the OEM where they want to be, asking the teams where they want to be.
“(It) all goes into a large data bank and then we’re starting to craft what these models would look like that we believe that will be in the best interest of where the fans want to race and have good grandstands.”
In broad terms, Phelps said the goal is to “make sure that we have the best racing we can.” He insisted that NASCAR hears the feedback from the fans about where they would like to see racing, and officials are working not only to see what is possible, but what creates the best racing and what creates sellouts.
“Do we want to listen to what the fans have to say? We absolutely do,” said Phelps. “Are the fans speaking loudly about their interest in seeing more short tracks and more road courses? Yes.”
Another part of the equation will be the markets that NASCAR visits.
“What race markets do you want to be in that we’re not in today? What race markets do we want to stay in because it’s important to do that,” Phelps said. “There’s so many different variables that go into what the 2021 schedule is going to look at, which is why we’re not going to rush into what that is.”
“We are continuing discussions with our stakeholders about where we’re going to race in 2021, and our broadcast partners have a voice, our teams have a voice; all the stakeholders have a voice in this.
“It’s important for us. I would suggest that the two largest voices that we have outside the tracks themselves are our fans and our broadcast partners, and so we’re going to continue to study it and figure out where we’re going to go. That obviously kind of dovetails into where we’re going to go with our sanctions, so it’s very important to us to get this right, and so we’re taking the time necessary.
“If you think about historically when we have announced over the last couple years our schedule, it’s April 1 or a date slightly before that. We have some time here. We’re going to do this thing right.”
Support for a return to the Nashville Fairgrounds has gained plenty of traction in the last year, with Phelps saying that is one place the fans have expressed interest in. Speedway Motorsports with Marcus Smith and Bristol Motorsport Speedway executive vice president Jerry Caldwell have not only supported the idea but have been trying to court the public in making it happen. The area is already set for a $275 million soccer stadium and other development.
If Smith and Caldwell continue their push and progress is made, Phelps said NASCAR would work with SMI to move the opportunity forward. However, there would need to be “significant capital expenditure” to turn the Fairgrounds into a facility able to host a Cup Series race.
Additional insight from Phelps on other variables regarding the NASCAR schedule:
Will you go back to one-year sanctions with the tracks?
SP: “I would say that’s on the table. Whether we go there or not, I’m not sure.”
Could we go back to seeing fewer races?
SP: “The current thinking as I see it is that we will not reduce the number of races in 2021. Again, I would say it’s on the table, but part of that has to do with our broadcast partners. I would suggest that our broadcast partners would actually like to have more NASCAR content, more NASCAR racing because it drives ratings. So, do I think we would have a shortening of the number of races? I would say that’s unlikely in 2021.”
What about the length of the races?
SP: “As you know we have taken down the length of some of those races. Is it something that we are looking at? Yes, it’s something we’re looking at. There are many fans that say, ‘You know what, I’m good with the length of the races.’ And there are other fans that are like, ‘You know, I wish they were a little bit shorter.’ So we’re trying to find that sweet spot. But it’s something that we would look at and we are looking at.”