NASCAR President Steve Phelps says that the series is continuing to evaluate possible venue, format and other changes before committing to its 2021 schedule.
“There are a lot of different variables and factors that need to go into what our 2021 schedule is going to look like,” Phelps told a group of reporters. “Do we want to continue to look at potential new venues? The answer is yes. Do we want to look at potential format changes? Yes. Do we want to consider continuing one-day shows in some form or fashion? Probably.”
Phelps, of course, reiterated that all the above would have to be weighed with industry stakeholders – tracks, broadcast partners, and teams. Traditionally, the ’21 schedule would have been revealed by this point in the year, but the COVID-19 pandemic has delayed it as officials have worked tirelessly just to get through the rest of this season.
“These are difficult times,” continued Phelps. “Whether we’re going to announce a full schedule as we traditionally have done or we will continue to do different pieces of it – those are things we’re contemplating right now.
“I am cautiously optimistic that many of the objectives that we would have had in a pre-COVID world we will have during our 2021 season. But, again, there are just a lot of moving parts, and we need to wrestle those to the ground before we’re able to discuss what (the schedule) looks like.”
With the sport having to adapt to racing during a pandemic, Phelps acknowledged they have had to do things that, in all honesty, they didn’t want to do. For example, there were doubleheaders, midweek races, and the elimination of practice and qualifying. Teams had roaster limits, track access has been cut, masks and social distancing were requirements, and so much more.
There will be policies and procedures that end up carrying over into next season. One consideration is the Daytona road course, which became a contingency plan for NASCAR when traveling to Watkins Glen became an issue. The question is whether NASCAR makes it a third event to go along with the Daytona 500 and the summer race because Phelps does not see it replacing the second oval race.
“It is nice to have options, and I think it’s great that it is an option we have in our bag of tricks,” he said.
Mid-week racing? Phelps didn’t completely shut the door on the possibility of those events happening in the future by calling the opportunity “viable.” However, he doesn’t know if they will be on the ’21 schedule, adding they were on the lower end of probability.
“We have seen from a research standpoint your avid fans love it,” said Phelps. “I think we all got accustomed to that Wednesday night race, and you’re like, ‘Oh, this is sweet. I get to watch a Wednesday night race.’ And that was fun. But whether it was the casual fan who wasn’t tuning in – the numbers just weren’t as high as we would see on a Saturday night or a Sunday.
“I’m not suggesting that we won’t do it in the future; in some cases, those midweek races were some of the best races we had. It’s a balance. We need to make sure that we are driving ratings because that drives visibility for the sport, that drives sponsorship value.
“Again, we’ll collaborate with our broadcast partners and our teams, but it’s phenomenal to know there is that opportunity. We have shown that we can do it, and it is an option.”
Given the lessons of this year, NASCAR will have its set schedule and then contingency plans for next season. For now, the 2021 season-opening Daytona 500 is scheduled for February 14.
If the coronavirus is still impacting the country and subsequently NASCAR by restricting at-track access for fans, sponsors, and others, Phelps “does not foresee” delaying the season or moving the date of the sport’s biggest race.
“Given where we are with COVID, none of us could have imagined any of what has happened this year. But right now, our plan is not to do that,” he said. “The Daytona 500 would run when it’s originally scheduled to run in mid-February. So, I don’t see that (date) changing. But I guess never say never. Our intention is to run the Daytona 500 when we’re scheduled to run.”