BURNS: Around The Track

Terry Labonte won NASCAR's penultimate race at North Wilkesboro (N.C.) Speedway in April 1996. (NASCAR photo)
Terry Labonte won NASCAR’s penultimate race at North Wilkesboro (N.C.) Speedway in April 1996. (NASCAR photo)

MOORESVILLE, N.C. – What does the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule lack?

As the season unfolds, you’ll hear discussion about which tracks should be added to the 36-race slate, which tracks should be removed, and which track is most suitable for a Danica Patrick win.

Well, not so much the last one.

In 1994, NASCAR’s premier series had such venues as North Wilkesboro (N.C.) Speedway, a venerable old short track, and North Carolina Motor Speedway – an intermediate the sport left when it was still respectable, revisited for a couple years, then left again. Sounds like LeBron James.

Many Southern fans felt disrespected when NASCAR upped its purses and car counts, essentially shutting down little old North Wilkesboro,  the first race track I ever visited, in 1991 as a three-year-old. Its dates went to newer tracks in New Hampshire and Texas, both of which have become established venues capable of great racing. Short tracks, once a staple of the then-Winston Cup Series, make up only one-sixth of the modern schedule.

If we’re going to add Iowa Speedway, or Road America, or, I don’t know, somewhere in Europe, somebody’s gotta go. Or a two-date track has to be dropped to one race.

It’s a hefty asking price at a time when the schedule seems to be working pretty well. I still hear all sorts of complaints. Some fans say the 10-race Chase is tailored for Jimmie Johnson.

Others say the whole season is tailored for Johnson.

When the Chase began in 2004, the sport’s powers-that-be essentially looked at the last 10 races, said, “Alright, that works!” and the Chase schedule was born.

It’s undergone a few tweaks since then. Maybe a couple more wouldn’t hurt. I’d make Atlanta Motor Speedway the final race, hearkening back to the 1990s – a concept the sport doesn’t seem to enjoy – but largely because the track is unpredictable and would really bring setups and strategy to the forefront for a finale.

Iowa is a great track for IndyCar racing. Its Nationwide Series races get some solid crowds and the competition is fierce, because there aren’t any Sprint Cup drivers chasing trophies.

Road America deserves a date. Iowa really deserves one, too. But we aren’t in the business of handing out race dates based on who deserves them. If we were, North Wilkesboro would be on the schedule.

NASCAR faces a tough decision whenever it considers changing its races. Maybe a shakeup would help things after all. Formula One has rotated race sites before. What’s the right Sprint Cup schedule?

It depends on who you ask.