WALTZ: 2021 NASCAR Schedule Will Be Key

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HARRISBURG, N.C. — The changes NASCAR made to its Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule for next season are only an appetizer, as we anxiously await the main course.

The sanctioning body’s contracts with its race tracks expire following the 2020 season and that’s when fans can expect the Cup Series schedule, which has remained basically stagnant for two decades, to undergo a major reconstruction.

Rumors of what’s in store for the 2021 season are hotter than the July weather as even industry insiders speculate on what NASCAR will do in an effort to increase attendance and improve TV ratings.

There’s talk about the season possibly ending in late September or early October. Will we see multiple doubleheader weekends with races on both Saturday and Sunday? Will there be more short-short track events? Does Iowa Speedway finally get a Cup Series date? How about mid-week races?

Everyone expects the schedule to be scaled back, with most putting the number of races for the 2021 season between 24 and 28.

Does Indianapolis Motor Speedway continue the tradition of the Brickyard 400 or does that race fade into the history books? Will there still be an All-Star Race? What happens to the Shootout at Daytona? Will the playoffs continue to be comprised of 10 races or is that number also reduced?

At this point, there are more questions than answers, but one thing is certain: NASCAR has to get this right, because the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series schedule will chart the course for the future of major-league stock car racing.

If the schedule properly addresses the issue of supply and demand and provides a fresh mix of tracks that enhances the on-track product, the sport could very well experience a rebound that could last for decades.

If the schedule changes are only minor tweaks and fail to properly address the underlying issues that have been eroding the sport’s popularity, we should expect a continuation of the status quo with sub-par attendance and mediocre TV ratings.

— On Wednesday morning prior to the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600, we discovered a drastic difference in the way the two marquee motorsports events were being covered by the major newspapers in the host cities.

A review of the landing page for the Indianapolis Star’s website revealed 13 links to stories, photos and information related to the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500.

The headlines ranged from “James Dean, the Indy 500 driver who could’ve been” and “How to ride a scooter to the Indy 500” to “‘Winning’ starred Paul Newman and a cast of Hoosiers” and “The best Indy 500 bars and restaurants.”

The Indianapolis Star has long set the standard with its coverage of The Greatest Spectacle in Racing and the amount of content generated for its website this year tells us the current editors continue to recognize the importance of covering this event from multiple angles.

Meanwhile, a similar visit to the home page of The Charlotte Observer’s website revealed only one link to anything having to do with the 60th running of the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

It was a feature story headlined: “Daniel Hemric idolized Dale Earnhardt as a kid. Now he wants to drive like him.”

For more than five decades, The Charlotte Observer was a leading source of NASCAR news and information as the stock car industry planted roots and grew in the Charlotte region.

Now, it appears as if those making the editorial decisions for the Queen City’s primary news outlet have little — if any interest — in the sport. What a shame.

— We still vividly remember the focus and intensity that consumed sprint car racing’s brightest stars as they prepared to battle for $50,000 during the inaugural Kings Royal at Ohio’s Eldora Speedway on July 28, 1984.

With $175,000 awaiting the winner of this year’s edition of the Kings Royal, look for the intensity level to far exceed that seen 35 years ago as Eldora Speedway’s premier open-wheel event once again offers sprint car racing’s richest first-place prize.