(Other than a later date for the Daytona 500 the 2012 Sprint Cup Series schedule has a familiar look to it)
Contrary to some popular belief, the NASCAR schedule is not created with the use of a dartboard.
In reality there are a lot of elements that go into the creation of the annual Sprint Cup calendar which at 36 points races and two exhibitions events over 10 months is the longest in professional sports.
The 2012 edition of the Sprint Cup slate was officially released on Wednesday through much fanfare as an interactive Twitter event. NASCAR’s Senior Vice President of Operations Steve O’Donnell, the man charged with cobbling together the schedules for all three of the sanctioning body’s top divisions –- Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Truck Series – fielded questions from fans as the next year’s race dates were sent out month-by-month.
It was a nice attempt to bring the sport closer to its rabid fan base through social media, but unfortunately fell a bit short of the wild frenzy that accompanies the schedule releases of both the NFL or NBA.
Part of the problem was that despite NASCAR not officially releasing the entire schedule, individual tracks have been trumpeting their 2012 race dates for months. Tracks need to sell tickets as quickly as possible, so when those dates become available a press release is fired out pretty quickly to begin the sales process.
It was an easy process to plug each of those dates into the 2012 calendar and come up with the schedule long before NASCAR got around to its Wednesday announcement.
So while I applaud NASCAR for trying to put an interesting twist on the schedule announcement through the use of Twitter, hopefully next year the idea can come a little sooner so there’s still some mystery to the release.
Overall, next year’s schedule looks pretty much identical to this season’s with minor tweaks rather than any significant changes.
One of the biggest differences will simply be the later start to the season, which will still drop the green with the Daytona 500. However, the sport’s biggest race will come a week later than year’s past and take the green flag on Sun., Feb. 26.
The idea to slide back is actually a smart move by NASCAR in anticipation of what is expected to be a later Super Bowl by as early as 2013. The NFL has indicated its championship game is headed for a mid-February slot either with or without an 18-game regular season so NASCAR wisely has gotten ahead of that decision by separating the Super Bowl of stock car racing from football’s version.
Daytona’s Speedweeks will also be preceded by a few testing days at “The World Center of Racing.” The annual Preseason Thunder sessions will be held at Daytona on January 12-14.
After that, the rest of the year will go off in nearly the same fashion as the 2011 schedule. Kansas will see a late April date moved up from last year’s inaugural June STP 400 weekend and also pushed back its October date to later in the month. The track is headed for a repaving and reconfiguration plan next season which will begin after the spring race and be ready for action in the fall.
The 10-race Chase schedule remains relatively untouched with the same tracks comprising next year’s championship lineup. Chicagoland Speedway gets a second shot at hosting the opening round while Talladega inches up a couple of weeks and now occupies the fourth Chase slot.
But there is nothing extraordinary about the 2012 Sprint Cup schedule and hopes of changing the races inside the Chase or the possibility of a prime time mid-week race will have to be put on hold for another year.
It’s not an easy process by any means to change around the agenda. NASCAR and O’Donnell face a number of challenges when the scheduling process rolls around with everything from weather to television partners to tracks seeking to hold on to traditional weekends in the mix of decisions.
Those options also apply to the Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series schedules. The 2012 editions for each series are still be finalized and indications they will be released late next week. Unlike its Sprint Cup cousin, there is expected to be some major wrinkles to both those slates with a few new venues and dates in the mix.
So with eight races left to decide this year’s Sprint Cup champion, we can officially sneak a peek at what next season will bring.
It’s a familiar look to be sure.
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