Opinion: Opening Stretch a Good Test

Auto Club Speedway

Sprint Cup Series action at Auto Club Speedway later this month will wrap up a diverse opening stretch of five races to begin the 2012 season. (Photo: Getty Images)

The first five races on the Sprint Cup Series calendar should provide a good barometer of the season ahead.

There is a great variety of tracks in the opening quintet of races on the Cup schedule.  With the exception of a road course, pretty much every type of venue the circuit competes on is represented in the first five events.

The two weeks spent during Daytona’s Speedweeks is the first look at how restrictor-plate programs stack up, all the more important this season with NASCAR tweaking the rule packages in an attempt to limit tandem drafting and bring back more pack racing.

Then, it was on to Phoenix where even the track’s new configuration and repaving gives teams a chance to go short-track racing.  PIR may have changed its look, but the place is still an intriguing and combative track as evidenced by Sunday’s second race of the season.

The Las Vegas stop carries a great deal of importance as teams will spend the bulk of their time trying to figure out 1.5-mile speedways like the one in Sin City.  While all tracks have their own nuances and characteristics, there is a common thread in setting up cars for intermediate-sized ovals like LVMS.

Bristol then provides some good old-fashioned short-track racing in much closer quarters than what Phoenix can provide.  Getting things right in March at Bristol could be even more beneficial when the August night race rolls around at the track, when Chase chances may be on the line.

The odyssey ends at Auto Club Speedway and an early-season test on the two-mile oval, a combo platter of intermediate-track racing and high-speed superspeedway competition.

It’s a great way for teams to get an opportunity to see what the hard work and preparation over the winter has provided.  They can test all they’d like at places like Nashville, New Smyrna, Pikes Peak and Walt Disney World.  But nothing can replace a racing environment such as the smorgasbord the first five races of the year provides.

The lineup is also good for fans, both those in attendance as well as others listening on radio or watching on television.

Each track and style of racing has its own characteristics to provide a nice cross-section of Sprint Cup Series racing.

Many fans bemoan “cookie cutter” tracks taking up too many spots on the schedule and while I can’t completely deny the sameness of some venues, that’s not an issue in the first two months of the year.

Every stop from Daytona through Fontana gives fans a different feel of racing, whether it's the love-it or hate-it plate competition in Daytona or the side-by-side with a helping of contact at Bristol.  Variety is the spice of life, and fans have that and then some to kick off the year.

From a marketing perspective, the schedule also gives NASCAR a chance to generate publicity and exposure literally from coast to coast.  Growing the sport’s audience is a must, and taking its product to several time zones and markets right out of the box helps expand that reach at a critical time of the season.

It wasn’t completely by design, but the early portion of the NASCAR calendar is just about a perfect blend of tracks, markets and styles of racing.

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup

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