Opinion: Weekend Update

J.Johnson

MRN's Pete Pistone says the trend toward more compact racing weekends that give fans greater access to drivers makes a great deal of sense. (Photo: Getty Images)

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The trend toward more compact racing weekends makes a great deal of sense.

NASCAR’s "enhanced weekend" idea has been used twice this season at Pocono and Watkins Glen. In place of Friday on-track activity for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, both facilities held fan events that included several drivers interacting in a variety of activities.

The remainder of the weekend saw Cup Series teams practice twice on Saturday and qualify Sunday only hours before the race. The concept will be used again in October, when Martinsville Speedway rolls around on the calendar. After that, it’s anybody’s guess what’s in store for 2018.

Sports Business Journal reported this week that the format has been well-received around the industry and next year’s schedule could include half the races using the tighter itinerary.

It makes perfect sense.

While there are a few exceptions, most Fridays of a traditional race weekend don’t generate a ton of spectators. A stand-alone day of practice and qualifying doesn’t quite carry the cache it once did.

Television plays a huge role in this possible conversion. While one less day would mean reduced programming in practice and qualifying coverage, production savings might outweigh the loss in on-air content.

Eliminating teams from coming into a track by one day slices major expenditures off already-skyrocketing budgets. Plus, the added day off the road carries major benefits for crew members dealing with the grind of professional sports’ most demanding schedule.

"That's really what it's about, quality of life for the team guys and giving them an extra day," said Kevin Harvick. "If we can add that up 10, 15, 20 weekends, that's two or three weeks that you can keep those guys at home and let them spend time with their families, kids and wives. Everybody is gone so much, it's almost becoming harder and harder — it is becoming harder and harder — to hire people because it is such a grind."

Of course, the idea has been met with mixed results from the fan base. While some have embraced the idea of having less cars on track Friday augmented by other fan-friendly driver activities, others don’t want to change what has basically been the same routine for decades.

The argument goes to another level when camping is brought into the equation. Fans that are campers enjoy the longer weekends to hang out, socialize and enjoy the multi-day party.

Whatever decision is made will not be met with complete approval. But NASCAR should pursue the idea and streamline weekend schedules.

Kick things off with some sort of at-track fan festival while at the same time, getting drivers out into the surrounding community to generate maximum awareness. Companion divisions - whether it be the Xfinity or Camping World Truck Series, K&N Pro Series or ARCA - would provide those longing for on-track action a day of practice and qualifying.

Saturday’s slate would open with Cup practice followed by qualifying. The weekend companion race then takes center stage followed by final Cup practice. That’s right, the return of "Happy Hour," back to the days when once the checkered flag flew on the Saturday support race, Cup Series drivers made a mad scramble on track for a precious final 60 minutes of practice.

Sunday is reserved for pre-race festivities, concerts, hospitality and then the main event.

It’s a simple, logical solution that addresses key points around the sport: time, expenses, attention span, supply and demand.

Now, move up the starting times of both Saturday and Sunday races and the 2018 schedule would be just about perfect.

The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.

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