By Summer Bedgood – The 2014 NASCAR Nationwide Series schedule was released a little over a week ago, with little in the way of surprises. The schedule will showcase 33 races for the third consecutive season, and no new tracks were added to the schedule, nor were any taken off. A few shifts did take place, however. Darlington Raceway is a month earlier on the schedule. The spring Texas race will be run one week earlier. The Darlington and Texas races were moved so that they could coincide with the Sprint Cup Series race. One of the Iowa Speedway race dates will move from June to mid-May. Finally, the Chicago race will move back to a Saturday night event.
Despite the fact that there are only a few standalone events and that most of the schedule consists of companion events with the Sprint Cup Series, the Nationwide Series schedule presents a variety that it’s alternatives in the Sprint Cup Series are sorely lacking. The Nationwide Series schedule has five different tracks and a total of ten dates at tracks that are either a mile or under with Phoenix, Bristol, Iowa, Richmond, and Dover each holding two spots on the schedule. Though that is not necessarily much different than the Cup Series—the Cup Series has at least one date at all of those tracks except for Iowa—the Nationwide Series has a shorter schedule, yet they still have more tracks that would be considered a “short track” or at least close to it.
Where the Nationwide Series schedule really shines, though, is the amount of road courses on the schedule. While the Sprint Cup Series schedule showcases a total of two road course races per year, the Nationwide Series schedule makes room for three with Road America, Watkins Glen, and Mid-Ohio on the schedule. These races arguably provide some of the best races on the schedule, the way that short track races used to be. It is not uncommon that “beating and banging”, “bump and ran”, and “temper tantrums”—concepts that are generally used in short track racing—are used in conjunction with a road course race. The Nationwide Series has utilized these great races to their full potential, though a few more on the schedule would likely not be objected by anyone who watches the races every weekend.
While the other 20 racetracks on the schedule are over a mile, NASCAR has attempted to create somewhat of a diverse schedule in the Nationwide Series just as they have in the Truck Series. The addition of a dirt track race this season as well as the first road course race in 13 years were some of the best decisions NASCAR could have made for the series.
However, the Nationwide Series schedule is in place to more closely represent the Sprint Cup Series and exists as a developmental series for that purpose. So don’t expect an Eldora to make an appearance on that schedule anytime soon. Still, though, when drivers are expected to showcase their talents, it makes sense that they are expected to do so on a variety of tracks.
On the flip side, there is still much more work to be done. Ten short track races on the schedule is good in concept, but a few of those tracks barely qualify as short tracks because of their layout. For instance, Dover is seen more as a small cookie-cutter than as a large short track. As aerodynamics continue to make clean air and track position more important than car handling and speed, tracks like Dover don’t present the kind of great racing that they used to. NASCAR still has work to do in both the balance of the schedule and the aerodynamics of the car.
With that said, the 2014 Nationwide Series is a good start to expanding NASCAR’s horizons back to the basics. The schedule is unique, while also remaining diverse, though admittedly it is still a little heavy on the intermediate tracks. That appears to be a trend that will continue for a long time to come, unfortunately. However, if NASCAR can work to spread out the ratio of shorter tracks to intermediate as the trend seems to be in the Nationwide Series and continue to do so, maybe all three series will truly reflect a balance on the schedule.
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