The surprises just keep coming in this season of shake-ups for NASCAR.
Just two races into a campaign that features a new title sponsor, a new stage-based race format and new rules regarding wrecked cars, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is reportedly primed for a change to its schedule. If the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority on Wednesday votes to approve a $17.5-million sponsorship proposal, according to multiple reports, NASCAR could add a second race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway starting in 2018.
It’s rumored the race would be during the playoffs, and barring the unlikely addition of a race to the Cup schedule, the most logical course of action would be to replace an event held at a track also managed by Speedway Motorsports, Inc., to avoid costing a different ownership group a race date. This creates an obvious target: the September playoff race currently run at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
There are other factors beyond the date and ownership that suggest New Hampshire’s September race would be in danger, however. (SMI also owns Charlotte Motor Speedway, which hosts three Cup races per year, including one in the fall, but it seems far-fetched to think NASCAR would move a race out of its backyard in North Carolina.) NHMS reportedly has suffered attendance declines, even relative to other racing venues, and drivers and fans alike have complained about the difficulty of passing on the 1.058-mile oval.
Meanwhile, Las Vegas is stocked with 24-hour entertainment and hotels of every price tier, and although Loudon, N.H., boasts its own relatively easy access to tourism sites and outdoors activities, it’s of much different magnitude than that of the so-called “Entertainment Capital of the World.”
For some, that makes ditching the Granite State for Sin City a no-brainer. But what might be more enticing for visiting fans could increase the monotony of the Cup schedule.
Already, the regular season is packed with 1 1/2-mile ovals like Vegas, and those cookie-cutter tracks make up half of NASCAR’s 10 playoff races. For all the complaints about Loudon’s flat track and follow-the-leader racing, at least it’s something different from the endless line of 1.5-milers, many of which lack any distinction from each other. This is more than just a cosmetic consideration, since predictable racing leads to a poor viewer product, which can lead to declining TV ratings.
Representatives from NHMS declined NESN Fuel’s request to comment and, to be fair, this is still speculation — albeit informed speculation that quite a few people have floated. Whereas the folks who run NHMS surely would be disappointed to lose a race, SMI understandably needs to make moves that benefit the organization as a whole. If a second Vegas race energizes fans, then it could pay dividends for NASCAR, SMI and, by extension, NHMS.
During its boom of the 1990s and early 2000s, NASCAR’s growth was fueled by its expansion out of the Deep South into places like New Hampshire and Las Vegas. More recently, NASCAR has heightened its focus westward, even building a “NASCAR Goes West” marketing campaign out of its early-season swing through Vegas, Phoenix and Fontana, Calif., and holding its postseason awards banquet on The Strip.
The addition of another Vegas race fits this strategy, and it’s always tough to argue against that city’s drawing power. Still, if it comes at the expense of New England’s only Cup venue and increases the predictability of the battle for the championship, many of us Northern race fans would find that a shame.
Thumbnail photo via Brian Fluharty/USA TODAY Sports Images