The 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule is out and here are the key points you need to know:
• The 26th and final race in the Cup regular season will be the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sept. 9.
• The first two playoff races will be at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sept. 16 and Richmond International Raceway Sept. 22. These are both new venues for the playoffs.
• The Charlotte Motor Speedway playoff race on Sept. 30 will be run on the “roval” road course/oval combination. And it will be an elimination race, adding to the pressure on drivers and teams.
• New Hampshire Motor Speedway gets cut back from two races to one on July 22nd, and Chicagoland Speedway gets moved out of the playoffs and back to July 1.
• Both Richmond races will be run at night.
• The Clash will be run during the day on Feb. 11, the same Sunday afternoon as Daytona 500 qualifying.
Honestly, my first reaction when I looked at the new and heavily modified 2018 Cup schedule was, what took so long to get this done?
Think about it: The last time a new track was added to the playoffs was in 2011, when Chicagoland replaced Auto Club Speedway.
What’s happened since that time?
gallery: 5 biggest changes in the 2018 NASCAR schedule
The Generation 6 Cup cars were introduced in 2013.
The playoffs were expanded to 16 drivers in 2014, with knockout rounds and wholesale changes to how the champion was determined.
Horsepower was cut in 2015.
There were new aero packages in 2015, ’16 and ’17.
Stage racing was adding in 2017.
But while darn near everything else changed in NASCAR — much to the grousing of some fans — the schedule stayed more or less the same for seven years.
Sure, occasionally Martinsville and Talladega might flip-flop, or Charlotte and Kansas, but the playoffs featured the same 10 tracks for seven years. The schedule had become the stalest part of the racing. It was boring in its uniformity.
That’s why I welcome the changes for next year. They will add energy and excitement to a sport that needs more of both.
Sure, I have questions, as you probably do. Will the date change help the Brickyard 400 draw a bigger crowd? Will the Charlotte roval work well? We’ll see.
But you don’t know until you try it.
In my book, the 2018 Monster Energy Cup Series is a bold move by NASCAR and the tracks. And I think it’s definitely a step in the right direction.
gallery: 10 tracks in the 2018 Monster Energy Series playoffs