Should NASCAR’s Cup and Xfinity circuits race on dirt?

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Eldora Speedway

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series made its sixth annual trek to Rossburg, Ohio and the dirt-surfaced Eldora Speedway this past Wednesday night. The result was a door-slamming finish as Chase Briscoe just edged Grant Enfinger at the finish line to get the win. But perhaps the real story surrounding the event came even before the green flag waved as track owner and former NASCAR champion Tony Stewart lobbied for more races, particularly for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series, to be staged on dirt tracks.

“Maybe one of the days, we’ll get an Xfinity or a Cup race here because we’ve proven you can run the vehicles here, and we’ve proven that the truck drivers that have never been on dirt before can sit there and get around this track really well,” Stewart declared on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “If a truck can get around here, an Xfinity car or a Cup car can get around here as well too. So, who knows? Maybe, you know, like I said, I never dreamed we’d have a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race here, but maybe the dream will start now that maybe we can get an Xfinity race here in the future too.”

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regular Ryan Newman was among those who raced in the 2018 Eldora Dirt Derby

That, in turn, sparked the annual debates within the media and among some NASCAR racers as to whether Stewart’s proposal should actually happen.

This debate was further stirred when retired driver and now NBC Sports analyst Dale Earnhardt, Jr. tweeted to Stewart. “Hey @TonyStewart, this @XfinityRacing owner would love to have a race @EldoraSpeedway on the schedule. What say you @NASCAR? Let’s do this already!”

But before simply saying, “Yes, there should be more NASCAR-sanctioned races on dirt” it has to be considered that there are a myriad of factors to be addressed including contracts with the major track-owning corporations, television partners, event and series sponsors, and all the other “stake holders” within the sport.

Bear in mind that I love dirt racing and I’m not trying to be a killjoy here. However, before offering criticism to those involved for not immediately granting Stewart’s request, there has to be some degree of reality mixed into the conversation as to whether scheduling Cup Series or Xfinity Series races on dirt is even feasible.

With a schedule containing 36 points paying races and two exhibition events, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule is already overcrowded. As the sport is now finding out, there can indeed be too much of a good thing(or bad thing depending on your perspective). There simply is not any room to add more races into a season that very much needs to have some of its fat trimmed.

And more, the vast majority of races on the Cup schedule are held on tracks owned by either Speedway Motorsports, Inc. or International Speedway Corporation. Neither of those two entities is going to be volunteering to give up dates unless it can be replaced by a race at another one of their facilities. And while it’s easy to say that they should do this for the overall good of the sport, shareholders in companies already seeing their revenue slide likely would not agree.

Some may argue that NASCAR could simply take the heavy handed approach and dictate to these two corporations that they should give up a date but that is not a good way to do business over the long haul(and yes, I know that the same family holds a controlling interest in NASCAR and ISC). Forcing such edicts onto partners would send a signal to other current or potential investors in the sport that NASCAR does not care about those who might dump millions of dollars into their product so it would be a dangerous undertaking to get involved with such an organization.

Also consider that other issues are in play. How many dirt tracks have the accessibility necessary to host a NASCAR event considering that a significant number of those tracks are located in rather remote areas of the country? A two lane road would create an enormous race-day traffic jam that would not be fun for anyone. A lack of adequate hotel space is already a criticism some NASCAR tracks have to deal with and racing on a remotely located dirt track would almost certainly bring that issue into question. Hauler parking space, a media center capable of hosting print, radio, and television on a wide scale are just a few more of the factors to consider in this debate.

The Eldora Media Center would be adequate for hosting more NASCAR-sanctioned races.

This past Wednesday I made my first ever trip to Eldora Speedway and was very much impressed. If any dirt track could host an Xfinity or Cup Series race, that one certainly could. Others such as Lucas Oil Speedway in Missouri, Knoxville Raceway in Iowa, and The Dirt Track at Charlotte all come to mind as possible host venues for the two highest divisions in NASCAR. However, some of the issues listed above would certainly factor in for these facilities.

With all that said, though, here is an even bigger issue as this writer sees it. Having race teams whose budgets are already stretched to the breaking point prepare a car or truck that can only be used once each season simply is not fair to those organizations. And no, I’m not necessarily talking about Joe Gibbs Racing or Hendrick Motorsports. The smaller teams would have difficulty maintaining any sort of competitiveness on the current tracks if they had to take time and money away from other parts of their programs to build and maintain a specialty dirt car to be used in just one race per year.

Again, don’t get me wrong, I would love to see more racing on dirt. I am just pointing out that it is more difficult to make something like that happen than some might think.

But my opinion means little compared to other more highly placed individuals. Naturally, one of the first drivers to be consulted when the issue was raised was Kyle Larson. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regular cut his racing teeth on dirt and routinely races in Sprint Cars when not engaged in his primary job. His reply surprised many.

Larson told Dustin Long(@dustinlong) of NBC Sports that, “I wouldn’t like to see Cup on dirt. To me, Cup belongs on pavement and real road course tracks.”

For many of the reasons listed above, I tend to agree with that. Don’t get me wrong, I would be all for reducing the number “cookie cutters” on the Cup schedule but I’m just not sure that hitting the dirt is the best way to accomplish that fr the sport’s top series.

However, I do believe that the Xfinity Series could and should race on dirt at some point in the future. I have long advocated the position that NASCAR’s “second series” should separate itself from the Cup Series to run on unique venues in which the series would be among the biggest thing to come to that track(Dirt fans don’t get upset as I said among the biggest. I know an Xfinity race would not outrank the World 100, King’s Royal, or Knoxville Nationals.)

Eldora’s grandstands would be suitable for an Xfinity race

But before any move to have more NASCAR-sanctioned races on dirt there are a few things that need to happen.

First, there needs to be the commitment to have at least two races for each series. As stated above, it isn’t fair to the teams to have to put in the effort required to build and maintain a race car just to use it once each season. So, the Camping World Truck Series needs to add another dirt date to its schedule. And as I also said above, I believe the Xfinity Series is well suited to having at least two races on dirt as well.

Second, there needs to be a stronger relationship put in place between NASCAR and the dirt racing world. If they ever do make such a move, they can’t just show up at a couple of tracks for a couple of days and then leave town. There needs to be a real investment in the form of sponsorships, marketing, driver appearances, and feeder programs.

Looking down the backstretch at Eldora Speedway

Third, the schedules for each series need to be re-evaluated. These types of races, as the truck race at Eldora has shown, seem to be well suited for mid-week dates. But that does not mean the dirt races should be wedged in between two weekends on paved tracks. Again, that wouldn’t be fair to the teams.

Stewart urged race fans to take his case to NASCAR’s leadership in his SiriusXM interview. “Fans, if you’re out there, think about starting to put some pressure on NASCAR,” the track owner pleaded. “I think we need to get an Xfinity race, and if we can get an Xfinity race and it was successful, maybe one day we could get a Cup race here to Eldora. And that’s something I think everybody would love to see. So we need to start putting some pressure on NASCAR to get an Xfinity race here as well.”

To sum up this lengthy column, I believe the Xfinity Series ought to race on dirt at some point, but I believe the Cup Series needs to be reducing its schedule rather than adding to it.

Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association

Respond to this piece on Twitter –> @RichardAllenIDR

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