"NASCAR realignment" refers to changes in the schedule of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. In a January 2003 press conference, NASCAR's chairman of the board, Bill France, Jr., caused a stir when he interrupted the conference to announce big changes for 2004. France said that many tracks were under fire and being looked at as having race dates taken from them, and given to other facilities. Among the scenarios being looked at by France were how tracks did with ticket sales, and how the weather affected those races. Two tracks immediately looked at by the media were the North Carolina Speedway and Darlington Raceway. Both tracks' events almost never sold out, and the weather, especially at the North Carolina Speedway, had been a major problem, as rain forced many races to be postponed until the next day, typically Monday, which caused attendance to be even worse.
- 1 Realignment 2004
- 2 Realignment 2005
- 3 Realignment 2006–2007
- 4 Realignment 2009–10
- 5 Realignment 2011
- 6 Realignment 2012–2014
- 7 Realignment 2015
- 8 Realignment 2016
- 9 Realignment 2017
- 10 References
"Realignment 2004" was announced in June 2003 at the Winston Cup race weekend at the Michigan International Speedway. While there were only a few changes, they were major. In June 1997, Auto Club Speedway began hosting a Winston Cup race. The track is located in Fontana, California, just outside Los Angeles, and so many fans flocked to the first race, and very quickly, the Los Angeles area became NASCAR's largest market. So, it was announced that Darlington's Mountain Dew Southern 500, held on Labor Day weekend for 54 years, would be moved to November for 2004, alienating the fan base of long time NASCAR fans. In the process, Rockingham's November date, the Pop Secret Microwave Popcorn 400, would move to Fontana, become the Pop Secret 500, and be run from the late evening into the night on the West Coast on the day before Labor Day, while also being shown live on NBC in primetime. The move of the race to September left Rockingham with just one race to run in 2004—its February date, the Subway 400.
"Realignment 2004" was unpopular with many, but unlike "realignment 2005", the previous realignment in the schedule was not tied in with a lawsuit. In April 1997 the Winston Cup Series began racing at the newly built Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. Bruton Smith's Speedway Motorsports, Inc. (which also oversees operations of tracks in Bristol, Tennessee, Hampton, Georgia, Loudon, New Hampshire, and Concord, North Carolina, all of which have two race dates a year) thought that the first race at Texas was popular enough to warrant another date. Soon, the company began pressing NASCAR to give them another date, but NASCAR refused to grant the track a second race.
Early in the 2000s, SMI shareholder Francis Ferko filed a lawsuit against NASCAR, saying that it failed to come through on a promise to give Texas a second date. NASCAR denied making any promise of any kind. (Ferko filed the suit on his own; Smith did not want any part of the it.)
In May 2004, NASCAR announced that they and Texas Speedway had reached a settlement. As part of the settlement ISC sold North Carolina Speedway to SMI, who in turn gave the race to Texas. This not only cost Rockingham its Nextel Cup date, but left it with no dates in any of NASCAR's national racing series in 2005 (the track's remaining Busch Series date was removed; the truck series' date was removed in 2004 with the loss of the Pop Secret 400). However, the loss of a NASCAR presence would ultimately prove a blessing in disguise for Rockingham; it is now one of the most heavily used venues for testing by NASCAR teams now that testing is prohibited at any track that hosts races in any NASCAR touring series.
The second track to lose a race was Darlington, whose slot in the Chase for the Nextel Cup was given to Texas. Darlington was then left with its spring date, which was moved to Mother's Day weekend (a traditional off-weekend for the Cup Series) and lengthened to 500 miles.
In addition to Texas gaining a second race, for the first time since its debut on the Cup schedule in 1988 Phoenix was granted a second date, this one in an early season slot following the spring race at Texas.
After its Cup Series realignment plans, NASCAR turned to its second tier series, the Busch Series, for realignment in 2006. ISC purchased Pikes Peak International Raceway in Fountain, Colorado and immediately took its race from the Busch schedule, replacing it with an event at Martinsville Speedway.
As quickly as the race at Martinsville was added to the schedule, it was removed in favor of a race in Canada at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, adding a third road course to the series schedule.
The Nextel Cup Series schedule was left untouched during this time.
Reasons for Rockingham and Darlington losing their races
NASCAR has stated that Rockingham and Darlington lost their dates because they were not selling all the tickets for those events, and that giving Darlington only one date would make a sellout more likely since it would be the only race taking place there the following year.
Also, races at both tracks had been affected by rain many times over the past few years. Even if there was no rain, it was usually overcast. Darlington's only race taking place in May also put the scheduling of the race in the peak tornado season in the Southeast.
However, Darlington's future seems secure, with a total sellout for the lone race from 2005 through 2008, and with many major projects being planned or done at the speedway. Due to the sellouts the track owners have considered adding more seats.
The 2009 season, announced on August 19, 2008, went under a realignment once again after a long break. The fall race at Talladega Superspeedway was moved to a later date on the schedule around Halloween (the first Sunday in November or the final Sunday in October), one previously occupied by Atlanta Motor Speedway's fall event. That race was moved to Labor Day weekend, where California Speedway's inherited autumn event from Darlington had been, and that date was switched to Talladega's old date on the first weekend of October. In addition, the Nationwide Series dropped Mexico City's road course race for a new race in August at the .875 miles (1.408 km) Iowa Speedway, and moved the Montreal event to an open weekend on the Sprint Cup schedule (August 30) with their lone Atlanta race moving to the Labor Day weekend from March. The Camping World Truck Series replaced the spring Milwaukee Mile race with a race at Iowa Speedway to be run on August 26, and also replaced the Memorial Day weekend race at Mansfield Motorsports Park with a race later in the season at Pocono Raceway for the first time in the series' history. In 2010, the NCWTS also got rid of its second race at Auto Club Speedway. This moved all races back one weekend in the season until the first weekend of August, where a race was added at Darlington Raceway, which was put in place after an absence on the series' schedule in the previous season. Other changes included a race at Kentucky Speedway being moved from the summer to the fall.
Major schedule changes were announced to combat poor attendance and poor television ratings, both of which had dropped considerably since the introduction of the Generation-5 car and for other reasons.
- Atlanta Motor Speedway's spring date was discontinued in favor of the Labor Day weekend date.
- Kentucky Speedway hosted its first Sprint Cup Series race, the Quaker State 400, with room being made for it by dropping the spring Atlanta race. The formal announcement was made on August 10, 2010 and the race took the post-Coke Zero 400 slot held by Chicagoland Speedway.
- Chicagoland became the opening race to the 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup.
- New Hampshire Motor Speedway hosted the second race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, as the Sylvania 300 was moved back one week due to Chicagoland gaining the opening Chase race.
- Kansas Speedway gained a spring race date. The race was run in early June immediately following the Coca-Cola 600.
- Auto Club Speedway lost its fall race and Chase for the Sprint Cup date, the Pepsi Max 400. The spring race, the Auto Club 500, was moved from February to March and shortened to 400 miles/200 laps.h
- The spring race at Texas Motor Speedway was run on Saturday night, after having been a Sunday afternoon race.
- The Subway Fresh Fit 600 at Phoenix International Raceway was moved to the second week of the season and returned to its previous distance, and is run during the day for the first time (the awarding of the second race date to Phoenix coincided with the installation of lights at the track and resulted in the race being run at night from its debut).
- Dover International Speedway maintained both of its Sprint Cup weekends and with the move of Chicagoland to the Chase, Dover's Chase race moved back one week.
In addition to these developments, Las Vegas Motor Speedway bid for a second date for its track and failed to get it. Track management and ownership want to move the final races of the year from Homestead-Miami Speedway (Ford Championship Weekend) to Las Vegas as all three of the major series now hold their end-of-season awards banquets there.
- Nashville Superspeedway's second date moved to late July and replaced the date held by Gateway International Raceway, which was closed by track owner Dover Motorsports following the 2010 racing season.
- Chicagoland Speedway gained a second Nationwide Series date, which is run June 4.
- Iowa Speedway gained a second Nationwide Series date, run on May 22.
- Road America remained on the schedule for a second consecutive year in place of the Milwaukee Mile.
- Michigan International Speedway's date moved to the weekend of the June Sprint Cup race.
- Circuit Gilles Villeneuve's date moved to the weekend of the August Sprint Cup race at Michigan.
- Auto Club Speedway's fall date was removed from the schedule and not replaced by another track, condensing the schedule from 35 races in 2010 to 34 races in 2011.
Camping World Truck Series
- Phoenix International Raceway's truck series date, which had been run near the end of the season for years, moved to February as part of the realignment of the Cup Series race.
- Darlington Raceway's truck series date, which was run in August in 2010, moved to March.
- Kentucky Speedway gained a second truck series date, to be run on the same weekend as the July Nationwide Series event, and the track's inaugural Cup race in early July. The track now hosts a triple header weekend, and the second race was moved to October.
- Kansas Speedway's date moved to June as part of the Sprint Cup Series weekend.
- Michigan International Speedway's date moved to the weekend of the August Sprint Cup race.
Although Atlanta has had major attendance issues in recent years, with less than 100,000 fans at the last two Kobalt Tools 500 races, its new Labor Day weekend race in 2009 was a huge success.
Kentucky Speedway has demanded a race for years, with its owners selling the track to Speedway Motorsports, Inc. and filing a lawsuit (which was dismissed) in efforts to get a Sprint Cup Series race. Improvements had to be made but were expected to be completed in time.
Chicagoland has had major attendance issues and its TV ratings have been some of the lowest of the season in recent years. NASCAR is hoping to save the race in a major market by moving it to the Chase. Some were worried about a conflict with the IndyCar Series, which had its race there during the Labor Day weekend. However, IndyCar officials did schedule realignment of their own eliminating the conflict altogether.
Kansas has also demanded a second race for years especially since the building of a casino near the track. Despite the closure of Nashville International Raceway, which is owned by Dover International Speedway, Dover maintained two race dates.
Since the addition of the second race at Auto Club Speedway, attendance for both races has dropped considerably, even with a Chase race. Because NASCAR scheduled the first race at the track to immediately follow the Daytona 500 on the schedule, teams were forced to travel across the continent for the second week, hurting them financially and eventually leading to the discontinuation of the truck race there in 2010. The February race was also inconveniently scheduled on the same night as the Academy Awards ceremony (except in 2006 and 2010, when the ceremony was rescheduled to avoid conflict with the Winter Olympics), preventing major stars from appearing at the race. By returning the race to April, officials are once again hoping for a sellout.
Martinsville Speedway has also had attendance issues. However, it maintained two dates for 2011.
NASCAR announced on September 29, 2011 that some schedule realigning would take place for the 2012 season. Although the realignment was not as drastic as past years, both of the Kansas races were affected. The spring race, which was added to the schedule for the 2011 campaign, was moved from June to April, and the spring race at Dover International Speedway returned to its traditional early June date. Kansas's fall race, a part of the Chase for the Cup, was switched with Talladega's Chase date and moved to late October. NASCAR said this realignment was due to a repaving project at the track which was scheduled to begin following the race.
Rockingham returned to NASCAR as part of the truck series and K&N Pro Series.
The 2013 realignment did not see any significant changes, other than switching back the Talladega and Kansas Chase races to their original dates.
The 2014 realignment also had few changes. The dates were swapped for the spring races at Darlington and Kansas, turning Kansas's spring race into a night race. The spring race at Texas Motor Speedway was moved from Saturday night to Sunday afternoon so as not to interfere with the NCAA Men's Tournament, which began the same weekend in nearby AT&T Stadium. Texas and Martinsville were moved up a week. The Darlington date moved to Texas's original spot on the schedule. The Easter off-week moved to Kansas's original date.
The 2015 alignment saw several drastic changes:
- Once again, Darlington was moved, this time restoring its original Labor Day weekend race and dropping the spring event.
- The Food City 500, Bristol's spring race, was moved to Darlington's 2014 position on the schedule, in hopes of running it in warmer weather conditions as opposed to the cold and sometimes rainy conditions that had plagued the mid-March date.
- Atlanta's race was moved to the post-Daytona 500 date.
- The spring Phoenix race was moved to what had been Bristol's spring date. Because Las Vegas and Auto Club stayed in their original positions, the series now had an uninterrupted streak of three races on the West Coast, nicknamed the "West Coast swing". This was done not only to please the fans, but it also meant that drivers and their teams would not have to make as many cross-country treks back to their shops in Charlotte.
- The off-weeks were relocated: the traditional Easter off-weekend now fell between Martinsville and Texas, and the summer off-week that originally took place between New Hampshire and the Brickyard 400 was repositioned to the week between the Quicken Loans 400 and Sonoma's Toyota/Save Mart 350.
- Sonoma took Kentucky's original date, and Kentucky took New Hampshire's July date. New Hampshire's summer date was moved to the original summer off-weekend. Due to 2015 being the first year of a new broadcasting contract between NASCAR, Fox and NBC, these changes to the summer schedule were done so that both networks started their coverage of the NASCAR season with a Daytona race, with FOX getting the Daytona 500 and NBC getting the Coke Zero 400. Additionally, for 2015 only, the Coke Zero 400 was run as a Sunday night race, since July 4 was on a Saturday when many NBC affiliate networks broadcast fireworks displays.
- The season also received an additional off-weekend on the weekend prior to Labor Day weekend, making the regular season 40 weeks long (with three off-weekends and the off-weekend for the All-Star race).
- The Chase dates at Charlotte and Kansas were flipped, with Charlotte becoming the opening race in the Contender Round of the Chase.
The 2016 alignment saw some changes to the schedule
- The Easter off-week is placed late-March between Fontana and Martinsville.
- The Coke Zero 400 at Daytona will return to its usual Saturday night date.
- Michigan and Bristol swap their August race dates.
- The third off-week was moved to mid-August between Watkins Glen and Bristol, instead of the late-August break between Bristol and Darlington. This was done to avoid a scheduling conflict with the 2016 Summer Olympics being hosted on NBC. The aforementioned Olympics conflict forced the race at Watkins Glen to be moved to USA Network
- The first race at Dover and the Memorial Day week swapped dates, so the last race before the All-Star Race was Dover instead of Kansas, because of Memorial Day being very late similar to 2011.
The final calendar for the 2017 season was released on May 5, 2016.
Key changes from 2016 include:
- The Daytona 500 was moved back a week.
- The Texas spring race was moved from Saturday night to Sunday afternoon.
- Dover's spring race was moved back to the slot between the Coca-Cola 600 and the June Pocono race.
- Bristol and Michigan swapped back their August race dates.
- Talladega and Kansas swapped their October race dates, making Talladega the second race in the Round of 12 and turning Kansas into an elimination race.
- The summer off week moves back between Bristol and Darlington.
- The start times for several races, including the Daytona 500, were adjusted so as to have the event end during primetime.
- "Atlanta to play host to one race weekend in 2011". www.nascar.com. Retrieved 7 August 2010.
- "Source: Kentucky Speedway to get Sprint Cup race in 2011". CNN. Sports Illustrated. 1 August 2010. Retrieved 28 January 2011.
- "Chase Date for Chicagoland?". www.speedtv.com. Retrieved 7 August 2010.
- "Jayski'sŽ Silly Season Site – 2011 Nationwide Series Schedule". Jayski.com. Retrieved 2011-01-28.
- "Auto Club Loses Chase Date". www.speedtv.com. Retrieved 7 August 2010.
- "NASCAR announces 2017 national series schedules". NASCAR.com. Daytona Beach, Florida: NASCAR Media Group, LLC. May 5, 2016. Retrieved May 6, 2016.
- "NASCAR announces race start times for 2017 season". Fox Sports. July 27, 2016. Retrieved August 15, 2016.