With the season's second bull's-eye race coming up this weekend, it seems like an appropriate time to submit a suggestion for the "realignment" of the Winston Cup schedule that's supposed to begin next year.
The object of today's exercise is not to lay out a schedule to wish for, but to look at what could happen and remain realistic in trying to match up dates with races in a way that makes sense. It seems like a waste of time to simply follow the conventional wisdom, assigning new races to California and Kansas to replace the ones taken from Rockingham and Darlington and then be done with it. If you're going to shake things up, you at least have to try to make them better, don't you?
The Daytona 500 stays where it is at the start of the season, but we move the second race at Daytona to the end of the season, which would fall Nov. 14, 2004. Homestead-Miami Speedway is no place to end the season, but it would be a fine place to race Feb. 22 next year in the season's second week, in place of the spring Rockingham date. Las Vegas stays put as the third race on the schedule.
Now that we've been in Florida for three weeks -- counting the Bud Shootout Saturday, Feb. 7 -- and then gone to Vegas, we take a weekend off March 7.
This will give Atlanta one more weekend for the weather to warm up for its race date March 14, then the circuit goes to Bristol, Texas and Talladega -- the same as this year before the Easter weekend off.
Next comes the season's first trip to California Speedway, which will get a second race later in the year. Then, Rockingham gets an April 25 date that should give that track the kind of weather break it deserves if it's going to live on only one race a year. May then begins with a trip to Martinsville.
Next comes Mother's Day weekend, and we're racing. Saturday night, May 8, 2004, Winston Cup racing makes its debut at Kentucky Speedway. If Kentucky would rather race on the Saturday before Easter, that'd be fine, and we'd take Mother's Day weekend off.
Richmond moves back to May 15, the weekend that The Winston is now run. The Winston stays in Charlotte, but is run Friday night, May 21, two days before the Coca-Cola 600.
Dover, Pocono, Michigan and Sonoma follow as they do now, but the first New Hampshire race slides in June 27 into what is now a week off. The open date becomes July 4 weekend, unless Texas would like to run the second race it deserves that Saturday night instead of the next weekend.
Chicagoland would run July 18 and Pocono July 25 before the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis.
California's second race would come under its new lights Saturday, Aug. 7, replacing outmoded Watkins Glen on the schedule. After Michigan, New Hampshire's second race would move up from September to August because of the way the calendar falls in 2004. That leaves Bristol's night race the final Saturday in August and the Southern 500 at Darlington Labor Day weekend, as is tradition.
Richmond, Dover and Talladega follow Darlington, with Kansas -- which doesn't get a second date -- opening October. Then it's Charlotte, Martinsville and Talladega before an open week ends a streak of 16-straight race weekends and gives NASCAR an opening for a makeup weekend should rain interfere with the schedule during the summer. The season then concludes with Phoenix and the finale at Daytona.
The only trouble is, there's no chance NASCAR would go for such a schedule.