This week, much of the NASCAR community has been discussing comments made by former racer and current ESPN analyst Rusty Wallace, who said NASCAR should consider trimming its Sprint Cup schedule down by about four weeks. There's no doubt the 36-race season can drag on a bit long for some fans, and it's grueling for drivers as well with such as short amount of time off.
Wallace, a true legend of the sport, was selected for induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Wednesday. Yet his comments about shortening the season seem to have attracted as much attention as the honor. Wallace said he preferred NASCAR when it was 32 races per season in the mid-1990s - which in itself was a month-long increase from the 28 races the competition used to span. As the sport grew in popularity, NASCAR organizers added four more races to reach the current 36.
As is, the current NASCAR season extends from February to November, and drivers only get two weeks off during that period. Several tracks have more than one race on the schedule, with either two in the regular season or an extra visit for the playoffs.
While NASCAR is still quite popular, the auto racing community has noticed a drop-off in attendance and viewership lately. Wallace believes this has to do with the extra races, which in his mind water down the enthusiasm for the product.
"It's the classic case of supply and demand," Wallace told The Detroit Free Press. "Too much supply and not enough demand. Personally, I wish the schedule were 32 again. I love NASCAR. It's been good to me, it's made me a lot of money. I think it's OK for me to give my opinion. I don't think NASCAR would get upset about that. Maybe take four races off the schedule and increase that demand that means so much."
NASCAR doesn't appear to be upset with Wallace for criticizing the sport, but his comments have touched off a debate among fans and racers. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is one driver who supports a shorter season. The Hendrick Motorsports competitor says he believes the NFL has the perfect business model for a sport, with a shorter season than many of the other leagues leading to more importance placed on every game.
"I do know there isn’t enough demand at the current time and the model that the NFL uses is a pretty productive model," Earnhardt told Sporting News before a Friday practice session at Dover International Speedway. "They seem to have it about right. When you’re a football fan, you can’t wait for the season to start. It seems like an eternity before it does and when it’s here, it’s gone just as fast and you can’t wait for the next one."
While many might be in agreement that the season is too long, Earnhardt acknowledges shortening the season is a logistical nightmare and likely won't happen any time soon. Every track on the schedule relies on NASCAR events to make money, and it's unlikely that many raceways will willingly give up their coveted slots on the NASCAR calendar. The issues even extend beyond the tracks themselves - cities and towns that host NASCAR events count on the money that comes into the area when a race is held, and would likely fight tooth and nail to keep that money flowing every year.