Thursday, June 27, 2013

Kentucky is Sprint Cup's newest track. So how long do we have to wait until the next one?

(This is a cross-post with BSports Stats Insights)

This weekend's race in Kentucky will be only the third at that track since NASCAR's Sprint Cup started hosting races there in 2011.

There are only 36 races each season, and it's extremely difficult to add a new track to the schedule, because another track has to lose a date for that to happen. Simply swapping race dates within the same tracks is a difficult challenge.

Here is a listing of the current Sprint Cup tracks, and when they hosted their first race:

As you can see, there were no new tracks for 10 years prior to Kentucky making an appearance.  If you just looked at that number, perhaps you’d guess that the next new track would come around in 2021.

However, notice some patterns:

All our current tracks came in three waves (circled above):

1949-1961: eight new tracks in 13 years
Then an 8-year gap
1969-1974: four new tracks in 6 years
Then a 14-year gap
1988-2001: ten new tracks in 14 years
Then a 10-year gap
2011: Kentucky

That would suggest Kentucky started a new wave of track additions. NASCAR has shown a pattern of big pauses in between periods of rapid growth. Is Kentucky the first track in the newest wave, one we can't even see yet?

Below are the same tracks, now color-coded to show the separate waves:

The first set of tracks was in the South. Then the second wave moved north (Dover, Michigan, Pocono), and the third wave went out west (Arizona, California, Nevada, Texas).

Where is Kentucky leading us? Perhaps back to NASCAR's Southern roots?

Adding new tracks wasn't always a rare event.

In the 1950s and 1960s, races were held on many different tracks: Then NASCAR's "modern era" began in 1972, and most of the tracks were eliminated.

Getting back to 2013: If new tracks were added to the Sprint Cup circuit, which ones would be the candidates?

As an easy starting place, we can look to the Nationwide and Truck Series for inspiration, considering tracks there as available for promotion to Sprint Cup. (Remember that Kentucky speedway held Nationwide races for several years before making it to Sprint Cup.)

  • Iowa
  • Mid-Ohio
  • Eldora
  • Bowmanville

Plus two tracks that used to hold Cup races:

  • Elkhart Lake (one Cup race in 1956, currently used by Nationwide)
  • Rockingham (annual Cup races 1965-2004, currently used by Trucks)

Another option of course, would be to build a brand new race track and use it for Sprint Cup right away. For example, Kansas and Chicago were added to the Sprint Cup schedule without any prior history of Nationwide or Truck racing.

Kentucky is this weekend. It may be Sprint Cup's newest track, but that fact may not be true for long. If we see a new wave of tracks come on board, don't be surprised, it might just be that fourth wave happening.

Consider also the effects of the economy: if another spurt in economic growth happens, new tracks may be built (like in the New York City area, where NASCAR has previously tried to build a track). And, as more tracks join the circuit, they may affect the overall standings. For example, different drivers would benefit if more road courses were added, or more superspeedways, or short tracks. Obviously none of these things are going to change this season, but as you watch Kentucky this weekend, keep these ideas in the back of your mind.