Night Races A Dying Breed Among NASCAR Events,Tracks Moving Races to Daytime Again, Thank Rain for That

Mother nature has helped shape NASCAR’s schedule for the better. No, no one likes rain outs and likes to see rain hamper racing efforts on any given race weekend, but night races being rained out until the next day has in turn helped NASCAR see a potential problem move to a positive. Instead of scheduling night races, schedule them during the day again.

More on this later.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 9, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas.

At one point on the NASCAR Cup schedule, 31-percent of the races were run in primetime under the lights. 2009 was the height of that, as 11 of the 36 points paying races that year occurred at night. But, with today’s move by the Charlotte Motor Speedway and NASCAR to switch the playoff race in October from a Saturday night race to a Sunday afternoon event, there’s now just seven races on the schedule that will be run at night moving forward.

That’s a 12-percent drop from eight years ago. 

From 2011-2015, it was a steady 10 races that were run under the lights. That’s 28-percent of the schedule. But, rain outs and a new package has helped show tracks as well as their fan base, that racing is best served during the day time hours instead.

In 2015, Richmond’s spring night race was rained out and moved to a Sunday afternoon. The fans liked it so much, that RIR moved the race permanently back to a daytime race last year. Texas’ spring race was rained out one year to a Sunday afternoon, as well as moved to a Sunday when the Final Four was in town (it rained and was moved to a Monday too), but nevertheless, fans and the track felt it was best to have that race during the day moving forward, in which that race showed up on this year’s schedule on a Sunday afternoon as well.

Now, Charlotte joins the party, as there’s now no playoff races that will be run under the lights. Charlotte, has seen their October date rained out and raced on a Sunday the last two years. This has helped aid in this move too.

Tracks, fans and the sport as a whole are seeing a shift in thinking and that’s going back to what originally worked. Races like Atlanta, Phoenix, Auto Club Speedway, Chicagoland, Texas, Charlotte and Richmond all have had day races moved to a night race, and now back to day races again. At NASCAR’s height in the 80s and 90s, these races were originally in the day time hours. But, with the height and rise in demand came more grandstands to fit more people coming through the gates. Higher ticket demand and higher TV demand let networks to want to move some races to primetime TV.

Packed grandstands looked great in primetime on major TV networks.

But, with all trends come the downfall. Weekend night races didn’t see the attendance it once did. They also didn’t garner the ratings like they used to as well.

Then came the rain outs and repaves.

When cars race around a repaved track or even around a track at night, the grip level is much higher. That in turn means that passing is few and far between. With all the cars going around the same speed without much drop off, how can they pass one another? That’s what night racing was giving us.

When these races were ran during the day instead, it gave us the old NASCAR throwback feel. Plus, cars are running on a hotter/slicker track that is being baked by the sun all afternoon. That leads to cars being harder to handle which means more tire fall off, which means ultimately – more passing. That in turn means a better show for all involved.

NASCAR and their partners in the race tracks see this, hence the move for more daytime races.

Now, among the seven remaining night races, I don’t see many, or eve any of them, moving back to a day time affair. The Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte is a night time event and will remain that way. The night race at Bristol isn’t going anywhere. The Southern 500 I guess could move back to the day, but it’s a staple on Sunday night on NBC now so I don’t see the network wanting to change that one. The Coke Zero 400 at Daytona would run better during the day, but with Florida’s high temperatures in July during the afternoon, unless that race is run in the morning hours, it will remain under the lights. The fifth race under the lights in the second race at Richmond. With them moving the spring race to the day, I would think they’d like to differentiate between the two events, why run two during the day? I think this one remains the same too.

The only two that could move is the Kansas race in May and the Kentucky date in July. Day time events would serve these two better, but would they consider that? Rain outs could help to be honest.

Overall, 19-percent of the schedule is run at night, which that won’t get any higher any time soon. In fact, if rain helps, that could fall even lower to 14-percent.

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