ST. LOUIS – Ben Kennedy and NASCAR’s leadership have made one motive clear when it comes to next year’s Cup Series schedule: a bolder presence in urban markets.
The addition of World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Ill., highlights the 2022 schedule that features a number of minor tweaks and changes.
On Tuesday, NASCAR announced a blockbuster move to send its annual preseason exhibition race, The Clash, to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
The invite-only race has been held at Daytona Int’l Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla., since its 1979 inception.
It will mark the first time in the modern era that NASCAR will attempt to race at a stadium venue.
“It’s an opportunity to bring our racing action to our fans and to bring new fans out to the track to sample our sport, the Cup Series,” Kennedy said. “I think that’s a part of the [game plan].
“It brings that opportunity to really bring the racing action to the fans in these larger markets, where we have a lot of fans to not only come out and experience a race, but also come out for the first time and see what it’s like,” he added.
The last time the Cup Series raced at a stadium venue was in 1956 at Chicago’s Soldier Field. A quarter-mile track has been absent from series since 1971, when NASCAR’s top division last raced at Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C.
It’s all part of a schedule transformation that is vastly different from five years ago.
“It’s a part of us being bold and innovative with the schedule, but also being very measured too,” Kennedy said. “Obviously a lot of decisions we’re making come with a lot of consulting with our broadcast partners, getting feedback from the industry and doing a ton of research on our fans.
“Our avid fans, casual fans and new fans from what they’d like to see, and what time of year,” he added.
World Wide Technology Raceway, a 1.25-mile oval five minutes from St. Louis, is the newest addition to the schedule.
The track proved its worth through leadership, community involvement and ultimately an appealing product the last two decades with the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
“[World Wide Technology Raceway owner] Curtis [Francois] has been a great partner of ours throughout the past several years with the Camping World Truck Series being in St. Louis,” Kennedy said. “That was certainly a big part of the reason. His leadership, the entire World Wide Technology Raceway team, then the amount of local and community involvement that is around that as well.
“It’s great to see the local support and camaraderie around it,” Kennedy said.
The NASCAR Cup Series also adds to the existing presence of the NTT IndyCar Series and NHRA at World Wide Technology Raceway.
“A lot of [race] fans are based out of there,” Kennedy said of St. Louis. “It’s growing, as well.
“If you think about the number of local short tracks that we have and dirt tracks throughout the Midwest region, we have a ton of fans in this area and we feel like it was deserving of bringing another race here,” he added.
Another big change to the schedule is the lone off weekend on June 19.
Drivers and teams expressed approval of the two-week break for the summer Olympics this past year. An extra off weekend seemed logical, but it goes against the grain of NASCAR’s vision to generate a head of steam that starts at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum.
“I think [the Olympics were] a natural break for our season this year,” Kennedy said.
“It’s important for our fans that are sitting at home, watching the event, or coming out to a race, to have a lot of momentum from the start of the season in the Daytona 500 … all the way to the championship race at Phoenix,” he added.