NASCAR’s Best Schedule News Doesn’t Kick in Until 2024 at the Earliest

The revelation a few days earlier that the All-Star Race was moving to North Wilkesboro Speedway deprived NASCAR of anything constituting a surprise for next season when it unveiled the 2023 Cup Series schedule.

Nevertheless, that’s not to say there couldn’t be a significant development, and one of the facilities on that schedule delivered what amounts to good news for the sport: Another short track is on the way.

Auto Club Speedway is converting to a short track

Aric Almirola and Chase Briscoe lead the field on a pace lap prior to the NASCAR Cup Series Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on Sept. 17, 2022. | Sean Gardner/Getty Images
Aric Almirola and Chase Briscoe lead the field on a pace lap prior to the NASCAR Cup Series Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on Sept. 17, 2022. | Sean Gardner/Getty Images

NASCAR and Auto Club Speedway officials revealed on Wednesday that next season’s Cup Series race the week after the Daytona 500 will mark the farewell for the two-mile, D-shaped oval so that the Fontana, California, property can be redeveloped.

The track has already taken down grandstands on Turns 1 and 4 to facilitate the early stages of the overhaul. When the project is complete, a short track will be in place, bringing an end to a quarter of a century of big-track racing that began with Jeff Gordon winning in 1997. Some 85,000 fans witnessed that first Cup Series Race in southern California since 1988.

“This 2-mile oval has produced so many incredible memories during the past 25 years,” Auto Club Speedway President Dave Allen said in the announcement, “and we know the final race on this surface will produce more memories that will last a lifetime.”

Track officials haven’t offered a definitive timeline for completion of the project, which had been contemplated before the pandemic. A report in September 2020 revealed that the plans called for a half-mile, high-banked oval drawing upon elements of Martinsville and Bristol.

The changes to Auto Club Speedway will be a win for NASCAR

The action on Saturday at Bristol, the first elimination race in this season’s NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, was a reminder of the intensity of the short track: 12 lead changes (though just four under green) in 500 laps on the 0.533-mile oval and nine cars failing to make it to the finish as Next Gen equipment took a beating.

Though largely on dirt tracks, the short ovals were the sport’s bread and butter for years and helped build NASCAR into what it is today. As the years wore on, however, intermediate tracks of between one and two miles came to dominate the schedule.

More recently, NASCAR has moved toward road courses to offer more variety. Still, fans love the relative intimacy and intensity of Bristol, Martinsville, and Richmond. The three were back-to-back on the schedule this spring and will be consecutive again in 2023.

Once Fontana comes back on the schedule after the redevelopment (2025 seems realistic), NASCAR will have a warm-weather short track to plug into the schedule to maximize early-season variety. If the new version of Auto Club Speedway was already in place, the start of the 2023 season would look like this:

  • Busch Light Clash, 0.25-mile track
  • Daytona 500, 2.5-mile superspeedway
  • Auto Club Speedway, 0.5 miles
  • Las Vegas, 1.5 miles
  • Phoenix, 1 mile
  • Atlanta, 1.5-mile superspeedway
  • Circuit of the Americas, road course

That would constitute maximum variety at the start of the schedule while giving fans another short track.

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