Chase Elliott wonders if NASCAR needs to end its Cup Series seasons earlier in the year to avoid the NFL's season as much as possible.
The 2020 Cup Series champion said this weekend at Bristol that he didn’t “see any reason” that NASCAR should have its Cup Series season compete with the NFL. The 2022 Cup Series season ends on Nov. 5, the same Sunday that is Week 9 of the NFL season.
“Thirty-six, 45, 50, I don’t think it matters how many races we have,” Elliott said Friday at Bristol. “But I don’t see any reason in competing against NFL football when that starts. In my opinion, that’s not a battle we’re ever going to win. I think we should be smart about that.”
NASCAR instituted a playoff format in the Cup Series in 2004 as it was in the midst of an unprecedented popularity boom and wanted to be a competitor to the NFL on Sundays. That competition is a first-round TKO by the NFL at this point. NASCAR race viewership is dwarfed by NFL game audiences on Sundays in the fall as NASCAR typically sees its biggest TV numbers of the season at the beginning of the year when there is limited sports competition.
NASCAR cut two weeks of going head-to-head against the NFL off the schedule in 2020 when it moved the championship race to Phoenix and moved the finale up to the first full weekend of November. NASCAR had traditionally held the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway on the Sunday before Thanksgiving in the playoff era.
But with 36 races on the schedule, it’s hard to see how NASCAR can end the season any earlier than it does without races in the middle of the week or a much earlier start to the season. The 2023 Cup Series schedule was released in the days before the Bristol race and again features 37 races over 38 weeks from the Daytona 500 on Feb. 19 to the season finale at Phoenix on Nov. 5.
NASCAR has shown no desire to run races during the middle of the week after trying out weeknight races during the pandemic-impacted 2020 season and fewer races on TV means fewer television dollars. NASCAR doesn’t look like it’ll be in the business of voluntarily taking less money for fewer races anytime soon.
Elliott also said that he wished there were more night races on the 2023 schedule. Next season’s schedule includes just two points races on Saturday nights and the first isn’t until August. There will be two races on Sunday nights over the summer.
“There are a lot of Sunday afternoons that we spend in some really hot environments,” Elliott said. “Which is fine, I’m good with that. But if I was a fan sitting in the bleachers, I wouldn’t be. For 3.5 hours in August, I would much rather do it at night and enjoy a night race, which number one I think is really cool. The environment is really neat. [The Bristol night race] is the best race of the year; here under the lights. I also understand that it’s cool because we don’t do it much. But I just think you see a lot of short tracks in places that run Saturday night shows and I think during the summer months, it’s something we should consider doing more of.”