Apart from lights at Chicago Speedway, major overhaul will wait until next season
The words "schedule" and "status quo" are fairly interchangeable when it comes to Sprint Cup racing in 2008.
There will be no changes to the number of races (36), nor will there be any new venues or racetracks joining the largest motorsports circuit in the United States.
In fact, there is really only one change of any significance on this season's schedule: the shifting of the typical Sunday afternoon mid-July race at Chicagoland Speedway to a Saturday evening event under the lights.
The Speedway is in the process of installing lights for the event -- which will stay in mid-July, just one night earlier than normal -- having run all of its previous seven Cup races since joining the circuit in 2001 under the oftentimes extreme heat and sunlight of a midsummer Sunday afternoon in and around the Windy City.
"We've been trying to get (lights) for the last couple of years, so we're thrilled to be able to have this race at night on a Saturday," said Chicagoland Speedway president and general manager Matt Alexander.
"This is going to bring a whole new dimension to Chicagoland Speedway," Alexander added. "I think the fans are really going to enjoy not only seeing the action under the lights, but also the temperatures will be a bit cooler at night than they are during the day typically in July."
With NASCAR likely to undergo a significant reorganization in 2009, Chicagoland's move could be the calm before the storm, so to speak.
Most notable of all: Several tracks could see their current race allocation radically changed.
For example, Las Vegas Motor Speedway has sought a second Sprint Cup date for the last several years. It continues to lobby hard to NASCAR to achieve that goal – and it may finally be at hand for 2009.
But for that to happen, something is going to have to give, and some track is likely going to be forced to give up one of its current events.
Pocono Raceway is right at the top of the list when rumors start flying about tracks that might lose a race date. Pocono has long had two annual Cup events, but with major capital improvements needed to transform it into a more modern facility, this may be the time for NASCAR to threaten to walk if those improvements are not put on a fast track of completion, rather than what they've been for the past several years: nothing more than a concept and all talk.
Right behind Pocono on the at-risk list is Martinsville Raceway, which could see its two annual events cut in half – particularly if NASCAR seeks to branch out into new locations for races. Dover Downs in Delaware is another track that could go from two to one races per season, as well.
Other tracks in Iowa, suburban St. Louis, Nashville and Kentucky that currently do not host a Cup event are all hoping to see those dreams realized soon – and are intently watching whether NASCAR will indeed take away any events from current Cup tracks in the next two to three years.
There's also the likelihood of movement in the near future to build new tracks in or near New York City (No. 1 on NASCAR's wish list), the Pacific Northwest and also in Denver.
If that were to finally happen, NASCAR potentially may be forced to expand the Cup schedule from its current 36 races to 37 or maybe even 38 – with the prospect of hitting 40 not totally out of the realm of possibility.
However, before any significant expansion of the schedule – as opposed to shifting current race dates around to other venues - NASCAR will have to strongly and seriously weigh various off-track elements in its consideration, particularly declining TV ratings and at-track attendance figures, which have both slipped substantially in the last two seasons.
After all, it doesn't make economic or competitive sense to add races or new race tracks to the schedule if the stands are only half-full, or the number of TV viewers continues to drop.
But like a kid ready to open his presents on Christmas morning, the hope and anticipation of a shiny new event or new place to go on the schedule is something that NASCAR teams and fans love to dream about – and there's a good chance some of those dreams may soon come true.
If change can happen to Chicagoland Speedway, it can happen elsewhere, as well.
Jerry Bonkowski is National NASCAR Columnist for Yahoo! Sports and a featured contributor for Gatehouse News Service. He can be reached at NASCARColumnist@Yahoo.com.