Since the Next Gen car debuted, NASCAR Cup Series night races have produced exciting racing that has received positive feedback from drivers and fans alike.
Over the last few seasons, NASCAR has reduced the number of night races on the Cup Series schedule. But given the positive fan reception that these races have generated, there is a question as to whether more night races belong on the calendar.
The 2023 Cup Series schedule features only seven races, with only two of those races being scheduled for the traditional Saturday night slot. By comparison, the 2013 schedule featured 10 night races, and seven of those races were contested on Saturday nights.
Several of the night races from 2013 season, including those at Richmond Raceway, Texas Motor Speedway, Kentucky Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway, were eventually cut or moved to the daytime.
Atlanta Motor Speedway also used to host a Sunday right race, but that event was moved to the daytime in 2015. One of the two races at the track returned to Sunday night this year because of its position on the summer schedule.
Between 2013 and 2023, tracks such as Chicagoland Speedway, Martinsville Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and Kansas Speedway all hosted night races, with the latter three having added lights during that span to allow for night racing. Prior to 2013, Auto Club Speedway and Phoenix Raceway also held night races. The most recent was contested at the latter in 2010.
But NASCAR has eliminated all of these night races, and the only Saturday night races on this year’s schedule are the regular season finale at Daytona International Speedway later this month and the playoff race at Bristol Motor Speedway next month.
Both of these NASCAR Cup Series races have historically been night races and are steeped in history.
All things considered, the likelihood of either event being moved to the daytime is next to impossible (barring a rainout, like we saw at the former last August).
Yet other previous night races, most notably Richmond ‘s second race, were also steeped in plenty of history — and extremely popular among fans. They still saw their start times changed to mid-day.
This past race weekend at Richmond highlighted another one of the many reasons why this event, among others, needs to be moved back to the nighttime. Drivers, teams, and fans all dealt with extremely hot temperatures throughout the weekend, and it was rather uncomfortable at times.
While the Cup Series ran their usual Sunday afternoon event, the Truck Series ran their race on Saturday night, and the cooler temperatures received positive reviews.
Richmond played host to the Cup Series regular season finale from the inception of the playoffs in 2004 through 2017. In 2018, Indianapolis Motor Speedway took over as the finale, and the Richmond weekend was run two weeks later, under the lights as usual.
The weekend remained a night race up until last year, when it was moved out of the playoffs entirely and became a Sunday afternoon race.
While the Richmond weekend remains a popular one, the decision to run it in the middle of the day during the hottest part of the year is a head scratcher.
But the Richmond decision is not the only questionable one.
As mentioned before, several tracks, including Las Vegas, Martinsville, and Kansas, all had lights installed specifically for the purpose of hosting night races. While all of these tracks have hosted night races in recent years, those races have since been moved to the daytime.
All of these tracks still have two race dates, and running one race in the middle of the day and the other at night is the perfect move.
Night races provide a very unique product. Before the green flag drops, strategy is already a major factor and can determine who contends for the win and who struggles as the race wears on and conditions evolve.
The Next Gen cars also run somewhat differently in the day versus the night, and teams often have to tailor their race setups toward one or the other.
This can be especially important during the Coca-Cola 600. Roughly half of the race is run during the day and the other half is run at night, creating two very different track conditions.
However, this isn’t something that is exclusively seen at Charlotte. Other tracks, including Darlington, Atlanta, and Nashville, all present the same challenge.
As a result, the teams that not only bring the best setup but can best adjust to the ever-changing track conditions are rewarded.
The overall night racing product is often a step up from that of a normal day race as well, with races often featuring “comers and goers” and competitive action that keeps fans on the edge of their seats until the checkered flag flies.
Additionally, recent viewership trends indicate that Sunday night races may be the answer. The TV ratings from the recent races at Nashville and Atlanta, both of which were contested on Sunday night, were extremely promising. These two races were among the most viewed races of the year.
Such events provide the best of both worlds for all parties involved. The traditional Sunday scheduling is maintained, while a better racing product is provided. And, of course, temperatures are cooler.
For race weekends at Richmond, Kansas, and Las Vegas, Sunday night races could be ideal for the Cup Series. A change could allow for a better on-track product and help bolster TV ratings, especially if the races are run before the NFL season begins.
The 2024 schedule is still in the works, and the possibility remains that more night races — Saturday or Sunday — could return. Will it come to fruition?