IndyCar: Surprise schedule change a much-needed 'blast from the past'

IndyCar shifting the 2024 season finale from Nashville Street Circuit outside Nissan Stadium to Nashville Superspeedway is a huge win.
Kyle Kirkwood, Andretti Global, Nashville, IndyCar
Kyle Kirkwood, Andretti Global, Nashville, IndyCar / Andrew Nelles / The Tennessean / USA

IndyCar made the surprising announcement on Wednesday that the 2024 season finale, which had been scheduled to take place at a revised temporary street circuit in Nashville, Tennessee, would be moved to Nashville Superspeedway.

Big Machine Label Group chairman and founder Scott Borchetta announced a new leadership role in the operations of the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix, and citing construction of the new Tennessee Titans stadium, he confirmed the move to the four-turn, 1.333-mile (2.145-kilometer) oval in Lebanon.

IndyCar had raced on the streets of Nashville on an 11-turn, 2.17-mile (3.492-kilometer) course since 2021, though the track had been redesigned for 2024 (same length, but only seven turns) ahead of what was expected to be the season finale.

The 2024 IndyCar season is still scheduled to conclude on Sunday, September 15.

While the success of the move to the oval won't ultimately be determined until the race happens, the timing of this announcement -- and the announcement itself -- provided the sport and its fans with a much-needed blast from the past.

Up until 2014, IndyCar had only ever contested its season finale on an oval. But that changed in 2015, and from 2015 to 2023, the season ended on either a road course or a street course. That was scheduled to be true again in 2024, up until this announcement.

Additionally, Nashville Superspeedway has not been on the IndyCar calendar since 2008, when Scott Dixon won there for the third straight year.

It hosted races each year from 2001 to 2008, but even in recent years and the years leading up to the series' return to Nashville -- and NASCAR's coinciding 2021 return to the oval -- there wasn't much thought given to the idea of IndyCar making a return to the oval.

It is also important to consider the fact that the track which hosted arguably the most exciting race on the IndyCar calendar in 2023 -- and arguably the most exciting race since Auto Club Speedway hosted its final race in 2015 -- is not on the calendar in 2024.

Initial signs pointed to Texas Motor Speedway returning for a 28th straight year on the IndyCar schedule in 2024. Considering the past uncertainty about the track's future -- and the fact that it always ended up getting a deal done anyway -- this was a welcome development.

But when the schedule was released, Texas Motor Speedway was not included, with the primary reason why being date conflicts with other events.

While that would indicate that a return in 2025 is likely, IndyCar has already made clear that they don't want to limit themselves when it comes to a potential return to the Lone Star State, which paints a relatively grim picture for what had been the longest standing oval on the schedule outside Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

As IndyCar fans know, "out of sight, out of mind" is never a good thing when it comes to tracks being left off the calendar. New Hampshire Motor Speedway, NOLA Motorsports Park, Pocono Raceway, Circuit of the Americas, and Richmond Raceway are all perfect recent examples of tracks that should have come back, but once they didn't, they haven't been back at all in the many years since.

If Texas Motor Speedway experiences a similar fate, it would be a huge loss for the series. But the addition of Nashville Superspeedway at least somewhat makes up for it. While the tracks are not identical, Texas Motor Speedway is the oval to which Nashville Superspeedway bears the closest resemblance among those on the IndyCar schedule -- by far.

If the racing is even half as good, IndyCar could be in store for another classic.

IndyCar oval resurgence?

With Nashville Superspeedway back on the schedule, there are now seven oval races on the 2024 calendar, the most IndyCar has had since 2011.

Perhaps most notably, six of the final eight races on the 17-race schedule are oval races, with the only oval race not scheduled to take place during that stretch being the 108th running of the Indy 500.

Sure, four of those six races are part of doubleheaders at Iowa Speedway and the Milwaukee Mile, but that still means the schedule's final six tracks include four ovals.

Considering the fact that all three of those other ovals are recent returnees to the calendar (World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway in 2017, Iowa Speedway in 2022, and the Milwaukee Mile in 2024), perhaps this is just the start of the oval resurgence for which fans have long been clamoring.

While a return to the streets of Nashville has not been ruled out, the earliest point at which that could happen is 2027 -- possibly not even until 2028, depending on the construction of the stadium. The current race's contract runs through 2026.

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Hopefully this year's event gives the series no reason to consider another change -- and hopefully the reception among fans leads to a continued growth of the oval portion on the schedule. Maybe future schedules will feature more venues that were once considered merely a thing of the past.