NASCAR

Here's what the 2007 Cup schedule should be

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Ryan McGee

 
   
 
It is Groundhog Day? That's the question that nearly every competitor in the Nextel Cup garage always asks his or herself when they wake up at the track during the last weekend of July. A creepy sense of déjà  vu sets in as they leave they look around and think, "Am I at the Pocono Raceway? Nah, I couldn't possibly be at Pocono. We were just here six weeks ago." But thanks to the strangest quirk of the Nextel Cup schedule, we are back at Pocono for the second time in less than two months, barely enough time to clean up the hot dog wrappers from the June 11 race. In the name of sanity, we here at FOXSports.com on MSN have sat down and worked out a revised (and we think improved) 2007 Nextel Cup schedule that factors in weather, strain on teams, strain on fans, and the elimination of waking up one week and realizing that it is actually this week and not six weeks ago although this week looks identical to six weeks ago. Of course, NASCAR isn't going to do any of this and we might get banned from the garage for even suggesting some of this, but ... February 25 - Daytona 500 (2006: California) We start the season one week later, with the Budweiser Shootout slated for Valentine's Day weekend. As for the Daytona 500, People can argue all they want about the logic of the season's biggest race being run first, but not having to worry about points means that all 43 cars are running to win. March 4 - Las Vegas (2006: Open) Taking a weekend off so soon in the season makes no sense, especially with the two brutally long stretches that exist in the second half of the schedule, thus our decision to start the season one week later. The main reason NASCAR goes to the California Speedway in week two is to take advantage of the largest media market with a Cup race. But Vegas actually sells out their races, and the drivers can accomplish that same PR work by making the short trip from The Strip to L.A. March 10 - Phoenix (2006: Las Vegas) If the PGA Tour can start their season with a West Coast Swing, then so can NASCAR. It is always way too cold in Atlanta in mid-March anyway. March 18 - Mexico City (2006: Atlanta) Replace the current Busch Series race with a Cup event and take the gospel of major league stock car racing south of the border. Why not? There were so many Buschwackers in this year's race, we might as well go on and make it a full-fledged Cup event. March 25 - Open (2006: Bristol) This is the perfect time to give teams a week off. First, the crews need a chance to catch their breath from the western swing, especially the hauler drivers. Second, it gives Mother Nature a chance to warm things up a bit. Anyone who spent the weekend in the snow at Bristol this year should have no objections to that idea. April 1 - Atlanta (2006: Martinsville) I think that the first weekend of April is always the perfect time for Martinsville because there is nothing prettier than the blooming azaleas on the turn one wall. But for 2007 it would be very cool to hold races in Atlanta during the same weekend that the Peach City is hosting the NCAA Final Four. How about the Busch Series race on Friday night, the semifinal hoops games on Saturday, the Cup race on Sunday afternoon and the NCAA title game on Monday night? Sounds like a good weekend to me. April 7 - Texas (2006: Texas) No change here, but in 2007 this is Easter weekend, which has traditionally been an off week for Nextel Cup. Instead, let's run Texas on Saturday night and give everyone the day off on Easter Sunday. April 15 - Martinsville (2006: Open) This was Easter weekend in 2006. In 2007 we'll be enjoying some old school short track racing when the weather on the Virginia-North Carolina border is guaranteed to be nearly perfect. April 22 - Bristol (2006: Phoenix) With the Phoenix date moved to March and Bristol moved to April, the odds of getting snowed on have just been cut to zero as we enjoy back-to-back short track slugfests. April 29 - Talladega (2006: Talladega) It has always been a brilliant move to schedule the biggest track directly behind the short tracks. It forces everyone to cool off their lingering tempers. Restrictor plate racing is not the time for revenge. May 6 - Richmond (2006: Richmond) Again, no need for a change here. It is hard to believe, but not so long ago we ran Richmond in February. Talk about brain freeze. May 13 - Pocono (2006: Darlington) There was a time when racing on Mothers Day weekend was considered a crime against humanity. It is time to reinstate that tradition, so why not run the first Pocono race on Saturday afternoon instead of Sunday and make it a 400-mile race instead of 500. Where is Darlington, you might ask? Back where it should be ... keep reading. May 19 - Nextel All-Star Challenge, Charlotte (2006: Nextel All-Star Challenge, Charlotte) May 27 - Charlotte (2006: Charlotte) No change here. Memorial Day weekend should always be the home of the Coca-Cola 600 and Charlotte should always be the home of All-Star Weekend, especially when the NASCAR Hall of Fame opens and the induction ceremonies become part of the festivities. June 3 - Dover (2006: Dover) Dover is the perfect low key way to wind down from the Charlotte hype. June 10 - New Hampshire (2006: Pocono) New England in early summer is pleasant and gorgeous, not so hot that you can't breathe. Plus, it spreads out the two Loudon dates so they aren't so close together. June 17 - Michigan (2006: Michigan) June 24 - Sonoma (2006: Sonoma) We were tempted to move this race up to March as part of the West Coast Swing, but it is too nice there in June not to keep it where it is. June 31 - Open (2006: Open) July 4 - Daytona (2006: Open on Tuesday) The Pepsi 400 used to always be run on Independence Day, no matter where it fell during the week. In the 2007 the 4th falls on a Wednesday, which is the perfect time for some midweek fireworks in prime time. July 7 - Open (2006: Daytona) July 15 - Chicago (2006: New Hampshire) After a post-July 4th weekend off, it is back to the big time with a visit to Chicago. July 22 - Kansas (2006: Pocono) Back-to-back for NASCAR's two newest tracks. July 29 - Pocono (2006: Open) A second Pocono race here doesn't bother us now that is separated from the track's other race by nearly three full months. August 5 - Indianapolis (2006: Indianapolis) Some argue that the Brickyard should be part of The Chase, but with the amount of hype that Indy generates all on its own, it is the perfect anchor for what can be a long, hot, and sometimes forgettable summer stretch. And the perfect way to kickoff the six-week sprint toward NASCAR's postseason. August 11 - Bristol (2006: Watkins Glen) Let's seize a little publicity momentum from Indy and run a Saturday night race at Thunder Valley, shall we? Where is Watkins Glen? Patience, my friends. August 19 - New Hampshire (2006: Michigan) The sweltering heat of New England should get everyone good and warmed up for the ramped up pressure of the looming Chase for the Cup. Plus, 10 weeks separation from our last visit feels a little better than the current August 26 - Open (2006: Bristol) The final off weekend of the season is the perfect time to pause and get ready for a grueling 12-race finish to the season. Plus, it allows college football and the NFL to get their seasons started and grab their headlines without having to steal any from NASCAR. September 2 - Darlington (2006: California) Let's put the Southern 500 back where God intended for it to be — Labor Day weekend. September 8 - Richmond (2006: Richmond) This has always been one of the more brilliant facets of The Chase format. Richmond is enough of a short track that the contenders have to beat and bang, but not so tight as Bristol or Martinsville so that an accidental fluke might knock someone out of a title shot.

The Chase for the Nextel Cup

Sept. 15 - California (2006: New Hampshire) No offense to the good people of New England, but it has always been kind of letdown after all the pre-Chase hype to start the playoffs on a flat one-mile track. If we want to kick this thing off right, this is the time let's do it in the biggest market on the schedule and get these 10 title contenders out in front of the national media. What better way for Jimmie Johnson to start his title run than with a visit to LA and the sets of The Tonight Show, The Best Damn Sports Show Period or Ellen? You have to run this sucker on Saturday night to avoid the NFL on Sunday and by cutting Cali's races from two to one, we might actually sell this one out. Sept. 23 - Dover (2006: Dover) We can't have Bristol in The Chase, so we'll settle for the next best thing — The Monster Mile. Sept. 30 - Watkins Glen (2006: Kansas City) If The Chase is going to be a true test of the championship hopefuls, then we have to include every type of track in the 10-race schedule. That includes a road course, and there is no more classic course than The Glen. But we have no problem with swapping out this date with Sonoma on June 24. October 7 - Michigan (2006: Talladega) A great chance for the teams to show off their championship stuff in front of the boys from Motown. Then again, this idea won't look so great if a Toyota wins the race. October 13 - Charlotte (2006: Charlotte) The perfect mid-point stopover in the midst of The Chase. October 21 - Martinsville (2006: Martinsville) Again, no change. The perfect place for the lone short track included in The Chase. October 28 - Talladega (2006: Atlanta) We apply the same principle here that we did following the short track in springtime. Talladega will put an end to any lingering bullring tensions. Nov. 4 - Texas (2006: Texas) Fort Worth in November is pushing it weather-wise, but the fact that Texas Motor Speedway is the fastest track on the schedule and can't open its gates without selling 200,000 tickets makes it a must-have in the crucial final three weeks of the year. Nov. 11 - Phoenix (2006: Phoenix) One final nod to the left coast before heading to South Beach to crown the newest champion. Nov. 18 - Homestead-Miami (2006: Homestead-Miami) Ford Championship Weekend has become an undisputed success. And there is no better way to end the season than with a few post-race days in the Florida Keys.


Ryan McGee is the managing editor at NASCAR Images. He can be reached at his e-mail address: rmcgee@foxsports.com.



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Busch Beat

Martinsville hosted 33 Busch Series from 1982 through 1994, but hasn't held a junior circuit event since October 16, 1994. That all changes Saturday afternoon. Darrell Waltrip is looking to make his first NBS start since 1995. DW has made 94 career Busch Series starts, including 13 victories. His last win came at Daytona in February 1989, when he outlasted Rusty Wallace and the late Rob Moroso.

Truck Stop
Bobby Hamilton is recovering from radiation treatments used to fight his neck cancer. Hamilton was diagnosed earlier this year and pulled himself out of his self-owned Truck Series ride to start treatment. The 49-year old lost "a good bit of hair" along with nearly 40 pounds, but is home and regaining his strength. "I have to learn how to eat again, things like that, but we're hanging in there and seem to be doing pretty good."

Why We Call Richard Petty "The King" Fact of the Week
His Royal Fastness christened the Pocono Raceway in style, winning the inaugural NASCAR event on the 2.5-mile triangle. Over the first four events at Pocono, Petty finished 1st, 2nd, 1st, and 2nd. He also led at least five laps in each of the track's first 13 races for a total of 498 laps led.

Who's Hot & Who's Not
  • Jimmie Johnson: Another week, another late rally for a top ten finish. The No. 48 team has been here before, leading the points mid-summer with The Chase looming. But this year they need to maintain the same intensity throughout and not put it in cruise control while waiting for September.
  • Tony Stewart: After his Independence Day win at Daytona, most in the NASCAR media were already predicting a repeat as Cup champ, but six of his last eight finishes have been 25th or worse. The good news - one of those two good ones was a 3rd place run at Pocono in June.
  • Power Rankings
  • Silly Season '07
    Michael Waltrip Racing
  • The Ride: No. 55 NAPA Toyota, Michael Waltrip Racing
  • Who: Michael Waltrip

  • It has long been known that Mikey was using BDR as a one-year stopover on the way to owning his own Toyota-backed race team. NAPA seems to be willing to follow the two-time Daytona 500 winner to the ends of the earth... or at least all the way to Japan.
  • The Ride: No. ?? UPS Toyota, Michael Waltrip Racing
  • Who: Dale Jarrett
  • Jarrett got this year's Silly Season started when he announced at Darlington in May that he would be leaving Robert Yates Racing after 12 seasons to join fellow forty-something Waltrip. The 1999 Cup champ will provide MWR with the luxury of having a past champion's provisional to fall back on at the beginning of the season. At first, UPS wavered on whether or not to stay with Yates, but eventually decided to jump ship with D.J. Waltrip is trying to land No. 44, which is currently controlled by Petty Enterprises and on loan to Hendrick Motorsports for Terry Labonte.

  • The Ride: No. 00 Burger King/Domino's Pizza Toyota
  • Who: TBA
  • Rumored: Jeremy Mayfield

  • The name that continues to be connected to this high-caloric ride is Waltrip's fellow Owensboro, Ky. native Jeremy Mayfield. Mayfield has a year left on his deal with Ray Evernham Motorsports, but kick-started the early release process by calling out his boss in front of the national media at Chicagoland Speedway.

    Robert Yates Racing
  • The Ride: No. 88 Ford, sponsor TBA
  • Who: TBA
  • Rumored: Stephen Leicht, Matt McCall

  • Jarrett has been in the No. 88 car since Yates expanded to two full-time teams back in 1996. His departure has kicked RYR Busch Series driver Stephen Leicht's development plan into overdrive, with the 19-year old getting the surprise call to pilot a third Yates entry at Pocono this weekend. McCall is also in the Yates pipeline and could get the call with both Cup rides open.

  • The Ride: No. 38 M&M's Ford
  • Who: TBA
  • Rumored: Ward Burton

  • Elliott Sadler informed Yates earlier this week that he would be leaving RYR at the end of the season, ending what has been a long, sad two-year decline in Sadler's performance. M&M's is under contract with the team through 2008, but can leave with Sadler if they choose to. Just where is Sadler expected to go? Glad you asked...

    Evernham Motorsports
  • The Ride: No. 19 Dodge Dealers Dodge
  • Who: TBA
  • Rumored: Elliott Sadler

  • Jeremy Mayfield is still the official driver of the No. 19 car, which made The Chase in each of the last two seasons. If Mayfield can wriggle his way out of the final year of his deal with Evernham, then Sadler is expected to slide into this ride and bring his candy-covered chocolates with him.

    Red Bull Racing
  • The Ride: No. 83 Red Bull Toyota
  • Who: Brian Vickers
  • The Ride: No. ?? Red Bull Toyota
  • Who: TBA
  • Rumored: Bill Elliott, Ricky Rudd, Ward Burton

  • Vickers shocked the world — not to mention Rick Hendrick — when he announced he would be leaving the ride that he was handed by the late Ricky Hendrick for the start-up Toyota squad. Along with Michael Waltrip Racing, Red Bull is starting from scratch. For some drivers, that is a scary thought. For Vickers, it is an exciting one. Red Bull would love to land a veteran to complement still-young Vickers and may try to coax one out of semi-retirement.

    Hendrick Motorsports
  • The Ride: No. 25 GMAC Chevy
  • Who: Casey Mears

  • Mears was already looking for a ride outside of Chip Ganassi Racing next season and appeared headed to a Toyota team... then Brian Vickers announced he was leaving Hendrick. Within minutes, Mears' running buddy Jimmie Johnson and mentor Rick Hendrick were on the phone with a job offer. He took it.

    Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates
  • The Ride: No. 42 Texaco-Havoline Dodge
  • Who: Juan Montoya

  • Just when we thought this season couldn't get any sillier, Ganassi trotted his former CART and Indy 500 champ into the Chicagoland media center. The Colombian-born Formula One racer still needs to work out some kinks in his contract with McLaren, but expect the good people at Daimler-Chrysler — Ganassi runs Dodges, McLaren runs Mercedes — to smooth out any bumps in the road.

    Roush Racing
  • The Ride: No. 6 AAA Ford
  • Who: Todd Kluever

  • Kluever will take over the famed No. 6 Ford when Mark Martin finally moves on to a full-time Craftsman Truck Series ride next year. As for Martin, he originally said he was done with Cup forever. Then he said he would like to come back and run a handful of Cup races next season. Now, he is claiming that the right opportunity might convince him to come back full-time. Gee whiz...

    Bill Davis Racing
  • The Ride: No. 23 ?? Toyota
  • Who: TBA
  • Rumored: Bill Lester, Mike Skinner, Johnny Benson

  • Davis will field two cars as part of Toyota's big launch, the first time he has enjoyed any sort of manufacturer support since angering Dodge by starting talks with Toyota several seasons ago. The No. 22 Caterpillar car will be back with Dave Blaney behind the wheel. The second ride still needs a sponsor and will likely be occupied by a current Toyota driver in the Truck Series. Lester, Skinner and Benson already drive Tundras for BDR.

    Dale Earnhardt Incorporated
  • The Ride: No. 15 Menard's Chevy
  • Who: Paul Menard

  • After dipping his toe in the Cup waters this season, Menard will run a full schedule in '07 and run for Rookie of the Year as a teammate to the Juniors — Dale Earnhardt and Martin Truex.

    Wood Brothers Racing
  • The Ride: No. 21 Little Debbie's Ford
  • Who: Ken Schrader/Jon Wood
  • The Ride: No. 47 ?? Ford
  • Who: Jon Wood/Ken Schrader

  • No, this isn't a typo. Schrader may or may not return for a 24th season of Cup racing, and it may be full or part-time. Whatever he does will directly affect whatever Wood does and whether or not the team adds a second car. Either way, the 24-year son of team owner Eddie Wood is likely to become the first family member to drive a Cup race since granddad Glen made his 62nd and final start at Roanoke, Virginia in 1964.
  • Read the complete story
  • Speed Mail of the Week
    Will in Alpine, TX:
    "What are your thoughts about an imaginative owner pursuing a Mexican driver to run full-time NASCAR? It would appear to open a lucrative advertising field and bring many new fans. I am not Mexican but attended NASCAR races in Mexico City."

    Ryan McGee: "Will, have no fear, the power that be when it comes to NASCAR team ownership are well aware of the power of the Mexican marketplace and on a broader scale, the whole of Latin America. Mexican open wheel hero Adrian Fernandez is under contract with Hendrick Motorsports and Lowe's, Joe Gibbs Racing has Tampa native Aric Almirola in their talent pipeline, and the reason that NASCAR is so excited about the addition of Colombian-born Juan Montoya is because of his tremendous popularity throughout Central and South America. So stay tuned, Will, the movement is already underway."

    Speed Mail Ryan
    Tagged: Jimmie Johnson

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