Breaking down the 2018 NASCAR schedule overhaul

Shifting races, a second event for a popular track and a Charlotte shakeup highlight the

Eamon Queeney—North State Journal
Martin Truex Jr. does a celebratory burnout after winning the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway

Normally, the release of the NASCAR schedule doesn’t offer much in the way of excitement. There might be a few shifts among tracks or reshuffling of playoff races, but nothing too terribly extreme.Until now.The 2018 NASCAR season, which was revealed Tuesday afternoon, will see a massive overhaul that features a change to the final race of the regular season, a new race for Las Vegas Motor Speedway, a third road course race — at Charlotte Motor Speedway.All of this comes before the Coca-Cola 600, so expect it to be a hot topic surrounding the already prominent race. Now that we know the complete schedule for next season, here’s a look at some of the biggest highlights from the huge announcement.Road racing in the SouthFor years, NASCAR fans have begged and pleaded for another road race on the schedule — particularly in the Chase, er, um, playoffs. Instead of taking a race away from one of the intermediate tracks already in the postseason, Charlotte will now have its second race ran on the infield road course.Oh, and it’s known as the “ROVAL,” a term already familiar for iRacing enthusiasts. Given that the race is ran partially on the oval track and on the road course, the ROVAL term completely makes sense. Get it?This is great for Charlotte on several levels. Not only does it attract race fans for the Coca-Cola 600, one of the crown jewels of the NASCAR schedule, but it also brings in road course fans that will be pining for something new in the south.”Charlotte Motor Speedway has always been about innovation,” said Marcus Smith, president and chief executive officer of Speedway Motorsports, Inc. “Hosting the first road course race in NASCAR’s Playoffs, as well as the drama of closing out the Playoffs’ first round, means that tension will be high and competition will be fierce as soon as the green flag drops.”Fans are going to be in for a thrill, and drivers had better be ready for the most physically and mentally challenging race in the Playoffs. With a 35-foot elevation change between ROVAL Turn 4 and ROVAL Turn 10, drivers in next year’s Bank of America 500 will truly experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.”Rather than being 500 miles like the previous Bank of America 500, it will move to 500 kilometers like traditional road course races. That means it will be reduced to 130 laps, according to Scott Miller of Charlotte Motor Speedway.This is a lot of change, but it’s innovation — and that’s what CMS does best.Indy, Vegas and Richmond shuffleAfter 14 years of serving as the regular season finale, Richmond will be replaced by Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Instead, RIR will move into the playoffs as the second race in the postseason and final race before the ROVAL race in Charlotte.This ups the importance of the Brickyard 500, gives the second Las Vegas race plenty of allure and keeps the heat on high at Richmond.Kissing the bricks could now also mean sealing a berth into the playoffs. For drivers who aren’t inside the top 16 or in possession of a checkered flag by the Indy race, getting to Victory Lane would be even more critical. Then there’s the fact that the Brickyard 400 is special in it’s own right, making this an ideal fit.As for Vegas and Richmond, having both in the first round gives the opening three races of the playoffs nearly everything. Intermediate, short track and road course experts all now have a chance to advance out of the first round, but will still need some luck at Talladega in the second round to survive.Dover gets the raw end of the dealIn order for a few tracks to move into a better position, one had to essentially get the axe. That’s exactly what happened to Dover, which will now have two dates in far less important roles.The Monster Mile still has two dates, but the fall race that was normally the conclusion of the first round is now the opener of the second round. Drivers will still likely place some importance on it prior to Talladega, but it will be more of a points race than all-out brawl for drivers in desperate need of a win.Chicagoland may have been moved out of the role as the postseason opener, but it’s slotted as the first race on the NBC calendar ahead of Daytona in the middle of July in Chicago. That’s a perfect situation and one that track president Scott Paddock said is what the fans have been asking for.Moving to a less important slot in the playoffs and getting moved ahead of the Coca-Cola 600 is sub-optimal. But with two races on the calendar when eight tracks only have one race and only nine others don’t have a playoff event at all.