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Circuit of the Americas wants NASCAR, Texas Motor Speedway says no way

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Texas Motor Speedway has what in-state rival Circuit of the Americas wants: NASCAR.

Separated by a few hours – TMS in Fort Worth and COTA in Austin – and different racing platforms (1.5-mile oval vs. 3.4-mile road course), the two tracks have peacefully coexisted since COTA opened in 2012.

But that could be changing. COTA Chairman Bobby Epstein is interested in bringing NASCAR racing to his track.

“I’ve had contact with NASCAR officials, and we’ve heard from their fans and drivers,” Epstein said in a recent story in the Austin American-Statesman newspaper. “Everyone seems to want to be here, so I see no reason why it couldn’t come together.

“It’s something fans are asking for in droves. We hear it, and I’m assuming (NASCAR) hears it, too. They are continuing to tweak their product, looking for new ideas. This would be something different, a change of pace.

“I’d be pretty optimistic it could happen because NASCAR said they want more road courses, more non-ovals. Now that they’ve said that, this is the best one in the country. So if enough fans want them here, I think they’ll be here one day.”

Epstein’s interest in NASCAR is not exactly sitting well with his counterpart at TMS, track president Eddie Gossage, particularly since this is the first that Gossage has heard of COTA reportedly having some form of discussions with NASCAR.

“Anyone can talk to a NASCAR official,” Gossage told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram newspaper. “What NASCAR official? What’d they say? That doesn’t mean a thing. We’re all bound by contracts.”

Texas Motor Speedway has a 20-year legacy of hosting NASCAR events on its 1.5-mile track, which is being repaved before the first of its two annual NASCAR race weekends in early April.

Texas Motor Speedway also hosts a Verizon IndyCar Series race each season.

Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.
Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.

COTA, which opened in 2012, is entering its fifth full season of racing on its 3.4-mile Gran Prix-style road course. It holds a variety of events, particularly sports car racing.

But its biggest events are the Formula One Grand Prix on Oct. 20-22 and MotoGP on April 21-23.

The F1 race is two weeks before Texas Motor Speedway’s second NASCAR race weekend of the season (also part of the playoffs), and the MotoGP race is two weeks after TMS’s first NASCAR race weekend of 2017.

“But we’re old pros,” Gossage told the Star-Telegram. “This is my 38th season in major-league racing. Both TMS and (parent company Speedway Motorsports Inc.) have a tremendous amount of knowledge and talent and ability. They are trying to find their way in a really complicated and nuanced business. It’s all a new challenge for them.”

With new series sponsor Monster Energy, NASCAR is looking at ways to create new interest and attract new fans. One area that has been looked at is adding more road course races to the schedule (NASCAR has two road course races each year, at Sonoma, California, and Watkins Glen, New York).

That prospect interests Epstein, but also irritates Gossage, who told the Star-Telegram that TMS is in the second year of a five-year contract with NASCAR and has added geographic protection from the sanctioning body that other races will not be held in close proximity to TMS.

“I don’t blame (COTA) for wanting NASCAR races, it’s just that they’re 20 years too late,” Gossage told the Star-Telegram.

Neither COTA nor NASCAR officials responded to request for comment from the Star-Telegram.

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Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch, Kasey Kahne fastest in first Cup practice at Loudon

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Kyle Larson was fastest in Friday’s lone NASCAR Cup practice session at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Larson covered the 1.058-mile flat track at 135.714 mph, followed by Kyle Busch (135.342) and Kasey Kahne (135.198).

Points leader and Chicagoland winner Martin Truex Jr. was the early speed leader before the other three surpassed his speed, dropping him to fourth (135.188 mph).

Ryan Blaney was fifth (135.030 mph), followed by Denny Hamlin (134.973), Matt Kenseth (134.901), Erik Jones (134.606), Jamie McMurray (134.340) and Kurt Busch (134.240).

Jones was the only non-playoff driver in the top 10.

Two incidents occurred within minutes of each other and involved Hendrick Motorsports teammates.

About 21 minutes into the session, Jimmie Johnson hit the Turn 3 wall, his No. 48 Chevrolet suffering heavy right rear damage.

About 10 minutes later, Chase Elliott drifted up the track and couldn’t catch his No. 24 Chevy before it skimmed the wall.

Both drivers went to backup cars as a result.

MORE: Jimmie Johnson, Chase Elliott hit wall early in practice

Even in backup cars, both drivers struggled for speed.

Johnson was 22nd fastest (133.021 mph), while Elliott was 32nd (131.320 mph).

Other playoff drivers that struggled included Austin Dillon (23rd, 133.017) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (24th, 132.836).

The only other Cup related on-track action takes place late this afternoon at 5:15 p.m. ET with qualifying for Sunday’s ISM Connect 300.

The Cup cars have two additional practice sessions on Saturday.

Jimmie Johnson, Chase Elliott hit wall early in practice

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LOUDON, New Hampshire – Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Chase Elliott each hit the Turn 3 wall within minutes of each other in Friday’s opening practice at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Both will go to backup cars.

Johnson slammed the wall on his second lap of practice. He had recorded what was the second-fastest lap of the session on the previous lap before drifting from the top lane and bouncing off the Turn 3 wall the next time by. Johnson drove the car back to the garage but his team quickly unloaded a backup car. Johnson’s incident happened 21 minutes into the 85-minute session.

“I just got in there with a lot of speed and anticipated it sticking and it didn’t quite stick,” Johnson told NBCSN. “Definitely not the way we wanted to start.”

Elliott hit the wall less than 10 minutes after Johnson. He also drove his car back to the garage.

Elliott is without crew chief Alan Gustafson and car chief Joshua Kirk this weekend. NASCAR suspended both one race, along with docking Elliott and the team 15 points each, for modifying components to affect aerodynamic properties of the car last weekend at Chicagoland Speedway.

“It’s not what we needed,” Elliott told NBCSN, adding his car also didn’t stick when he went into Turn 3. “We’re behind this weekend and that is never good.”

NBCSN’s Marty Snider reported that Elliott’s team did not plan to run the backup car in this session – the only session before qualifying today. Johnson made it on track in his backup car with less than 15 minutes left in the session.

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Cup playoff contenders docked practice time

Cup playoff contenders docked practice time
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LOUDON, New Hampshire – Playoff contenders Martin Truex Jr. and Jamie McMurray will each miss 30 minutes of practice in Saturday’s final session at New Hampshire Motor Speedway for inspection issues last weekend at Chicagoland Speedway.

Both are being docked practice time because each car failed inspection before the race three times at Chicagoland.

Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones each will miss 15 minutes of the 50-minute final practice session Saturday because their cars failed inspection twice before last weekend’s race at Chicagoland.

Final Cup practice will be from 11:30 a.m. to 12:20 p.m. ET Saturday.

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Friday’s schedule for New Hampshire (Cup, Trucks) and Kentucky (Xfinity)

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In what will be a busy weekend,  on-track action starts today at both New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Kentucky Speedway.

The Cup Series will have one practice and qualifying in Loudon. The Truck Series will have two practices there.

At Kentucky, the Xfinity Series will have two practice sessions in preparation for Saturday’s race there.

Here is today’s schedule for both tracks:

(All times are Eastern):

At NEW HAMPSHIRE

9 a.m. – 7 p.m. – Cup garage open

11:30 a.m. – 12:55 p.m. – Cup practice (NBCSN)

11:30 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. – Truck garage open

1:30 p.m. – 2:25 p.m. – First Truck practice (FoxSports1)

3:30 p.m. – 4:25 p.m. – Final Truck practice (FS1)

5:15 p.m. – Cup qualifying (multi-vehicle, three rounds) (NBCSN, Performance Racing Network)

At KENTUCKY

1:30 p.m. – 9 p.m. – Xfinity garage open

4 – 4:55 p.m. – Xfinity practice (NBCSN)

6:30 p.m. – 7:25 p.m. – Final Xfinity practice (NBCSN)