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Upon Further Review: Where will a second Vegas race come from for SMI?


After years of teasing, pleading and politicking, Las Vegas Motor Speedway is on its way to hosting a second NASCAR Cup race in 2018.

Las Vegas Motor Speedway has scheduled a press conference for 5:30 p.m. ET Wednesday to make a “special announcement.’’ The press conference will be held 30 minutes after the board of directors of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority meets to approve a sponsorship agreement that would pay the track $2.5 million a year for seven years to promote two Cup races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

This isn’t the first time the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, funded by a hotel room tax, has sought to be involved in a second Cup race at Las Vegas. The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported in 2010 that the Convention and Visitors Authority was offering between $5-$8 million then to help land a second Cup date.

The track has hosted one Cup race a year since 1998, but Bruton Smith, founder and executive chairman of Speedway Motorsports, Inc., which owns the track, has exhorted NASCAR for years for a second date at Las Vegas and to host the season finale. He’s also used the threat of moving a race date from one of his tracks to Las Vegas to leverage local governments for better deals.

Marcus Smith, chief executive officer and president of SMI, told reporters Sunday at Atlanta that he’s heartened by the interest in Las Vegas for a second Cup date.

“We love the support we get out of Las Vegas,” Smith said. “I think the fans love it. It’s a great track for us. When we see that the community is supportive of racing there, it’s definitely encouraging to us.”

What’s encouraging is the potential financial windfall. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority states the 2016 Cup race drew more than 114,000 fans with about 96,000 coming from out of town. That generated $138 million in economic impact for the community.

OK, if Las Vegas gets a second date, where is it coming from?

Don’t expect the NASCAR schedule to add a race. That means a track will have to lose a date.

SMI likely will move a date from one of its tracks to Las Vegas instead of purchasing a race date.

SMI’s most recent track purchase was in 2008 when it bought Kentucky Speedway for $78.3 million. SMI paid $15 million in cash and assumed $63.3 million debt. That was for a track that didn’t have a Cup date.

The only candidates to purchase a race date from would be Indianapolis, Pocono and Dover. None has given any indication of selling. The other Cup race dates are owned by International Speedway Corp.

With this just the third year of a 10-year TV contract, no track should look to sell.

Dover’s annual report states it received $30.9 million in broadcasting revenue for its two Cup, two Xfinity and one Truck race in 2016. That means it received about $14 million per Cup race in broadcasting revenues, which increase about 3 percent annually, before paying its purse. Tracks keep 65 percent of the TV money paid (25 percent goes to teams and 10 percent to NASCAR). With seven years left on the TV contract, that would equate to about $80 million in broadcasting revenue for one Cup event after purse payments. SMI isn’t likely to pay that when it can move a date from one of its tracks.

Also, Matthew Brooks, a securities analyst for Macquarie Securities says that if SMI wanted to purchase a race date or track, International Speedway Corp., would likely outbid it.

“If (SMI) was able to do a deal to get a track or date from someone else, I think, with a much better balance sheet, (ISC) would come in there and say, ‘I’ll give you $10 million more or some number … and I’ll take it,’ ’’ Brooks told NBC Sports. “(ISC) is in a much better position to outbid (SMI) because they have a balance sheet that is net cash, their cash is bigger than their debt.’’

Macquarie Securities also downgraded SMI’s stock on March 3 from neutral to underperform. Brooks said Macquarie Securities values SMI’s stock at about $16 a share. SMI’s stock was priced at $19.17 a share after Tuesday’s trading (ISC’s stock was valued at $35.88 a share at the end of Tuesday).

Brooks cited the declining admissions revenue as a reason for the stock downgrade. SMI reported that admission revenue declined 10 percent in 2016 but noted in a conference call with investor analysts March 1 that eight of its 13 Cup weekends were negatively impacted by weather.

“You can’t have drops that big constantly just because of rain or whatever,’’ Brooks said. “It just signals something wrong with the business.’’

If purchasing a race date isn’t likely, that leaves moving a date from a track SMI owns.

SMI won’t take a date away from Texas (being repaved and major TV market), Sonoma (diversity in schedule with road course), Kentucky (repaved last year and additional layer of asphalt added since) and Bristol (has invested much into facility). That leaves Atlanta, Charlotte and New Hampshire.

Provided SMI goes through with repaving Atlanta — a decision is expected this week — it won’t spend millions on such a project and then abandon the facility.

That leaves Charlotte and New Hampshire.

The Coca-Cola 600 isn’t going off its Memorial Day weekend spot at Charlotte. That leaves the fall race. That is expected to feature parts of the oval and infield road course in 2018, giving the playoffs its only road course. SMI will complete upgrades and construction to the road course this year.

With the work being put into road course, that date isn’t moving.

The only option would be the All-Star Race, but that’s a midyear event and who wants to be outdoors in Las Vegas then? The average high in May is 89 degrees. The average high there from June to August is above 98 degrees.

That leaves New Hampshire.

New Hampshire Motor Speedway had its July Cup race run without a sponsor last year and has yet to announce a sponsor for either Cup race this year. 

Marcus Smith mentioned in the call with investor analysts March 1 that SMI plans to “repurpose” seating areas at Charlotte, Kentucky and New Hampshire in the first quarter of this year. An SMI spokesperson told NBC Sports that overall capacities for each track won’t change, but details on such fan enhancements will come at a later date.

New Hampshire Motor Speedway has one of the smaller seating capacities of the SMI tracks. Sonoma (47,000), Atlanta (70,000) and Charlotte (86,000) have smaller capacities than New Hampshire (89,000), according to SMI’s 2015 annual report.

Even with that capacity, swaths of empty seats have been prevalent in recent years at New Hampshire. While the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority is investing in Las Vegas Motor Speedway, such investment is not as readily available for New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Bruton Smith also has wanted the state to widen the highway that leads to the track for years.

The bottom line is that it will come down to money. There is money in Las Vegas for a second Cup date. If there is more there than at another track, then it is time for SMI to make a change and put another Cup race in the desert.

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Erik Jones gets belated Truck Series championship gift

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When Erik Jones won his 2015 Camping World Truck Series championship, he was still two years shy of the legal drinking age.

As a result, there was one piece missing from his championship celebration – the champagne.

Jones turned 21 last May and he can now enjoy all the benefits that go with it.

On Tuesday, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver tweeted that he’d finally received a commemorative bottle of champagne for his title run win Kyle Busch Motorsports.

Good things do come to those who wait.

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NBC Sports to be exclusive home to IndyCar, Indy 500 in 2019

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NBC Sports Group and IndyCar announced a multi-year agreement Wednesday for NBC Sports to be the exclusive home for IndyCar and the Indianapolis 500 beginning in 2019.

The Indianapolis 500 and seven additional Verizon IndyCar Series races will be broadcast annually on NBC. The remaining races will be televised on NBCSN. All races will be live streamed to authenticated subscribers on and the NBC Sports app. With the agreement, NBC Sports also will present all IndyCar qualifying, practices and Indy Lights races across its platforms beginning in 2019. Details of NBC Sports’ 2019 IndyCar schedule will be announced at a later date.

“We’re excited to have NBC Sports serve as the exclusive home of IndyCar, which represents the most competitive open-wheel racing in the world,” said Jon Miller, President, Programming, NBC Sports and NBCSN. “We’re honored to bring the Indianapolis 500, one of the most prestigious events in all of sports, to NBC, further enhancing NBC Sports’ Championship Season. We’ve seen consistent growth for IndyCar on NBCSN in the past decade, and we hope to continue that growth throughout the series by leveraging the television, digital, production and marketing assets that make NBC Sports a powerful media partner.”

(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

“This arrangement brings all of IndyCar to one home, increases our exposure and includes our first direct-to-consumer offer for our fans,” said Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman & Company, which owns IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “We couldn’t be happier to have start-to-finish coverage of IndyCar season with the NBC Sports Group.”

The 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500, set for Sunday, May 26, 2019, will be the first ever on NBC. The Indy 500 will also be included every year in NBC Sports’ Championship Season marketing campaign, which touts numerous high-profile championship events that are presented across NBC Sports platforms from May to July, including the Triple Crown, The PLAYERS, Premier League Championship Sunday, French Open, Stanley Cup Final, Tour de France, and The Open Championship.

The entire Verizon IndyCar Series will receive unprecedented marketing and promotional support from NBC Sports, which will utilize not only its own assets, but many NBCUniversal assets as well. With the Indy 500 and seven additional races on NBC, IndyCar will have the second-most races on broadcast television in all of motorsports.

NBC Sports Gold – NBC Sports Group’s direct-to-consumer product – will offer a package to IndyCar fans that features all qualifying and practices not televised live, all Indy Lights races, and full-event replays. Additional details, including the cost of the Gold offering, will be announced at a later date.


NASCAR America: Comparing today’s drivers to drivers of yesteryear

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With Kevin Harvick‘s recent run of three consecutive wins, NASCAR America analysts Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Burton and Steve Letarte used the opportunity debate which NASCAR legends they compare Harvick and other current drivers to.

Burton compared Harvick to three-time Cup champion Cale Yarborough.

“I think they remind me a lot of each other because they’re both very aggressive, they both got after it, good at every kind of race track,” Burton said.

Earnhardt sees some of 1983 Cup champion Bobby Allison in Harvick.

“Won a championship, won a lot of races, but wasn’t afraid to put his finger in another driver’s chest,” Earnhardt said.

When it comes to Daytona 500 winner Austin Dillon, Earnhardt compared him and Denny Hamlin to the late Tim Richmond.

“Mainly in style,” Earnhardt said. “They’re the kind of guys that are a little flashy, a lot of flair outside the car. … Tim was that way. He wasn’t scared to flaunt it a little bit and he enjoyed life outside the race car as much as he did inside the race car.”

Watch the above video for more old school driver comparisons.


NASCAR America: Importance of keeping NASCAR connected to grassroots racing

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The importance of grassroots racing to the future of NASCAR is a constant subject these days thanks to the likes of Kevin Harvick and Kyle Larson.

Now NASCAR America’s Dale Earnhardt Jr., Steve Letarte and Jeff Burton get their chance to sound off on the subject.

On Tuesday’s episode, the panel of analysts discussed why keeping NASCAR connected to the short tracks and lower series across the country is vital to the sport’s future.

“We don’t have that national series running old short tracks that draws people to the race track but also draws them to the TV on Saturday and Sunday,” Burton said.

Earnhardt brought up an attempt by Bristol Motor Speedway to purchase the Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville, Tennessee, last year.  The attempted failed.

“My heart was broken because I thought we had a real opportunity to bring one of the touring series, either the Truck or Xfinity, back to Fairgrounds,” Earnhardt said. “That’s where I think we’re broken or disconnected. The late model guys and the guys that are running on these local tracks don’t have the connection to the Truck Series or Xfinity Series. They need to take those series, Truck or Xfinity, back to the short tracks and bridge that link.”

The three analysts went on to discuss the short tracks and races that were part of their formative racing years.

Watch the above video for more.