Las Vegas gets second Cup date in 2018; New Hampshire loses a Cup date

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Las Vegas Motor Speedway will host two NASCAR tripleheaders next year, the track announced Wednesday.

Speedway Motorsports Inc., is moving a Cup date from New Hampshire Motor Speedway to Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Las Vegas Motor Speedway will have the Cup, Xfinity and Camping World Trucks for both its spring and fall events in 2018. The Cup and Truck races will come from New Hampshire. The Xfinity race will come from the standalone event at Kentucky Speedway.

New Hampshire will retain its July Cup weekend.

Las Vegas’ fall race weekend will be announced at a later date by NASCAR but is expected to take place in the third or fourth weekend of September (what had been New Hampshire’s spot).

Marcus Smith, chief executive officer and president of SMI, said the move is best for the sport.

“Over time it’s something that we thought about,” Smith said of the moving dates. “This became the right time.

“It’s a matter of all the great things for the whole sport of NASCAR to be coming to Las Vegas, a city that has worldwide renown and attention and draw. I think from a NASCAR perspective to have a tripleheader weekend in the fall of the season is going to be a tremendous positive for the whole sport.”

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority will pay $17.5 million — $2.5 million a year for seven years —  in a sponsorship agreement with the track. The Convention and Visitors Authority will pay a $1 million sponsorship fee for the spring race and $1 million sponsorship fee for the fall race. The Convention and Visitors Authority also will contribute $500,000 to a marketing fund.

The contract goes through 2024 and can be extended for three years at the same rate.

Drivers attending Wednesday’s announcement were Daytona 500 winner Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Brendan Gaughan, Noah Gragson and Spencer Gallagher.

WHY IS THIS HAPPENING? Money, money, money. Vegas has more of it than New Hampshire does. Simply, this makes business sense. Las Vegas is expected to have higher attendance than New Hampshire has had. New Hampshire also was held back by an agreement with local residents agreeing not to hold night races at the track. That came about after those residents filed a civil lawsuit against the track years ago. The track also has wanted the two-lane road leading to the facility widened but the state hasn’t done so.

HOW DOES THIS MOVE IMPACT THE SPORT? It gives NASCAR the chance to alter the playoff schedule next year. While it is most likely that Las Vegas slips into New Hampshire’s spot in September, there’s another way to look at it. Why not move it back later in the playoffs and create a West Coast swing at the end? One idea would be to have the season end with Las Vegas, Phoenix and Miami. That’s just one option, but this opens the door to changes — if NASCAR will do so.

WHAT’S POSITIVE ABOUT THIS CHANGE? For the sport, it is better to have two dates at Las Vegas in that they will be further apart than what New Hampshire’s dates are. Las Vegas is the hot town in sports with the NHL moving there and the Oakland  Raiders looking to move there in the near future. The belief is it will help raise the sport by being in Las Vegas.

WHAT’S NEGATIVE ABOUT THIS CHANGE? NASCAR adds another 1.5-mile speedway to the schedule and possibly the playoffs. That would mean there could be five 1.5-mile tracks among the 10 playoff races next year with Las Vegas replacing New Hampshire and Charlotte using the infield road course with its oval for its playoff race. Move also won’t be popular with Northeast racing fans or fans who like the racing at the 1-mile track even with Marcus Smith saying they plan to create a special modified weekend in that September slot. 

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. defends Kyle Busch’s surly mood after the Coca-Cola 600

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CONCORD, N.C. – A second-place finish in the Coca-Cola 600 left Kyle Busch in an irate mood, which is perfectly fine, according to Dale Earnhardt Jr.

A seemingly agitated Busch, cupping his face in his hands after sitting down, entered the media center at Charlotte Motor Speedway Center shortly after 12:30 a.m. Sunday. It was roughly 10 minutes after Austin Dillon scored the first victory of his career in NASCAR’s premier series by stretching his final tank of fuel for 70 laps.

Was Busch surprised that Dillon made the checkered flag? What did it mean for a driver to get his first win?

“I’m not surprised about anything,” Busch snapped. “Congratulations.”

He dropped the mic on the dais. There were no further questions.

Shortly afterward on Twitter, Earnhardt took up for his peer (whom he replaced at Hendrick Motorsports in 2008).

Busch, who hasn’t won since last July at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (a span of 28 races) gave more elaborate answers shortly after exiting his No. 18 Toyota, which finished 0.835 seconds behind Dillon’s No. 3 Chevrolet.

He apparently didn’t realize until late in the race that his pass of Martin Truex Jr. (who led a race-high 233 laps) with a lap remaining was for second instead of the victory.

“This M&M’s Camry was awesome tonight,” Busch said. “It was just super fast. I mean we had one of the fastest cars all night long and then (Truex) was probably the fastest. There at the end, somehow we ran him down. You know he got a straightaway out on us, but there that last 100 laps we were able to get back to him and pass him so you know that was promising for us there at the end in order to get a second-place finish, but man just so, so disappointed.

“I don’t know. We ran our own race. We did what we needed to do and it wasn’t – it wasn’t the right game. We come up short and finish second.

“It’s a frustrating night, man. There’s nothing we could’ve done different.”

Another Cup driver took a different view of Busch’s tirade.

Martin Truex Jr. takes Cup points lead after Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte

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CONCORD, N.C. — Martin Truex Jr. took over the Cup points lead with a third-place finish in Saturday’s Coca-Cola 600.

The Furniture Row Racing driver, who led a race-high 233 laps, also extended his lead in the playoff standings by winning the second stage and bringing his total to 16 points.

Kyle Larson, who had led the standings for eight consecutive races since Phoenix International Raceway, fell to second in the rankings after crashing and finishing a season-worst 33rd. Larson trails Truex by five points in the race for the regular-season championship (and 15 playoff points).

Click here for the points standings after Charlotte.

Results, stats for the 58th annual Coca-Cola 600

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With a fuel gamble, Austin Dillon won the Coca-Cola 600 for his first NASCAR Cup win.

It comes in his 133rd start and is the second win for Richard Childress Racing this year.

Following him was Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin.

Click here for the full results.

Austin Dillon returns No. 3 to victory lane for first time since Dale Earnhardt’s last win

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CONCORD, N.C. – Austin Dillon scored his first Cup victory in his first start with a new crew chief, bringing an iconic number back to victory lane in NASCAR’s premier series.

Stretching his last tank of fuel 70 laps, the Richard Childress Racing driver won the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“I can’t believe it,” Dillon told Fox Sports. “I was just really focused on those last laps.”

It was the first victory on the circuit for the No. 3 Chevrolet since the late Dale Earnhardt’s win at Talladega Superspeedway in October 2000. Richard Childress Racing mothballed the number after Earnhardt’s death on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500 but brought it back with Dillon in 2014.

Dillon, the grandson of team owner Richard Childress, was making his debut with crew chief Justin Alexander, who replaced Slugger Labbe last week.

Kyle Busch finished second, followed by Martin Truex Jr., Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin.

Jimmie Johnson was leading before running out of fuel with three laps remaining, handing the lead to Dillon.

“I was just trying to be patient with (Johnson),” Dillon said. “I could see him saving (fuel). I thought I’d saved enough early where I could attack at the end, but I tried to wait as long as possible. And when he ran out, I figured I’d go back in and save where I was lifting, and it worked out.

“I ran out at the line and it gurgled all around just to do one little spin and push it back to victory lane.”

With the victory, Dillon qualified for the playoffs, joining RCR teammate Ryan Newman (who clinched a berth by winning at Phoenix International Raceway).

Dillon becomes the 10th driver to score his first Cup win at Charlotte, joining David Pearson, Buddy Baker, Charlie Glotzbach, Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte, Matt Kenseth, Jamie McMurray, Casey Mears and David Reutimann.

Who had a good race: Kyle Busch charged to second in the closing laps, following up a win last week at the All-Star Race. … Truex dominated Charlotte for the third straight year, leading a race-high 233 laps. … Joe Gibbs Racing placed three drivers in the top five, and rookie Daniel Suarez was 11th. … Rookie Erik Jones finished seventh, giving Furniture Row Racing two top 10s in a race for the first time.

Who had a bad race: It was over for Chase Elliott and Brad Keselowski on Lap 20 when they were collected in a bizarre wreck as a result of a chain reaction from Jeffrey Earnhardt’s engine failure. …  Points leader Kyle Larson finished a season-worst 32nd after a crash. … Danica Patrick hit the wall twice (at least once because of a tire problem) and placed 25th.

Quote of the race: “My fiancée wrote in the car, ‘When you keep God in the first place, he will take you places you never imagined.’ And, I never imagined to be here.” – Dillon after scoring his first Cup victory.

What’s next: 1 p.m., June 4 at Dover International Speedway on FS1.