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ISC cites attendance decline in recent Cup events; increase in some younger demographics

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International Speedway Corp. reported Tuesday that attendance was down about 7 percent on average for NASCAR Cup events at Phoenix, Auto Club Speedway and Martinsville, but officials are encouraged by increases in some younger demographics.

International Speedway Corp. owns 12 tracks that host NASCAR Cup events, including Daytona International Speedway. The company reported its first-quarter results in a conference call with investor analysts Tuesday. The first quarter covered only the Rolex 24, Daytona Speedweeks and the Ferrari World Finals.

John Saunders, president of ISC, stated that advance ticket sales for NASCAR Cup events at ISC tracks in the second quarter — Richmond, Talladega and Kansas — are down 7 percent.

“We’re seeing the rate of decline slow, which is good news,’’ Saunders said to investor analysts. “We’re just in this transition with new drivers coming online, younger drivers resonating with younger audiences. We’re very committed to the initiatives. We’re starting to see them bear fruit, particularly in the younger demographics.

“I would also point out that both in venue and on broadcast, for the first time, we’re seeing double-digit increases for the 18-34 (category). That bodes very well for us. Some bright spots there but a lot of work to do. We remain optimistic that we’re going to stabilize it and grow it from there.’’

Saunders highlighted some areas that have shown increases. He said TV viewership of the Daytona 500 increased about 5 percent from last year and was up 16 percent for males 18-34.

Saunders cited new series sponsor Monster Energy as helping increase the 18-34 numbers. Saunders also said the Daytona 500 saw an increase of about 5 percent in youth attending the event.

In other ISC matters:

— Saunders was asked if ISC is looking to move a Cup race from one track to another: “Currently, we don’t have any plans to realign a date from one facility to another.’’

— ISC stated that attendance and admission revenues were up for this year Daytona 500. The stands were sold out for a second consecutive year.

— The average ticket price for Cup events during the first quarter (Daytona) increased 3.5 percent to $165.

— ISC’s motorsports revenue in the first quarter was $103.5 million. ISC’s domestic TV broadcast and ancillary revenues were $62.7 million for the first quarter.

— ISC had a decrease of 1.6 percent in net admissions for its events in the first quarter of 2017 (Ferrari World Finals, Rolex 24 and Daytona Speedweeks)

— As of March, ISC states it had sold race entitlement sponsorships for all but three of its Cup events, all but two of its Xfinity events and all but one of its Camping World Truck events this season. At this time last year, ISC had not sold or announced entitlement sponsorships for one Cup and two Xfinity races. ISC expressed confidence at selling its race entitlements this year.

— ISC reiterated that it will spend up to $500 million on existing facilities from fiscal 2017 to fiscal 2021. Included in that is the Phoenix Raceway redevelopment, which is scheduled to be completed in late 2018, the first phase in development at Richmond International Raceway and other improvements at other facilities. The Phoenix project is expected to cost $178 million.

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ThorSport Racing partners with Ford in Truck Series

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ThorSport Racing has partnered with Ford in a multi-year deal in the Camping World Truck Series, the team announced Monday.

The team’s announcement comes a week after it revealed the mutual decision to part ways with Toyota.

“With 23 years in the NCWTS, we look forward to our new partnership with Ford Performance in NASCAR,” team owner Duke Thorson said in a press release. “Our pursuit of wins and championships remains at the forefront of our objectives.”

ThorSport, based in Sandusky, Ohio, had been paired with the Toyota for six years, winning two titles with Matt Crafton.

“We’re excited that ThorSport Racing has decided to switch to a F-Series truck for the 2018 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series,” said Mark Rushbrook, global director of Ford Performance Motorsports in a press release. “ThorSport is a proven championship-level team in the series, and we look forward to providing them the aero and simulation technical support that will ensure they remain at the top level of the Truck Series.”

In 2017, Brad Keselowski Racing fielded the only two full-time Ford entries in the series. That team shut down following the end of the season.

Crafton will be returning to ThorSport for his 17th season – and 14th consecutive – with the team. The rest of the team’s driver lineup will be announced at a later date.

The Truck Series season begins Feb. 16th at Daytona International Speedway.

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D.J. Kennington to attempt to qualify for Daytona 500 with Gaunt Brothers Racing

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Canadian driver D.J. Kennington will try to qualify for the Daytona 500 with Gaunt Brothers Racing for the second year in a row, the team announced Monday.

Kennington, a native of St. Thomas, Ontario, will drive the No. 96 Toyota sponsored by Lordco Auto Parts and Castrol.

The team, sponsor and driver combination made the 2017 edition of the race, making Kennington the first Canadian driver to compete in the Daytona 500 in 29 years.

Kennington started 28th and finished 36th following a multi-car crash at the start of Stage 2.

“Last year was an awesome experience for my sponsors, Lordco and Castrol, and me,” Kennington said in a press release. “We knew once it was over, we wanted to do it again. (Team owner) Marty (Gaunt) and everybody at GBR is pulling out all the stops for us this year. I’m looking forward to getting back behind the wheel of the Lordco/Castrol Toyota Camry and seeing the difference a year makes.”

The 40-year-old driver has five Cup starts with a best finish of 26th in last November’s race at Phoenix.

Gaunt Brothers Racing does not own a charter, meaning Kennington is not guaranteed a starting spot in the Feb. 18 Daytona 500.

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Love’s Travel Stops returns as Front Row Motorsports sponsor

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Front Row Motorsports and Love’s Travel Stops have extended their relationship into a sixth year, the team announced Monday.

The company will sponsor the No. 34 Ford of Michael McDowell in 18 races, including the Feb. 18 Daytona 500.

It will also be on the No. 34 for both races at Texas Motor Speedway, the night race at Bristol Motor Speedway and the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

“We look forward to kicking off another great season in Daytona with Front Row Motorsports and welcoming our new driver of the No. 34 Love’s Ford, Michael McDowell,” said Dave Frankenfield, vice president of marketing for Love’s Travel Stops, in a press release. “(Team owner) Bob Jenkins and (General Manager) Jerry Freeze continue to provide great value and flexibility in our partnership while working tirelessly to put a competitive car on the track each week. They also help create a unique race-day experience that allows our customers and employees to be a part of the Love’s race team.”

The team also announced McDowell, entering his first year with FRM, will be paired with crew chief Derrick Finley. The veteran crew chief has been with the team since 2011 and worked with David Ragan last season.

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New car buoys hopes for Chevrolet to avoid ‘unacceptable’ Cup result last year

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A Chevrolet executive calls it “unacceptable” that the manufacturer did not have a car racing for the Cup championship last year at Homestead-Miami Speedway but says he expects Chevrolet to have “at least a car or two” in the title race this season with the new Camaro ZL1

Pat Suhy, Chevrolet’s NASCAR Group Manager, made the comments Sunday after a luncheon at the National Motorsports Press Association Convention.

Chevrolet had no Cup car finish higher than fifth (Chase Elliott) last year and did not score a win in the 10-race playoffs — Toyota won eight races and Ford two. Toyota won the championship with Martin Truex Jr. and Furniture Row Racing.

“If you look at the car count and just do a ratio of the car count, we were (seven) out of 16 going into the playoffs last year and to not have one make it in the final round was not good,’’ Suhy said.

“I expect us to have at least a car or two in the Final Four this year. There’s no reason we shouldn’t.’’

Suhy and others at Chevrolet are buoyed by the Camaro ZL1 and look to repeat the success Toyota had last season (16 wins in 36 races) with its updated Camry.

Suhy said a key to the Camaro ZL1 is that Chevrolet engineers found ways to move more downforce from the front to the rear of the car.

“As teams make more downforce, they tend to make more and more front downforce, they don’t gain rear downforce as much,’’ Suhy said. “With the old car, as they made more and more front downforce, it got more and more aero loose, so it got harder to keep the car from being too loose and unstable going into the turns.’’

Suhy said that while there were some Chevrolets that were strong last season — Kyle Larson won four races to lead the manufacturer — many teams had a challenge with the setup.

“I would say the loose to relative looseness of the car didn’t feel as comfortable getting into the corners,’’ Suhy said of last year’s car. “So I think a lot of it is really about driver comfort and how they feel going 210 mph down the frontstretch at Michigan and lifting and turning left and having the confidence that the car is actually going to turn left and not lose the front end. I think those are the things this car will help feel more settled, more stable and less twitchy.’’

Any new car can have its struggles. Despite its dominance last year, Toyota won only two of the first 17 races before winning 14 of the final 19.

“I think some of the things that we’ve done with our car and what we’ve done since it was approved, working together with our teams and with the teams working separately, I’d like to think that we’re not going to struggle that badly that early,’’ Suhy said. “I guess we’ll see. We’re prepared. If we do struggle, it’s not because of the fundamental design of the car, it’s really just a matter of more time development needed. We’re ready to address that if needed.’’

Chevrolet enters this new era without its NASCAR program manager. Alba Colon joined Hendrick Motorsports earlier this month to oversee the team’s competition systems group. She was among those from Chevrolet at the track most weekends who worked with the teams.

Suhy said he’s temporarily filling Colon’s job, along with his other duties, until a replacement can be found. Suhy said the team that developed the car remains and that Kevin Bayless, Chevrolet Racing NASCAR Chassis and Aerodynamics Program Manager, will play a greater role. Bayless will be at the organizational test Jan. 31-Feb. 1 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Each Cup organization is allowed to have one team test. 

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