Daytona International Speedway

Long: 2018 schedule provides big test for one track; other musings on changes

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For all the talk about Indianapolis’ move to the last race before the playoffs or Charlotte’s road course event, the track that will face the most scrutiny from Tuesday’s 2018 schedule announcement is Richmond International Raceway.

Although the racing has been better when the track hosted day races, Richmond will go back to two night races next year and its September event moves into the playoffs after serving as the cutoff race since 2004. 

The change comes at a critical time for Richmond, a favorite among drivers but a track that has seen waning fan interest — thus the flip-flopping from night to day back to night events to please a fanbase that wants good racing but doesn’t want a sunburn. The spring crowd, no doubt affected by unseasonably warm temperatures in the 80s, was disappointing.

What makes the schedule change more critical for the track is what could be next. International Speedway Corp., which owns the facility, has slated Richmond as next for upgrades after Phoenix Raceway’s $178 million makeover is completed late next year.

While crowds have thinned at all tracks in the last decade, Richmond has seen its seating capacity cut from 110,000 in 2009 to its current capacity of 59,000, according to ISC annual reports. The 46.4 percent decline is the largest percentage capacity reduction among ISC’s 12 tracks that host Cup events.

The question becomes if the crowd continues to thin — even though Richmond is a day’s drive for nearly half of the U.S. population — will it be worthwhile for ISC to make the investments to the track? Or would it be better for ISC to invest in another of its facilities?

Something that could help Richmond is what will take place this weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The track’s upper groove is being treated by the same PJ1 TrackBite compound used at Bristol to improve the racing.

What’s unique is that the compound is applied to an asphalt track instead of a concrete track such as Bristol. If it entices drivers to use the high lane for part of the race, that will be significant. The challenge is that as the race moves into the evening and cooler temperatures, the bottom groove will be the fastest way around.

Richmond seemed to have a good solution when it sealed the track from 1988-2002 but hasn’t done since. The time seems right to do something to the track with two Cup night races. 

Drivers say that the best racing is during the day when conditions are the hottest. That’s not the most enjoyable conditions for fans. So fans who wanted night racing back at Richmond will get it for both events.

Fans should be careful what they wish for because cool, evening temperatures are not conducive to the best type of racing.

DAYTONA CHANGES

Another alteration to the schedule is that Daytona 500 qualifying and the Clash will be held on the same day, Feb. 11, a week before the 500.

It’s a nice move to tighten the schedule, but why can’t more be done?

Does Daytona need to be held over two weekends?

“I would say certainly we talked about a lot of things,’’ said Jim Cassidy, NASCAR vice president of racing operations when asked about shortening Daytona Speedweeks. “But when you kick off the season with your biggest event of the year, and you have a number of races to support that kickoff of the season, Daytona has a portfolio of races that commands a number of weeks. I think our fans look forward to spending a lot of time in Daytona in the month of February.

“Certainly there’s consideration around the race teams, the amount of time they spend. But when you talk about the biggest event of your season, it certainly warrants a couple of weeks based on what we have from a content standpoint.”

I’m not convinced. I think you could compress it into one week and make the week more entertaining.

Here’s one possible way how:

Tuesday: Cup haulers park in garage.

Wednesday: Cup teams practice and qualify. Truck teams park in garage.

Thursday: Cup teams compete in the Duels. Xfinity teams park in garage. Truck teams practice.

Friday: Cup teams practice. Xfinity teams practice. Truck teams qualify and race. Cup teams in the Clash practice.

Saturday: Cup final practice for the Daytona 500. Xfinity teams race. The Clash is held an hour after the Xfinity race ends.

Sunday: Daytona 500.

A doubleheader with the Xfinity Series and the Clash the day before the Daytona 500 creates more reasons for fans to be there for the weekend.

Maybe there’s a better way, but the point is cut a weekend out of Speedweeks and that can give teams a break at some other point in the season (or just start the season a few days later).

As the sport looks to be more efficient with its race weekends — Pocono, Watkins Glen and Martinsville each will have qualifying a few hours before the race in the second half of the season — cutting a weekend out of Daytona only makes sense.

Also, watch for more two-day Cup weekends if the experiment works this year.

INDY THE RIGHT RACE BEFORE THE PLAYOFFS?

Indianapolis taking the spot as the final race before the playoffs raises some questions.

When Richmond was there, at least many more teams had a chance to win. At Indianapolis, those that can win are fewer. Typically, the best teams excel at Indy because they have the best aero and engine packages. That’s not something a smaller team can overcome as much as it can on a short track.

The notion of an upstart winning their way into the playoffs is less likely at Indianapolis. Those who need stage points in a last-gasp effort to make the playoffs will have to gamble. Truthfully, that could make Indy more dramatic in some ways. Paul Menard won the 2011 race on a fuel gamble, but such payoffs are not likely to happen often and then what you are left with?

Something to consider is that the Xfinity cars will race there in July with restrictor plates and other modifications. If those changes enhance the racing, then it would make sense for the Cup cars to go with something similar. If NASCAR can get its cars to make passes like the IndyCars (there were 54 lead changes in last year’s Indianapolis 500), then you’d have something worth talking about.

If that doesn’t work, maybe you’re left with the tradeoff that Richmond gives the playoffs two short tracks.

A NOVEL IDEA BUT WILL IT WORK?

Charlotte’s roval for the playoffs will smack of desperation to some, and they wouldn’t necessarily be wrong. Still, one has to applaud the sport and the track looking for a different way to entertain fans. Sometimes, the greatest rewards come after the greatest risks.

While drivers will race on the infield road course, they still nearly will race all the way around the 1.5-mile track. If the action on the road course section mimics what fans see at Sonoma or Watkins Glen, then this will be a good move. If not, what then?

Charlotte’s format will present challenges for crew chiefs in setting up the car, but the key is going to be action. Few people go to races to watch the crew chiefs. It’s about the drivers. And it will be about contact on the road course.

SAME OLD, SAME OLD

Even with all the changes to the front half of the playoff schedule, three of the final five races are on 1.5-mile speedways.

Cassidy said NASCAR isn’t as concerned about that.

“I wouldn’t get too hung up on the number of intermediate tracks because I think what you’ve seen, if you want to focus on the back end of the playoffs, focus on the racing that we’ve seen at intermediate tracks, each of the intermediate tracks as kind of taking shape from having its own distinct personality from a racing standpoint,’’ he said.

“I think you saw that at Texas this year with the changes they made, again, a vision to change things up on that side, and to create a different racing dynamic at a mile‑and‑a‑half track.

“What you saw at Kansas a couple weeks ago kind of speaks for itself.

  “And then I don’t think you could argue that Homestead has provided some of the most compelling racing you could ever imagine to bring home a championship.’’

Miami is the best 1.5-mile track and has produced some good racing in the season finale. Nothing wrong with it where it is. Kansas has had its ups and downs but did have 21 lead changes earlier this month in what was viewed as an entertaining race. With its new track surface, we’ll see where Texas goes from its race in April.

If all three can provide entertaining racing and allow drivers to move through the field instead of being stuck in a line, then they should stay in their spots. But if they can’t do so, then NASCAR should not be afraid of making further changes to the playoff schedule.

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Country stars Tyler Farr, Sawyer Brown to play pre-race concerts at Daytona, Kentucky

Photo of Tyler Farr provided by Daytona International Speedway
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Infield concerts featuring well-known country music acts will precede back-to-back races at both Daytona and Kentucky.

Country music star Tyler Farr will perform a pre-race concert before the 59th Coke Zero 400 on July 1 at Daytona International Speedway.

The concert will mark Farr’s second performance at the world’s only motorsports stadium – the first coming in last year’s inaugural Country 500, a three-day music festival over Memorial Day weekend.

Farr’s debut album, Redneck Crazy, shot to No. 2 on the Billboard Country Album Chart upon its release, and spawned two No. 1 hits: Whiskey In My Water and the title track.

Farr will open for Brantley Gilbert during the upcoming “The Devil Don’t Sleep” Tour.

Sawyer Brown will perform before the July 8 race at Kentucky Speedway. (Photo courtesy SawyerBrown.com)

One week later, at Kentucky Speedway, legendary country band Sawyer Brown will present a concert prior to the Quaker State 400 on July 8.

Sawyer Brown is one of the longest-performing groups in the country music genre. Originally formed in the early 1980s, Sawyer Brown has spawned more than three decades together, with all original members still together with the exception of lead guitarist Shayne Hill, who joined in 1991.

Among the group’s biggest hits over the years have been “Some Girls Do,” “The Race Is On,” “The Walk,” “All These Years,” “Thank God For You,” “Six Days on The Road,” “Step That Step,” “The Dirt Road,” “Drive Me Wild,” “This Missin’ You Heart of Mine,” “Betty Bein’ Bad,” and “The Boys and Me.”

Sawyer Brown won the 1997 Academy of Country Music Vocal Group of the Year award and has more than 50 singles that have reached the top of the charts, as well as three Gold Records.

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Court documents tell two sides in Ward family lawsuit against Tony Stewart

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Tony Stewart denied turning up the track toward Kevin Ward Jr. in a 171-page deposition that was released this week as part of court documents in the Ward family’s lawsuit against Stewart.

The Ward family filed a wrongful death lawsuit Aug. 7, 2015, nearly a year after the 20-year-old Ward was struck and killed by Stewart during an Empire Super Sprints race at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in upstate New York. A grand jury ruled Sept. 24, 2014, that Stewart would not face criminal charges.

Stewart seeks a summary judgement. A hearing is scheduled April 28 in U.S. District Court in Utica, New York.

Stewart and Ward had been racing together when Ward spun into the wall — Stewart claimed in his deposition he did not hit Ward, while others have countered that in their depositions.

After the incident, Ward exited his car and walked down the track.

Here’s what happened next, based on court documents:

ACCIDENT RECONSTRUCTION REPORTS FILED

Both sides have submitted reports that detailed what happened.

The report on behalf of Stewart states: “When (Chuck) Hebing (who was in front of Stewart’s car) was passing by him, Mr. Ward shuffled his feet and moved about 0.7 feet up the track. But, as soon as Mr. Hebing passed him, Mr. Ward continued moving parallel to the track and also took a step about 1.5 to 2.3 feet down the track, towards and into the path of Mr. Stewart’s car.”

The report on behalf of the Ward family views the matter in a different way. It states: “Immediately prior to impact, Mr. Ward remained relatively stationary and remained outside the path where six preceding Sprint Cars had passed his location without incident. Therefore, Mr. Ward did not cause the impact with (Stewart’s car) but was rather the victim of Mr. Stewart directing his (car) toward his location.’’

The report filed on behalf of Stewart addresses Stewart’s car in the moments before and after striking Ward: “In this case, the inputs to get the car to drive around and avoid contact with Mr. Ward include steering to the left and/or applying some throttle to assist the car’s counterclockwise rotation. We know from the video stills discussed above that the car was pointed towards the infield and traveled down track while in the field of view of the camera. It would take about 1 second for the car to respond to the driver’s steering and throttle inputs.

“That would mean that the driver of the car, Mr. Stewart, had to perceive and react to the emergency of Mr. Ward’s appearance before the full appearance of Mr. Ward from behind Mr. Hebing’s #45 car. Given the typical perception-reaction time of 1.0 to 1.5 seconds for a normal driver in an emergency, and the fact that the track was under caution and the drivers were not racing, Mr. Stewart’s perception-reaction time was reasonable given the visibility, lighting, and unexpected motion of Mr. Ward prior to Mr. Stewart’s car arriving at Mr. Ward’s position.

“In summary, Mr. Stewart simply did not have enough time to react to Mr. Ward’s unpredictable actions and successfully avoid hitting him.’’

The report on behalf of the Ward family also sees that incident differently: “It is apparent Mr. Stewart intentionally caused his vehicle to move towards Mr. Ward by aggressively adding throttle input while counter steering through the turn.’’

TONY STEWART’S DEPOSITION

Stewart gave a deposition Dec. 8, 2016. The full transcript was filed earlier this week by Ward’s side in opposition of Stewart seeking a summary judgment. Ward’s father and mother attended Stewart’s deposition, which took place in Indianapolis.

In his deposition, Stewart was asked about the incident. This was how he answered questions on the matter.

Q. All right. After you saw his car, you saw him; he was on the track?

A. After I — yeah, after I saw his car, then I saw him.

Q. Okay. And —

A. Or a figure. I didn’t know that it was him but I saw —

Q. Fair enough. You saw a person on the track?

A. Yes.

Q. When you saw the car, you knew just procedure, that your pass was to be low?

A. Yeah, he was all the way to the outside — the car was all the way to the outside of the track, so anywhere that we went was going to be below it.

Q. All right. So where were you driving your car when you entered turn 1 as on the track? Middle of the track? Low track? High part of the track?

A. I really don’t remember. I mean, typically you would run somewhere in the middle of the racetrack.

Q. Okay. When you saw Mr. — when you saw the car that was disabled at the top part of the track, did you steer your vehicle in any direction that you recall?

A. No. I was already underneath the vehicle.

Q. You were underneath it. Okay. So you did not change the line that you were on based on your realizing where the car was that was disabled was on the track; is that fair?

A. Correct.

Q. All right. Now, in relation to the car that was on the track, where was the person that you saw on the track?

A. Initially when I saw the car, I didn’t realize there wasn’t a driver in the car.

Q. But at some point you did?

A. Yes.

Q. All right. And when you saw that person, did you from that point on change the direction of your vehicle based on seeing that person on the track?

A. It was a split second from the time that I saw a person until I got to the person.

Q. Okay. Is that a “no”?

A. I attempted to change direction.

Q. Okay. You don’t recall — and when you say you “attempted to change direction,” you attempted to change direction to the left down the track?

A. Correct.

Q. All right. It’s your testimony that you did not at any time after seeing Mr. Ward’s car or Mr. Ward on the track steer your car up the track?

A. No, sir.

DEPOSITIONS FROM OTHER DRIVERS IN AUG. 2014 SPRINT CAR RACE

Chuck Hebing, who was in that race at Canandaigua Motorsports Park and running ahead of Stewart under caution as they approached the area where Ward wrecked, described what happened in his deposition:

“(Ward) was coming down the track. I thought he was actually coming to my car. Me and Kevin have — I might have ran him out of room in that race, so I thought he might have been mad at me. Came at my car. I gassed it, swerved away from him and said to myself that “Next guy in line was probably going to hit him.”

Jessica Zemken-Friesen, who dated Stewart in 2011, also was competing in the race and running behind Stewart under caution. In her deposition, she described what she saw:

A. I was following Tony, and I – they were saying on the radio to stay low, and I was lower on the track, and I was behind him, right directly behind him pulling into turn one and two, and they were telling us to stay low. And I started to come down a little bit, and I could see Tony’s left front wheel turn to the right, closer in the direction of where Kevin was up higher on the racetrack. Um, and then I could see, um, I was just underneath him, and I could look up and see – I could see Kevin still there in front of his car with his hands in the air. And I saw the rear of the car stand up and the – the dust come off the rear tires as Tony hit the throttle.

Q. And then?

A. And then when he – when he hit the throttle the rear of the car came around and the front end of the car went to the left, the car got sideways, and he struck Kevin.’’

Later, Zemken-Friesen was asked:

Q. Do you think Mr. Stewart intentionally hit Mr. Ward?

A. I don’t know what he was thinking or what was going through his mind. I just was behind it and saw what I saw.’

MORE OF TONY STEWART DEPOSITION

Stewart was asked about his temper and various penalties he had been given in NASCAR for his actions, as Ward’s side seeks to show that Stewart has a history of his anger dictating his actions.

Q. All right. Would you say that you have had a — had some issues with your anger throughout the course of your life?

A. Occasionally.

Q. And have you, in fact, sought any counseling or treatment for that?

A. No, sir.

Q. Never had any anger management or counseling or any formalized process to help you with anger?

A. No, sir.

Stewart then was asked about incidents with Brian Vickers, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano. He also was asked about an incident with Kurt Busch inside the NASCAR hauler at Daytona International Speedway.

Q. Have you had any physical confrontations with any other drivers or people that were related to races where there were any punches thrown or shoves gone back and forth?

A. Kurt Busch.

Q. What happened with Kurt Busch?

A. We had an altercation inside the NASCAR trailer with the officials.

Q. Did you punch Mr. Busch or shove him?

A. Yes.

Q. And who precipitated that physical confrontation, you or Mr. Busch?

A. I did.

Q. And what was — why were you — why did you initiate a physical confrontation with Mr. Busch?

A. For lack of better terms, he initiated the — basically he was antagonizing us in front of the NASCAR officials and very inappropriately.

Q. And but with words?

A. Yes.

Q. And you responded with physical aggression?

A. Yes.

Q. All right. Is it a fair sum-up or not for some of the stuff we’ve just gone through to say that various times you’ve used your fists, your helmet and your car as a tool — as tools of physical force against other racers?

MR. SMIKLE: I’m going to object to the form of the question. It’s vague and ambiguous.

But go ahead and answer.

THE WITNESS: What you’ve shown is — I’ve raced for 38 years, I’ve raced over 1,500 races and what you’ve shown is less than 1 percent of the races that I participated in NASCAR. So altercations like that happen amongst drivers every week. So this is not un — this isn’t out of the ordinary for our sport.

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Five teams to take part in Goodyear tire test at Daytona

Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images
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Five teams will participate in a Goodyear tire test today and Wednesday at Daytona International Speedway.

Testing will be Joey Logano (Team Penske), Ryan Newman (Richard Childress Racing), Erik Jones (Furniture Row Racing), Danica Patrick (Stewart-Haas Racing) and Alex Bowman (Hendrick Motorsports).

The test is closed to the public.

 

Watkins Glen gives new meaning to a slick racetrack (check out the video)

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There’s been a lot of talk of late about NASCAR potentially adding another road course race to the Cup schedule.

There’s been rumors about a race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, as well as talk Daytona International Speedway, Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Circuit of the Americas all being interested as well.

But we may have stumbled upon the best idea yet.

Sure, you may have to button up a little bit — and this will definitely give new meaning to the term “slick racetrack” — but check out how the folks at Watkins Glen International used the backdrop of winter storm Stella to come up with an alternative form of road course racing.

We’ve heard of rain tires, but how about snow tires on a racetrack?

Check out this great video from the track:

Speaking of snow and racetracks, maybe they should have snowplow races at New Hampshire Motor Speedway after it got buried under the white stuff earlier this week.

Check out the time-lapse video from pre- to post-Stella:

#NHMS #snow time-lapse ❄️☃️❄️☃️❄️

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