Indianapolis Motor Speedway

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Indy President: Indianapolis and NASCAR are ‘about the oval’

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INDIANAPOLIS – Indianapolis Motor Speedway President J. Douglas Boles confirmed to NBC Sports that discussions were had about shifting the Brickyard 400 to the road course before the decision was made to keep the NASCAR Cup Series on the 2.5-mile oval

The track’s NASCAR weekend shifts from late July to Sept. 9 next year. The track will host the final Cup race before the playoffs begin.

Boles said Wednesday that the road course was considered an option but rejected for multiple reasons.

“As fans know and as we know and as NASCAR knows, the Brickyard 400 over the last several years has struggled,” Boles told NBC Sports. “We believe to continue to make it viable and frankly to grow it, we had to look at everything.

“We actually had a conversation about the road course in February in Daytona. Mark (Miles, CEO of Hulman & Co., INDYCAR and IMS parent company) and I met with the folks in NASCAR in New York City. We talked it through.

“Ultimately, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is about the oval and NASCAR is about the oval. What makes this race special for the drivers is they get to drive on a track that Ray Harroun ran on, Wilbur Shaw won on, and you can recall the names that meant something to this sport.

“We felt committed to making the oval work.”

It was the heat, Boles said, that was the primary factor for the move to the fall. Boles noted the customer feedback from annual surveys and said that more than the racing product on track, heat was an overriding complaint.

“We survey our fans after every year,” Boles said. “The one thing we hear more than anything, the biggest complaint about the Indy 500 is the heat in the middle of the summer and you can’t shade this place. You can’t add more shade. The heat is the number one factor. We would make a move to move it out of the heat.

“Now we’ve moved it to an event where they will crown their regular season champion and they will set their 16 drivers for the playoffs. For us, that is another talking point.

“This addresses the number one concern that our customer has. The second or third, depending on the year, is that the race is just a race and doesn’t have real meaning to the rest of the season, so now we’ve also addressed that concern as well.”

One concern that arises from a September date is the potential of going head-to-head with the Indianapolis Colts. The NFL traditionally releases its schedule in April, so NASCAR will know whether the Colts are in town on Sunday, Sept. 9 well in advance.

Boles and IMS are already working toward an amenable solution.

“We completely understand it’s NFL season, and we’re in a city where the Colts are,” he said. “So we have begun those conversations, even ahead of announcing this with the folks at the Colts, so we can do the best we can to limit the weekends we go head to head with the Colts in this market.”

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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Las Vegas, Richmond part of 2018 playoff schedule; Indy moves to cutoff race

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NASCAR’s playoff schedule will look significantly different in 2018 with a new race leading into it and all three first-round races new.

For the first time since it was put on the schedule in 1994, Indianapolis Motor Speedway will move from its summer spot to Sept. 9 and be the final race before the playoffs begin.

The Brickyard 400 will lead into a revamped first round that will see the playoffs begin for the first time at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sept. 16. The playoff opener will be the second race at Las Vegas, which got the date from New Hampshire Motor Speedway. 

Richmond International Raceway, which had been the final race before the playoffs since 2004, moves into the playoffs and will be the second race in the opening round on Sept. 22, a Saturday night.

Charlotte Motor Speedway will be the cutoff race in the first round on Sept. 30, but that race will be competed on the track’s roval— combining its oval and infield road course

The changes dramatically alter the type of tracks in the 10-race playoff, which will still end in Miami on Nov. 18.

There will be one road course (Charlotte), one restrictor-plate track (Talladega), two short tracks (Richmond and Martinsville), two 1-mile tracks (Dover and Phoenix) and four 1.5-mile tracks (Las Vegas, Kansas, Texas and Miami).

The race at Chicagoland Speedway moves from September to June.

The final 11 races of the 2018 season will be:

Sept. 9 — Indianapolis Motor Speedway (final race before playoffs)

Sept. 16 — Las Vegas (playoff opener)

Sept. 22 — Richmond

Sept. 30 — Charlotte (oval/infield road course – end of first round)

Oct. 7 — Dover (start of second round)

Oct. 14 — Talladega

Oct. 21 — Kansas (end of second round)

Oct. 28 — Martinsville (start of third round)

Nov. 4 — Texas

Nov. 11 — Phoenix (end of third round)

Nov. 18 — Miami (championship)

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Report: 2018 NASCAR schedule delayed, Brickyard 400 may run on road course

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The 2018 NASCAR Cup schedule was expected to be released some time this month.

But a report via Twitter from Adam Stern of SportsBusinessDaily.com and Sports Business Journal — citing unidentified sources — indicates the schedule release has been delayed.

Stern tweeted that those sources told him the holdup is partly related to the possibility of moving up the Brickyard 400 a couple of weeks on the 2018 NASCAR Cup schedule.

Also according to Stern, IMS is reportedly considering changing the format of the Brickyard 400 from its usual race on the famous 2.5-mile oval — which has hosted the 400 since its inception in 1994 — to a road course race in 2018.

Interestingly, if such a move is made, it would come on the 25th anniversary of the Brickyard 400 being contested at IMS. This year’s 24th annual running of the Brickyard 400 will be on July 23.

Such a race could potentially use the track’s infield road course and part of the fabled racetrack, similar to the Indianapolis Grand Prix format that will take place this weekend. 

A statement from NASCAR to NBC Sports addressed the schedule situation:

“NASCAR and our industry partners are working very closely to finalize a 2018 schedule that will deliver great racing to our fans. We look forward to sharing it soon.”

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Kevin Harvick gets caught up in Fernando Alonso interest mania

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Race fans aren’t the only ones intrigued by former two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso’s decision to compete in the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500 later this month.

Alonso spent much of Wednesday testing at and getting a feeling for Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

A number of fans were watching the live online stream of Alonso’s, including NASCAR Cup driver and a former champion himself, Kevin Harvick.

Of course, Harvick has a little additional reason to be interested in Alonso’s quest to conquer the Brickyard. Not only has Harvick won at IMS in the 2003 Brickyard 400, he also used to have the same number — 29 — that Alonso will sport on his McLaren Honda Andretti ride in the Greatest Spectacle In Racing.

Alonso also got into the social media swing of things with his own post, as well as one from his team, McLaren Honda Andretti:

Helmet.

A post shared by Fernando Alonso (@fernandoalo_oficial) on

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