Jim Cassidy

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Ben Kennedy named general manager of Truck Series in NASCAR executive moves

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NASCAR announced multiple leadership moves Tuesday, including the naming of Ben Kennedy as general manager of the Camping World Truck Series.

Kennedy, a former Truck Series driver, is the nephew of NASCAR CEO and Chairman Brian France and son of International Speedway Corporation’s CEO, Lesa France Kennedy.

Kennedy, 26, will work closely with Brad Moran, the managing director of the Truck Series and Jeff Wohlschlaeger, managing director of series marketing. He will report to Elton Sawyer, vice president of competition.

“Ben will draw upon his years of experience across NASCAR’s grassroots and national series to bring valuable commercial and competition insights to our NASCAR Camping World Truck Series,” said NASCAR President Brent Dewar in a press release. With promising young drivers and experienced veterans battling it out in close, side-by-side racing, Ben truly understands from experience that every lap matters and we are excited about his future leadership in this important national series.”

Kennedy has made 73 starts in the Truck Series and 17 in the Xfinity Series. In 2016, he earned his lone Truck Series win at Bristol Motor Speedway, becoming the first member of the France family to win a national NASCAR race.

MORE: Spotlight Q&A with Ben Kennedy

NASCAR also announced it has appointed Jim Cassidy to the new role of chief international officer. Cassidy was previously the vice president of racing operations.

In his new role, Cassidy will oversee all international competition and commercial operations, which includes the Pinty’s Series in Canada, the PEAK Mexico Series and the Whelen Euro Series.

“NASCAR racing is broadcast in over 185 countries and territories, with race fans engaging stock car racing in person at events in Canada, Mexico and across Europe,” Cassidy said in a press release. “The demand for NASCAR racing internationally has never been stronger and we look forward to bringing our sport closer to race fans everywhere.”

Cassidy will report to Steve O’Donnell, executive vice president and chief racing development officer.

“Jim brings nearly two decades of racing operations and industry leadership experience,” O’Donnell said in the press release. “He has worked tirelessly to grow our existing motorsports properties outside of the U.S and will lead our efforts to identify important growth opportunities internationally for our sport and its growing fanbase.”

Joining Cassidy in his efforts will be:

  • Chad Seigler as vice president of international business development
  • Celeste Griffin-Churchill as senior director, international
  • Joe Balash as director, international competition
  • Bob Duvall as senior director, international & weekly/touring business development

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Breaking down NASCAR’s rule to further limit Cup drivers in Xfinity, Trucks (video)

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NASCAR announced Tuesday further limitations on Cup drivers in the Xfinity and Truck Series for 2018.

Here’s a look at the new guidelines and what all this means.

WHAT ARE THE NEW GUIDELINES?

In 2018, any driver who scores Cup points will be barred from competing in the final eight races of the Xfinity and Truck Series in 2018 (that’s the regular-season finale and the playoffs).

Any driver who scores Cup points will be barred from competing in the Dash 4 Cash races in the Xfinity Series in 2018.

Cup drivers with more than five years of experience in that series, will be limited to seven Xfinity races and five Truck races.

WHAT CHANGED?

This year, Cup drivers with less than five years experience are allowed to compete in the playoffs in the Xfinity and Truck Series. The exception is that any driver scoring Cup points is prohibited from competing in the Xfinity and Truck championship race at Homestead.

This year, Cup drivers with less than five years experience were allowed in compete in the four Dash 4 Cash races.

This year, Cup drivers with more than five years experience in that series are allowed to compete in 10 Xfinity races and seven Truck races this year.

WHY IS THIS BEING DONE?

NASCAR states it is being done to give younger drivers more opportunities to compete in the Xfinity and Truck races. Also, NASCAR is not tone-deaf to complaints by fans about seeing Cup drivers dominate the Xfintiy Series in particular.

Cup drivers won 11 of the first 13 Xfinity races this season. Cup drivers won three of the four Dash 4 Cash races, no doubt a reason for barring Cup drivers in those events next year.

IS THIS BEING DONE TO THWART Kyle Busch?

Your viewpoint depends on if you are a Kyle Busch fan. It could make his quest for 100 series wins (he’s at 89) take longer with fewer races per year. He has won 19 of the 39 Xfinity races he’s started since 2015. He’s won six of the 13 Truck races he’s started since 2015.

WILL THIS WORK IN ALLOWING MORE DRIVERS OPPORTUNITIES TO RACE IN THE XFINTY OR TRUCK SERIES?

It will come down to sponsorship. With top Xfintiy rides costing about $160,000 a race, the question is if enough drivers will be able to find that money to pay to race.

Kevin Harvick has raised the issue that Xfinity teams are able to offer lower rates for young drivers to pay to race because those teams have Cup drivers in their cars that bring higher sponsorship dollars.

Will this rule change those dynamics and raise the price for young drivers to buy their opportunities?

Will teams decide it’s not worth it to lower the cost for drivers to pay and decide to skip some races?

If that happens, will NASCAR eventually decide to cut the field size further?

Will fans who have complained about Cup drivers in the Xfinity and Truck Series begin attending or watching more of these races?

WHAT CUP DRIVERS HAVE WON XFINTIY RACES THIS YEAR?

3 – Kyle Busch (Atlanta, Kentucky, New Hampshire)

3 – Kyle Larson (Auto Club, Richmond, Dover)

2 – Erik Jones (Texas, Bristol)

1 – Joey Logano (Las Vegas)

1 – Aric Almirola (Talladega)

1 – Ryan Blaney (Charlotte)

1 – Brad Keselowski (Pocono)

1 – Denny Hamlin (Michigan)

ANY CONSIDERATION OF LIMITING A CUP TEAM’S PARTICIPATION IN EITHER SERIES?

“Not any serious consideration,’’ Jim Cassidy, NASCAR senior vice president of racing operations, said Tuesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “It’s something that we’ve not taken a hard look. I suppose we could. I think there are different ways of going about it. I think the path we’re on will continue to satisfy both sides for the fans as well as our current teams. We certainly don’t take for granted the interest and the participation of some of our Cup teams in the Xfinity and the Camping World Truck Series.

WHAT XFINTIY RACES WILL CUP DRIVERS NOT BE ALLOWED TO RACE IN 2018?

Las Vegas (Sept. 15), Richmond (Sept. 21), Charlotte (Sept. 29), Dover (Oct. 6), Kansas (Oct. 20), Texas (Nov. 3), Phoenix (Nov. 10) and Homestead (Nov. 17).

All Cup drivers will be barred from the Dash 4 Cash races. Those races for 2018 have not been announced. In 2017, those races were the spring events at Phoenix, Bristol, Richmond and Dover.

WHAT TRUCK RACES WILL CUP DRIVERS NOT BE ALLOWED TO RACE IN 2018?

Bristol (Aug. 15), Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (Aug. 26), Las Vegas (Sept. 14), Talladega (Oct. 13), Martinsville (Oct. 27), Texas (Nov. 2), Phoenix (Nov. 9) and Homestead (Nov. 16).

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING:

Xfinity drive Blake Koch told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio: “I prefer standalone races with the Xfinity guys. The one thing I love about going to Iowa is that every fan you meet, every fan you see, they’re there to watch your race and watch your series compete. … I always like racing against my competitors that we’re racing for in points. Every single car you’re racing against, every single person, it matters and you want to beat every car. Put seven or eight Cup guys in there and they don’t really have anything to lose, they’re just going for a win and it’s a different race. It’s almost like two different races going on the race track.’’

Kyle Larson tweeted: “I don’t mind the rule but the bar is set higher with Cup guys racing and I believe it helps the future competitiveness of our sport by…. Allowing them to compete and learn off of us. I would not have been ready for Cup in 14 without getting beat by the 18/22 and others.’’

Garrett Smithley told NBC Sports: I always have mixed feelings on the matter. I understand personally and in a business sense why the Cup drivers come down to the Xfinity series and race. But, with that said, you look at Iowa last weekend. Ryan Preece got in the 20 car. He wouldn’t have had the opportunity if there was a Cup guy in it. So I think there is a place for Cup drivers in the Xfinity Series. Me personally I’ve learned from them. I’ve tried to gain their respect. I feel I’ve done a pretty good job of that. When you get up behind those guys and run with them you learn from them. You see different lines and do different things. I enjoy running with them, but at the same time the less Cup drivers that are in the races, the more opportunities that guys like myself would get.

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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All-Star Race will remain at Charlotte in 2018

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NASCAR confirmed that the All-Star Race will be held again at Charlotte Motor Speedway despite more of a push from competitors and others to move the event.

Criticism was raised after last weekend’s 70-lap event featured only three lead changes. Kyle Busch took the lead on the restart to begin the final 10-lap stage and went on to win. It marked the fourth time in the last five years the All-Star winner led every lap in the final stage. In 12 All-Star Races at Charlotte since the track was repaved, there have been two lead changes in the final five laps.

Jim Cassidy, NASCAR senior vice president of racing operations, was clear in a call with reporters Tuesday that the All-Star Race is set for Charlotte.

“We’ve finished our discussions for ’18,” he said. ” We’ll begin looking at ’19 and beyond in the near future.”

The All-Star Race debuted at Charlotte in 1985, moved to Atlanta in 1986 and returned to Charlotte the following year. It has been held at Charlotte ever since.

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Report states Las Vegas could have second Cup date in 2018

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The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that Las Vegas Motor Speedway is close to getting a second NASCAR Cup race for 2018.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority has scheduled a special meeting of its Board of Directors Wednesday to discuss a seven-year sponsorship agreement with the track. The deal would be for $2.5 million a year and could be extended three more years.

The Review-Journal reports that a sponsorship and marketing agreement would dedicate $1 million per race, plus $500,000 a year to market both a spring and fall race weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The newspaper reports that there are clauses to cancel payments if a race is canceled and not rescheduled, not a top-tier NASCAR race or if it isn’t broadcast on a major broadcast or cable television network.

Cup tracks are in the second year of five-year sanctioning agreements with NASCAR. That doesn’t prevent track companies from moving dates. Las Vegas Motor Speedway is owned by Speedway Motorsports Inc., which also owns Atlanta, Bristol, Charlotte, Kentucky, Texas, New Hampshire and Sonoma.

NASCAR issued a statement from Jim Cassidy, senior vice president of Racing Operations and NASCAR Event Management, that said: “We are constantly working with promoters to discuss and develop NASCAR schedules. We have not finalized any schedules for 2018 or beyond, but will announce them as they become final.”

Las Vegas Motor Speedway, which has hosted one Cup race a year since 1998, issued a statement that read:

“All of the information regarding a potential sponsorship opportunity between Las Vegas Motor Speedway and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority can be found at www.lvcva.com. When there is more information to provide, we will do so subsequent to the LVCVA Board of Directors meeting on March 8.”

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