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Cup Series race in cards for Eldora Speedway?

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Since the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series’ smashing debut at Eldora Speedway in 2013, speculation has sprouted about whether the Cup Series could be molded to the short track.

The better question might be whether the historic half-mile clay oval, which opened in 1954 and was bought by Tony Stewart in 2004, could be retrofitted to meet specs of playing host to NASCAR’s premier series without altering its character.

“Would a Cup race work? Yes,” Eldora Speedway general manager Roger Slack said on the NASCAR on NBC podcast. “But at that point, you’re having to make alterations to the facility. Say a full pit road. How to do that and not compromise nearly 65 years of the Eldora legacy?”

The track also lacks a SAFER barrier because the soft-wall technology is designed to be anchored and mounted on an asphalt surface. Slack also said the dirt and mud that would be slung into its crevices would hamper the SAFER barrier’s efficacy because it wouldn’t flex in the intended manner to cushion impacts.

“If there was an option to do it that worked on dirt, in all likelihood, we’d be the first place to go and install it purposely for a dirt track,” he said. “There’s a motorsports safety council (that is) trying to take a look at it.”

There also could be space concerns about handling the fleet of 18-wheelers that transports the Cup circuit around the country.

“It’s not just 40 haulers” for the teams, Slack said. “It’s at least 100 haulers, and you have to have room for 100 semis.”

After the truck’s debut, Stewart lobbied hard for NASCAR to bring the Xfinity or Cup Series to the track, but he has been less vocal the past three years.

“If you can take the trucks and make them work here, the Cup and (Xfinity) cars aren’t a big stretch,” Stewart said in 2014. “It’s definitely feasible. It’s just a matter of is that something they want to do?”

Slack believes the Xfinity Series wouldn’t work as well as trucks because its costs would preclude dirt-track moonlighting, and it wouldn’t offer the star power of Cup.

“The trucks are different, they look different,” Slack said. “It’s something our local dirt racers can raise some money and get into the show. That makes it unique enough where it still works. I don’t think Xfinity would work as it is.”

But there is strong evidence that a Cup race would be a major draw. Using Late Models provided by dirt track teams, Cup stars raced in the annual Prelude to the Dream at Eldora from 2005-12.

“Would a Cup race work there? Yes,” Slack said. “Would it work in the middle of the week? Yes. Would it work financially? Yes.”

So is there any hope of putting it on the front burner for NASCAR?

“They don’t return my normal calls, let alone those ones,” Slack said with a laugh about NASCAR officials.

In the meantime, the track is happy to have become one of the crown jewel events on the truck schedule.

“You really have to respect the truck guys,” Slack said. “They work their guts out. A lot of them are not making very much money, struggling to be there, and they come and bring a truck built for asphalt and race it on dirt. And they are extremely appreciative we have the event.”

During the podcast, Slack also discussed:

–The top-secret test in 2012 with Austin Dillon and Stewart to ensure the trucks would work on dirt;

–The renaissance and resurgence of dirt racing and its appeal;

–What it’s like working for Tony Stewart.

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the AudioBoom embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts by clicking here. The free subscription will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone.

It also is available on Stitcher by clicking here and also can be found on Google Play, Spotify and a host of other smartphone apps.

Today’s Cup race at New Hampshire: Start time, weather, TV/radio info

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Happy anniversary, Matt Kenseth. It’s been one year since you won the mid-July NASCAR Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Then again, today may be a bit bittersweet for Kenseth, as today’s race also marks the last time he reached victory lane in the Cup series.

That’s right, one year – 35 races – between wins.

Can Kenseth repeat last year’s victory? He’s got a great starting spot: on the inside of Row 2 (third place) in today’s race.

Here are the particulars for today’s Cup race:

(All times are Eastern)

START: Parker Overton, Founder of Overton’s, will give the command to start engines at 3:07 p.m. Green flag is set for 3:15 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 301 laps (318.46 miles) around the 1.058-mile speedway.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 75; Stage 2  ends at Lap 150.

COMPETITION CAUTION: Lap 35

PRERACE SCHEDULE: The NASCAR Cup garage opens at 9:30 a.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is at 1 p.m. Driver introductions are at 2:30 p.m.

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will broadcast the race. Coverage begins at 1:30 p.m. with NASCAR America. Countdown to Green follows at 2:30 p.m. Performance Racing Network’s broadcast on radio and at goprn.com begins at 2 p.m. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the PRN broadcast.

ANTHEMS: Canadian Anthem will be performed by Kyle Masterson at 2:58 p.m. U.S. Anthem will be performed by Jodie Cunningham at 3:01 p.m.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com site predicts 84 degrees at race time with a 15 percent chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST YEAR: Matt Kenseth led 39 of 301 laps to win. Tony Stewart finished second while Joey Logano was third. Kyle Busch led a race-high 133 laps but finished eighth, while Martin Truex Jr. led 123 laps and finished 16th. Kevin Harvick won the playoff race in September. Kenseth was second. Busch third.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the row-by-row starting lineup.

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Bump & Run: Is William Byron worthy of a Cup ride in 2018?

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Nate Ryan and Dustin Long debate some of the key issues in the sport this week:

William Byron has won the past two Xfinity races and easily could have won three in a row. Is he showing you he is worthy of a Cup ride next year?

Nate Ryan: Absolutely. He seems less of a risk every week for promotion by Hendrick Motorsports. (And he also seems more of a bargain at a Cup rookie salary.)

Dustin Long: Yes. His ability to adapt despite his relative lack of experience is stunning. Still, there’s a big difference between Xfinity and Cup. Hendrick is an organization that can put a good support group around him to help with a move to Cup and the challenges — and setbacks — he’ll likely face. If his success continues, maybe its worthwhile to go ahead and move him up to Cup for next year.

Kasey Kahne is running five nights of sprint car races this week and Kyle Larson is running four night of sprint car races. If you were their boss, how would you handle their desire to race those cars?

Nate Ryan: Let them run if it keeps them happy and if their cars are held to the most stringent of safety standards. Tony Stewart often proved that extracurricular racing didn’t detract from his Cup results (and honing his restart ability in a sprint car actually might have helped his push to the 2011 championship), and Larson seems to be in that same place now.

Of course, Stewart missed half a season with a broken leg in a crash four years ago, and team owners Chip Ganassi and Rick Hendrick understandably are leery about their drivers racing cars that occasionally can seem like deathtraps, which is partly why Larson is limited to 25 races and Kahne didn’t race sprint cars from 2013-15.

But Larson also made a compelling case recently for why drivers should compete on the grass-roots level as often as possible, and the greater good of NASCAR needs the benefit of that exposure and outreach.

Dustin Long: Chip Ganassi Racing’s model of limiting Larson to 25 races seems a fair and reasonable way to doing it. No driver needs to be racing all the time in another series. That’s a hobby and their main job is the Cup team — which many people depend on to succeed for jobs.

There has to be a balance. Just as Jimmie Johnson skies (people get hurt doing that), or he and other drivers bike (again people get hurt or could be killed in accidents), team owners aren’t going to be able to stop these drivers from living.

There can be a benefit to allowing these drivers to race. Look at the confidence Larson is building with his sprint car success. Owners say the most important part of their team is people. Confidence can mean a lot during a long, rigorous season. Let them race.

Steve O’Donnell said on the NASCAR on NBC podcast that officials are looking to move the overtime line to the start/finish line in 2018. What should NASCAR do about overtime?

Nate Ryan: Get rid of it altogether. Let races end under caution the way they did from 1948 to 2004. If there’s a wreck late in a race but still possible to let the lead pack race back to the flagstand without putting anyone at risk, hold the yellow until the leader reaches the line when possible. Or perhaps revisit the idea of red-flagging a race once if there’s a caution within a window of five to 10 laps remaining. But always follow this priority list for concluding a race: 1) safety; 2) competitive integrity; 3) entertainment value.

Dustin Long: NASCAR needs to decide what its goal is. I grew up with races ending under caution. Yes, it’s a downer, but I’m fine with that. However, I understand, that the entertainment factor of a green-flag finish provides more excitement and buzz for the sport than cars going under the checkered flag at 55 mph or less.

Let’s be honest, a good number of people judge how good a race is by the finish. In that sense, the sport is going to look for a way to end races under green while trying to limit the potential danger to drivers.

I’m fine with one attempt at a green-flag finish — whether that is overtime similar to what is the case now or red flagging a race when there’s a late caution — but I’m not for endless attempts at a green-flag finish that puts drivers in jeopardy.

For more on what’s happening in NASCAR, watch NASCAR America from 5-6 p.m. ET today with Carolyn Manno, Steve Letarte and Kyle Petty.

International Speedway Corp. reports attendance drop in second quarter

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International Speedway Corp. reported Monday that Cup attendance was down an average of 6.5 percent for the six races it held in the second quarter.

Races during the second quarter, which ended May 31, were at Phoenix, Auto Club Speedway, Martinsville, Richmond, Talladega and Kansas.

During its investor analyst call, International Speedway Corp. reported that admission revenue at Talladega and Auto Club were “comparable” to 2016.

Admissions revenue for the second quarter was $28.7 million, which was down about $1.8 million compared to the same period from last year.

Motorsports revenue for the quarter was $122 million, which ISC stated was primarily due to TV broadcast rights.

ISC reported that it has had “mixed results” for its recent Cup weekends at Michigan and Daytona, which are in the third quarter. ISC reported increases in attendance and admissions revenue for Daytona but did not state how much of an increase.

ISC also stated that advance ticket sales for the August Cup weekend at Watkins Glen were “tracking in line” with 2016. Watkins Glen sold out its grandstands last year for a second consecutive year.

Advance sales for remaining ISC races in the third and fourth quarter are down approximately 5 percent, the company reported.

“We remain confident our consumer-focused marketing strategies are working to slow recent attendance revenue related trends,’’ said John Saunders, president of ISC. “Our initiatives will continue to target new and lapsed customers through all traditional media, social and digital channels. The objective here is to reignite and protect the base, grow casuals into avids and spark interest and demand with the next generation of fans.

“Our strategies are focused on value-added options that enhance the live motorsports experience for our fans, including exclusive VIP hospitality experiences with driver appearances and Q&A sessions. We’ve included ticket packages aimed at youth and younger demographics with kid pricing and family targeted promotions.’’

Asked about where the disconnect is in an improving economy, Saunders said:

“Since our last call, Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. has announced his retirement (from full Cup racing) at the end of the season. … When you look at Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart and certainly Dale Jr., that’s having an impact.

“The good news is that we’re seeing these younger drivers, and they’re younger, 19-year-old kids coming along, and you’ve got Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney. As the emotional connection is made with these drivers, I think we’re going to see a resurgence and with a younger demographic. There are some short-term things that are working, and there are some things that are going to take longer to resonate.’’

ISC also reported:

  • Its board recently approved a project to renovate the infield at Richmond International Raceway and “introduce innovative fan experiences.’’ Details were not disclosed.
  • It has one Cup entitlement sponsorship open in the fourth quarter, which is comparable to last year.
  • The average ticket price for Cup events during the second quarter was $71.96, which is comparable to last year.
  • Viewership of Cup Series has seen a growth in viewers age 18-34 in 13 of 16 races.
  • More than half of its revenue is secured through NASCAR’s 10-year broadcast agreement and multi-year partnership agreements.

For the full ISC report and statement, go here.

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Stewart-Haas Racing enjoys best race since winning Daytona 500

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It’s hard to believe, but Stewart-Haas Racing went winless between the first and 16th NASCAR Cup races of the year.

The team co-owned by Tony Stewart and Gene Haas bookended the first half of the season by winning the Daytona 500 and Sunday’s race at Sonoma Raceway.

Though the day was highlighted by Kevin Harvick winning at Sonoma for the first time, it was improved upon by Clint Bowyer finishing second in a car that looked like a diecast that had been manhandled by a 3-year-old.

It was just the third time SHR cars had finished 1-2 in a Cup race.

For Stewart, a year removed from his final Cup win at the same track, it made for an “awesome day” in the middle of a tough year that started with Kurt Busch‘s Daytona 500 triumph.

“I think the important thing is with the way our series is laid down, having two of the drivers get their wins already at this point of the year and solidly in the Chase, that’s a very important deal for our company, especially from the sponsorship side,” Stewart said. “Got great partners, obviously, and to get Mobil 1 in Victory Lane this weekend was great. That’s big, and our first year with Ford now and we’ve won two races already this season, so I think that’s a really solid effort and shows how good a partnership we have with Ford right now.”

Though there’s been bumps in the team’s transition from Chevy to Ford this season, the team has had off-track issues finding sponsors for its four-car team and legal problems with existing sponsor, Nature’s Bakery. A four-month legal battle resulted in the company sponsoring Danica Patrick and Clint Bowyer in two races each later this year.

Bowyer has had Haas-owned companies as his primary sponsor in 12 of 16 races. Busch has had them as a co-primary sponsor in 15 of 16 races.

“For two of the four teams right now, they can start worrying about what to do to get ready for the (playoffs) and having the ability to try different things to prepare for that,” Stewart said of the next 10 races before the playoffs start. “That’s a really important thing for our company right now, and I think we all expected that Kevin would have got it sooner than this, but there’s just been some bad luck, some different venues that he’s been really, really strong at that we just had some weird and bad luck that have crept in to his program.”

Entering Sonoma, Harvick had five top fives, with his best result a runner-up finish at Pocono. He still has three stage wins, tying him for second most with Kyle Larson.

Bowyer left the road course with his second runner-up finish of the year and his third top five, his most since 2014. His rebound comes while he works with crew chief Mike Bugarewicz, who was paired with Stewart in his final year of competition.

“Clint and Buga, to be having the season they’ve had as a fresh driver and crew chief combination, I think they’ve had a really good start to their season, as well,” Stewart said. “I think there’s a lot of positive things in the company, and the results haven’t obviously always shown that, but at the same time, being able to sit on the pit box and see it a lot more clearly from the pit box than I could from my own car last year, I think there’s a lot of things that we’re excited about.”

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