Podcast: Ross Chastain on the ‘evil business’ of competing for sponsors

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In his 2011 debut in a NASCAR national series, Ross Chastain earned a 10th in the Camping World Truck Series race at O’Reilly Raceway Park and a business lesson.

The most recent winner in the Xfinity Series said he received an unusual email shortly afterward from his new sponsor.

“The National Watermelon Association and Promotional Board got a nice little letter from NASCAR offering them to sponsor the Bristol truck race,” Chastain said on the most recent NASCAR on NBC Podcast. “They could have Ross in the 66 truck. And they could have the sponsorship of the race.”

Chastain’s sponsorship was unaffected – the board was on his truck for five more races – but the driver said it was an eye-opening experience on the competitive economics of NASCAR.

“That letter didn’t come to me,” he said. “It was never run by me or the team. None of us knew about it. They forwarded to me and said, ‘Hey, what’s this about? We don’t have sponsorship for this. We barely put this program together with you.’

“We never brought it up to NASCAR. It was just probably that somebody in their business development side. It never happened again. It opened my eyes to, ‘OK. I can play ball. I can play ball real well.’ And we know that now. I’m glad it happened so early because it really taught us a lot.”

Chastain’s three-race stint in the No. 42 Chevrolet of Chip Ganassi Racing, which is scheduled to conclude with tonight at Richmond Raceway, also has a layer on the state of driver economics.

After winning at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Chastain disclosed that he wasn’t being paid for driving the car. During the podcast, he compared it with “an internship. When you’re young, you’ll do anything to get the job you want.”

Is he worried about devaluing his worth to the point at which it might destabilize the pay structure for younger drivers, though?

“Times are changing, man,” Chastain said. “You’re not going to make the money you used to. Granted, it’s a business. Everyone wants to make money in life, and you have to live. It’s just tough luck.

“It’s tough facts of life. I hate to talk about it because people don’t want me to. I didn’t say, ‘All right (sponsor DC Solar), you’re going to pay all this money, Chip Ganassi, you’re going to put in all this effort and these man hours, but hey I need to get paid.’ That’s crazy. Are you kidding me? I’m not going to say that. When they said there’s not money to get paid. I said, ‘Great. I just want a trophy. And I want to get you a trophy. And that’s all there is to it.’ ”

Even though he isn’t getting paid by Ganassi, Chastain said he feels fortunate that he isn’t paying to drive the car as he believes many other drivers are (by bringing sponsorship to a team and the receiving a percentage in return).

“A lot of people think I am, and I don’t correct them a lot of times because it honestly keeps other drivers with sponsorship away,” he said. “Because this is a very evil business. There’s people all the time that will reach out to my sponsors (and say), ‘Oh we can do a better job.’”

In the podcast, Chastain also discussed:

–What it was like addressing the Ganassi shop after his win;

–Why his driving style seems to make so many other drivers angry (“I have no friends on the track. Partly because the way I race, and I know that.”);

–The essence of watermelon farming, where he hopes to return after his driving career is over.

–Whether he has talked with Kevin Harvick since their skirmish at Darlington Raceway;

–If he can win the Xfinity championship with JD Motorsports, his primary team.

To listen to the NASCAR on NBC Podcast, click on the embed above, or you can download the episodes at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play or wherever you get your podcasts.

NASCAR Cup Series to go dirt trackin’ at Bristol in 2021

Photo: Bristol Motor Speedway
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Cup teams will compete on a dirt track for the first time in more than 50 years when the series races March 28 at Bristol Motor Speedway, the track announced. 

The full Cup schedule is set to be released at 3:30 p.m. ET today.

“Bristol Motor Speedway has hosted many historic events over the years and we will be adding to that resume,” Jerry Caldwell, general manager of  Bristol Motor Speedway, said on Wednesday. “We can’t wait to see how the stars of NASCAR take to the dirt.”

Said Austin Dillon of the race: “I’m super pumped. … I’m hoping it becomes a staple.”

Caldwell said the track will work with NASCAR on the race format for the dirt event.

“This is returning to our roots in racing,” Caldwell said. He noted that this concept has been talked about for “awhile.” He also said the track will “explore other options” on any other series that could race on dirt beyond NASCAR.

Caldwell said the change comes from feedback from fans.

Bristol hosted dirt races in 2000-01 with the World of Outlaws (see video below of 2001 race) and dirt late models. The track used 14,000 truckloads of dirt for the project.

The last Cup race on dirt was Sept. 30, 1970 at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds. Richard Petty won a 200-lap race on the half-mile track. He earned $1,000. Petty was among one of five Hall of Famers in the 23-car field that day. Bobby Isaac finished third, Bobby Allison placed sixth, Benny Parsons was 14th, Wendell Scott placed 20th.

The NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Series raced on dirt at Eldora Speedway from 2013-19. It was not held this year because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Bristol also will host a second race. That event again will be in the playoffs. The Sept. 18 race again will be an elimination race in the first round. The playoff race will be on the concrete track surface.

Road America to host 2021 Cup race on July 4

Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images
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Food, fireworks and road course racing will fill the July 4 calendar for NASCAR fans with Road America hosting the Cup series on that holiday weekend in 2021.

The track announced the race date Wednesday. The full Cup schedule is set to be released at 3:30 p.m. ET today.

The 4.048-mile course has hosted Xfinity races since 2010. Among the current Cup drivers who won there in the Xfinity Series are Michael McDowell in 2016 and Christopher Bell in 2019.

MORE: Cup to run on Indy road course in 2021

MORE: Circuit of the Americas to host Cup for first time in 2021

The track takes the holiday date that had been held by Daytona International Speedway from 1959-2018 before Indianapolis Motor Speedway hosted the Cup Series that weekend last year.

“We certainly have been working very close with (Road America) not only how we bring this to life but, ultimately, where it was going to be located on the schedule,” Ben Kennedy, NASCAR vice president of racing operations, told NBC Sports, said of adding the Wisconsin track to the schedule. “We started to really toss around the idea of hey, what about July 4th weekend and what would that look like for the track?

“Just even the name, Road America, it feels like Americana and the July 4th weekend and everything. Fireworks, camping and cookout, everything that goes along with it. That track is almost synonymous with it. I think that’s where we really ended up kind of tying Road America to July 4th weekend. Working with NBC on that as well, they are certainly very bullish on it and excited about having Road America on that weekend.”

Tim Flock won the lone Cup race at Road America in 1956. Flock was among nine NASCAR Hall of Famers among the 26 drivers in that race. Others included Fireball Roberts (third), Herb Thomas (sixth), Buck Baker (eighth), Rex White (11th), Lee Petty (13th), Joe Weatherly (20th), Curtis Turner (24th) and Junior Johnson (26th).

Circuit of the Americas to host Cup for first time in 2021

R. Kevin Butts photo - Courtesy of COTA
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The Cup Series will do more road course racing in 2021 with the addition of the Circuit of the Americas to the schedule, the track announced Wednesday.

The Cup race will be held May 23.

The 3.41-mile road course in Austin, Texas, has hosted Formula One and IndyCar races, among others since its debut in 2012. The track also has a 2.2-mile, 15-turn short course. Announcements regarding race length, course selection and the full weekend schedule will be made at a later date.

MORE: Cup to run on Indy road course in 2021

A NASCAR event has never been held at Circuit of the Americas, but Tony Stewart piloted a Stewart-Haas Racing car there last year in a demonstration run.

COTA is located roughly 220 miles south of Texas Motor Speedway. Speedway Motorsports will be the event’s promoter.

“Our company is proud to have a 60-year history of fabulous firsts in motorsports entertainment, and we are honored to bring America’s premier racing series to one of the world’s most renowned entertainment venues and cities for the very first time,” said Speedway Motorsports President and CEO Marcus Smith in a statement. “I’d like to thank COTA CEO Bobby Epstein as well as NASCAR’s executive leadership for supporting us in an endeavor to do something that we believe will be spectacular for race fans, not only in Texas but around the world. We work and challenge ourselves every day at Speedway Motorsports to create amazing experiences that will last a lifetime, and we know NASCAR at COTA will deliver in 2021.” 

“I’m grateful for Marcus Smith’s vision and determination to make this event possible,” said Circuit of the Americas CEO and Chairman, Bobby Epstein in a statement. “His teams in Charlotte and at Texas Motor Speedway have created a spirit of partnership that will make for a spectacular weekend of fun and competition. Speedway Motorsports, along with the leadership at NASCAR, have a ‘Fans First’ attitude and have responded to everyone who has long desired to see a Cup Series race at COTA. Fans who’ve been here before will witness stock car racing at its finest for the first time, and first-time visitors will be amazed at the views and friendly experience. It will be our pleasure to write another chapter of motorsports history alongside Speedway Motorsports and NASCAR in 2021.” 

The complete 2021 schedule will be announced this afternoon by NASCAR.

Cup to run on Indy road course in 2021

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The NASCAR Cup Series will return to Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2021 but will race on the road course for the first time instead of the oval, track officials announced Wednesday.

Cup will race on the road course on Aug. 15. That race will be held a day after the NTT IndyCar Series races on the Indy road course.

“Our first NASCAR-IndyCar weekend was a big success last July, with positive feedback from our loyal fans who watched the races on NBC and from the drivers, teams and participants involved,” IMS President J. Douglas Boles said in a statement. “The Xfinity Series’ debut on the IMS road course provided exactly the kind of thrilling action from the green to checkered flags that we anticipated, so we know the teams and drivers of the Cup Series will put on a great show as they turn left and right for the first time at IMS.

“We can’t wait to welcome back fans to see NASCAR and IndyCar together during this exciting weekend as we add another memorable chapter in the long, storied history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.”

MORE: Atlanta to have two Cup dates in 2021

MORE: Darlington to run Cup races on Mother’s Day, Labor Day weekend in 2021

The Cup Series has raced at Indy since 1994. But as the racing there has been questioned and the sport has made a push for more road course races, NASCAR moved the Xfinity Series to the road course this year as a trial. The event was well received, creating the opportunity to move next year’s Cup race to the road course as well.

“Indy is Indy, no matter if you’re on the road course or you’re on the oval,” Joey Logano said of what a win there would mean. “It doesn’t matter. If you’re on the dirt track, I don’t care, it’s Indy. It’s that big deal to win there. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a Cup car, IndyCar or a tricycle, you want to win at that race track.”

Indy’s road course is 2.439 miles and features 14 turns. Chase Briscoe won the Xfinity race there after a four-car battle for the lead in the final laps.

The full Cup schedule will be announced Wednesday afternoon. The Xfinity schedule will be announced at a later date. Boles said on a media Zoom he was unsure of the Xfinity plans but talked with Logano about an interest Logano would have in running in a Xfinity race there to get more track time for the Cup race.