Friday 5: Bowman Gray’s Madhouse represents what NASCAR’s future could be

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As the NASCAR community caravans to Martinsville Speedway this weekend, many will drive by Winston-Salem, North Carolina on the way to the Cup Series’ shortest track.

Although one can’t see Bowman Gray Stadium from the roads that many teams, media and fans will take to Martinsville, its impact on the sport can’t be overlooked.

Bowman Gray Stadium, which recently completed its 71st season of racing, could be the most important track to NASCAR.

As the sport looks to 2020 and beyond, NASCAR is carving a schedule that increases the chance for conflict and controversy — exactly what made Bowman Gray Stadium a must-see for fans, inspired the TV show “Madhouse” and stocks Google searches with stories and videos of altercations and cars ramming each other.

This could be the future of the Cup Series.

Call it a return to its past.

Beating and banging is nothing new in NASCAR. It’s part of Dale Earnhardt’s legacy. It’s why fans long for North Wilkesboro. It’s how some measure the present.

But NASCAR is putting in motion a plan that could increase the likelihood that the chaos often seen at Bowman Gray could become more common in Cup.

While next year’s Cup schedule features the same six short track races as this year, those tracks will have greater significance in the playoffs.

The Bristol night race moves into the playoffs for the first time and is the opening round’s elimination race. It will be held the week after Richmond, marking back-to-back short track playoff events for the first time. Don’t think there won’t be some contact and tempers?

And to raise the intensity, NASCAR moved Martinsville Speedway to the final race before the championship race next year.

Look at what Joey Logano did last year at Martinsville when it was the opening race in the Round of 8. Knocking Martin Truex Jr. out of the lead on the final lap to win guaranteed Logano a spot in the championship race in Miami. Logano went on to win at Miami to claim his first Cup title.

Aric Almirola said on NASCAR America’s MotorMouths this week that “Martinsville is always kind of a place where you have to get rough when you need, but I do feel like that Joey opened Pandora’s box there. … I think anybody else that is in the Round of 8 that saw that and sees that if they have an opportunity to win at Martinsville, don’t be nice. You have to take that opportunity.”

Imagine what it will be like next year when Martinsville is the last chance to get into championship race (which will be held at ISM Raceway, a track more conducive to beating and banging than Homestead-Miami Speedway).

Desperate times call for desperate measures. That could lead more contact on the track, which would could lead to an altercation with drivers and crew members on pit road after a race.

Isn’t that what many fans want to see? Drama, conflict and controversy.

Fans could see that again Sunday at Martinsville (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN) and even more likely next year with its place in the playoffs.

Yes, it could be just like a Saturday night at Bowman Gray Stadium.

“The first year moving here, I went to Bowman Gray,” AJ Allmendinger said on NASCAR America’s MotorMouths this week. “I was like what is this place? This is insanity … but this is awesome. I love this place.

“I love seeing the races there, the videos that go with it because it’s true passion and a little bit of craziness mixed in.”

And the future.

2. A faster approach

Although Corey LaJoie says he hasn’t signed anything with Go Fas Racing for next year — “we’re working toward making that happen,” he said last weekend at Kansas Speedway — he is seeking to add partners so the team can purchase better engines for some races next year.

Corey LaJoie (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

“Faster you can make that horse that I sit on every week run a little faster, it hopefully puts me in the conversation the next couple of years for a race-winning ride,” he said.

“It costs money to go fast. It’s a matter of trying to get more and more of that money, because upgrading the engine package is substantial, especially stretched out for majority of the year.”

LaJoie said the focus is on upgrading engines with plans for the team to purchase some cars from Stewart-Haas Racing.

The key will be money. As it is for any driver and team.

“Bringing funding is the name of the game,” LaJoie said. “You can act like it doesn’t exist, but it does. The first thing they say is, ‘We’d love for you to drive for us.’ The second question is ‘How much you got? Because I’ve talked to this guy and he’s got $2 million and this guy has a million and a half. What are you bringing to the table?’ Bringing helmets and seats isn’t what moves the needle. You have to have actual cash money.”

3. Chasing a record

Joe Gibbs Racing’s 16 wins this season are two short of the modern-era record of 18 set by Hendrick Motorsports in 2007. NASCAR’s modern era is from 1972.

It seems likely JGR will tie the mark with four races left. JGR drivers have won the past four short track races: Kyle Busch won at Bristol in April, Martin Truex Jr. swept the two Richmond races this year, and Denny Hamlin won the Bristol night race in August.

Also, consider Joe Gibbs Racing’s dominance at short tracks since 2009.

JGR drivers have won 31 of the 65 races at short tracks since that time. The next three teams: Hendrick Motorsports (10 wins), Team Penske (10) and Stewart-Haas Racing (seven) combine for 27 wins in that stretch.

4. A new look

The Kannapolis Intimidators are no more. The minor league baseball team, which took its name from Dale Earnhardt, announced previously that this would be its last season with that name. A team official told NBC Sports in February why it was changing the name that it had used since 2001.

Kannapolis Cannon Ballers logo (Photo: Kannapolis Cannon Ballers)

“Dale’s always going to be the Intimidator, Vince Marcucci, assistant general manager of the team told NBC Sports in February. “We’re not trying to get away from (it). I don’t think that’s the right way to put it. But, like, own our own brand. Because we don’t own the Intimidators. (Earnhardt’s widow) Teresa has the rights to that.

“So for speed and flexibility as we try to do creative things in the future, we’re going to need something we own ourselves.”

The team will be known as the Cannon Ballers.

But there still be an homage to Earnhardt. The mascot will have a bushy mustache like Earnhardt did. Also, in the logo, the B in Ballers is shaped like a 3 for Earnhardt.

5. Streaking

Kyle Busch seeks to tie Jimmie Johnson this weekend for second on the all-time list of most consecutive top-five finishes at Martinsville Speedway.

Busch has placed in the top five in each of the past eight races at Martinsville. Johnson had a streak of nine top-five finishes in a row from Oct. 2005 – Oct. 2009.

Jeff Gordon holds the record at the track with 11 consecutive top-five finishes. The streak began in April 2005 and ended in March 2010.

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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.

 

Darlington Raceway gets second Cup race for 2021

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Darlington Raceway will have two races in 2021, marking the first time since 2004 that the track has been scheduled to hold multiple Cup races in a season. The track announced its schedule Wednesday with South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster at the Governor’s mansion.

“Congratulations. Thank you. Hallelujah,” Gov. McMaster said after the dates were announced.

Darlington was scheduled to host one race in 2020 but added two more in NASCAR’s return to racing after the season was suspended by the COVID-19 pandemic.

MORE: Atlanta to host two Cup races in 2021 for first time since 2010

The track will hold its first Cup race next season on May 9. That is Mother’s Day. It marks only the third time in the last 40 years the series will have run on Mother’s Day. The series last raced on Mother’s Day in 2007 when rain forced the Darlington race to be held that afternoon. The only other time NASCAR raced on Mother’s Day in the last 40 years was 1986 when the All-Star Race was held at Atlanta.

Darlington’s second date will be its Southern 500 event on Sept. 5, Labor Day weekend. That race will again open the  Cup playoffs.

NASCAR will announce the 2021 Cup schedule on Wednesday afternoon.

Darlington hosted two Cup races a season from 1960-2004. It held one Cup race from 2005-19.

The track stated that 2021 schedules for the NASCAR Xfinity and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will be announced at a later date.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, tweeted that the Darlington races would be run with the low downforce package.

 

 

Atlanta to host two Cup races in 2021

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Atlanta Motor Speedway will host two Cup races in 2021, marking the first time since 2010 that the 1.5-mile speedway will have multiple Cup events in the same season.

Atlanta will host Cup races on March 21 and July 11.

The July 11 race will be the Quaker State 400 Presented by Walmart, moving sponsorship that had been with Kentucky Speedway. Kentucky Speedway will not be on the 2021 schedule. Its date becomes the second Atlanta date. The March race will be known at the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500.

The July race marks the first 400-mile race at Atlanta since 1966.

The track announced its dates Wednesday morning. The full 2021 Cup schedule will be released Wednesday afternoon.

Atlanta Motor Speedway stated on its website that it plans to host fans in its stands and camping areas in socially distanced, limited capacity for each of its Cup races in 2021.

“We’re beyond excited to deliver what our fans have been yearning for: a second weekend of NASCAR action in Atlanta once again,” AMS Executive Vice President and General Manager Brandon Hutchison said in a statement. “Folds of Honor and QuikTrip continue to be phenomenal partners for our spring weekend of racing and we’re thrilled to have Quaker State and Walmart on board this summer as we put together two weekends of entertainment and excitement for race fans.”