Commissioner raises doubts of NASCAR at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway in 2022

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A Nashville Fair Board commissioner said during Tuesday’s meeting that “there’s not going to be a NASCAR race at the (Fairgrounds) Speedway in 2022.”

Speedway Motorsports, through Bristol Motor Speedway, is working on a deal with the city of Nashville for a long-term contract to lease, manage and operate Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway. As part of the deal, Speedway Motorsports would assume financial responsibility for renovations and maintenance of the track. That is subject to approval by the Nashville Board of Fair Commissioners and Metropolitan Council.

Speedway Motorsports has a letter of intent with the city to finalize the agreement before July 31, 2021.

MORE: Read the letter of intent between Nashville and Bristol 

Speedway Motorsports has not stated a timeline for when it hopes to host NASCAR racing at Fairgrounds Speedway, a 0.596-mile track that dates to 1904.

Jason Bergeron, a Fair Board commissioner, raised his concerns Tuesday about the time period for details on the speedway project (expected to be revealed May 11 at a public meeting) and public input. He also addressed his doubts that there would be NASCAR racing next year at the track.

“I’m not clear why this isn’t a longer period (after the proposed May 11 meeting) after that for more public input,” he said. “I understand that there are goals here.

“The more I dig in on this timeline of urgency – we need to be honest here, there’s not going to be a NASCAR race at the speedway in 2022. There’s not. There’s no way that construction of basically an entirely brand new speedway facility is going to be complete between late summer 2021 and in time for 2022. I think we need to be honest about that.”

Jerry Caldwell, executive vice president and general manager of Bristol Motor Speedway, said Tuesday in a statement: “We are very pleased with the continued progress we are making with all Metro Stakeholders surrounding the rescue efforts of the historic Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway. We aren’t at a place to predict specific timing for hosting major events, however, there is tremendous excitement among drivers, race teams, sponsors and fans about a long term future at the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway.

“It is our desire to synchronize with the other construction schedules to maximize those activities while limiting disruptions to the community. We look forward to hosting racing events as soon as possible and welcoming fans to a revitalized Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway.”

Bergeron suggested that after the speedway project details are revealed May 11, a period for public input should stretch through September.

“I want the board to know I had not anticipated how negative the public response would be on this,” Bergeron said. “For all the emails we all get from somebody, I’m getting 10 times that many calls and emails and texts from people who I’ve never talked about the Fairgrounds with, neighbors I know who are furious. Furious.

“I had not anticipated the amount of fury that would come from the public on this presentation. That’s really driving my concern that we need to have more robust public engagement after we have the full details of the plan presented.”

Dr. Sheri Weiner, a commissioner on the Fair Board, also noted the need for more details on the project.

“We don’t have enough information at this point to solidify a timeline,” she said.

Commissioner Caleb Hemmer stated: “I think the mayor has proposed this aggressive schedule, and we need to do our best to try to stick to that. I think having at least the information and starting point in May will help us at least get our heads around what the actual schedule should be after that in the public engagement.

“It’s hard sitting here today – there are several missing pieces here to try to think through all that out. Again, I’m putting my faith in the administration and the Bristol organization that they’re putting forth a complete picture for us to do that.”

The track hosted at least one Cup race a year from 1958-84. The Xfinity Series raced there in 1984, 1988-89 and from 1995-2000.

Marcus Smith, chief executive officer of Speedway Motorsports, said on a recent episode of the Dale Jr. Download about the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway project: “I’m super excited about it. I’ve been working on it for three years. I’m optimistic I just think it’s a great fit for NASCAR. The Fairgrounds Speedway is in Nashville. That’s just really unusual to take a NASCAR event into a venue that is 2 miles from city hall. That is pretty cool.”

Smith also shared some of his plans for the track with Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the Dale Jr. Download:

“Our vision is to restore it to the kind of venue that the community can enjoy everything from a NASCAR weekend to a music festival, Christmas shows in the holidays, the state fair, of course, and all sorts of events. Nashville is an event town.

“That facility needs to be brought up to the standards that it needs to be today to host a lot of events. It’s not just racing. We do this at our speedway in Las Vegas. Twice a year now we host NASCAR events, but 50 other weeks out of the year, we are hosting everything from a construction expo to a music concert, car shows, driverless car exhibitions, all sorts of special events there.

“We think that the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway can be this event venue that complements everything that goes on in Nashville.”

Nashville Mayor John Cooper also sees the potential in a deal with Speedway Motorsports and Bristol Motor Speedway.

“The goal of the partnership is to bring our historic racetrack back to life as a valuable and exciting part of the Fairgrounds,” he said March 5 when the letter of intent was announced. “We have an obligation to maintain the track, so it is smart for Nashville to engage a strong, long-term partner from the auto racing industry to operate it successfully.

“The business terms in this (letter of intent) protect Nashville, with multiple revenue streams to make this a financial success. We can put this landmark back on the national stage. I look forward to working with the Fair Board and the Metro Council in the months ahead.”

RFK Racing, Trackhouse Racing, Hendrick Motorsports announce sponsors

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RFK Racing, Trackhouse Racing and Hendrick Motorsports each announced primary sponsorship deals Monday.

King’s Hawaiian, which served as a primary sponsor in three races last year, returns to RFK Racing and Brad Keselowski’s No. 6 car this year. King’s Hawaiian will expand its role and be a primary sponsor for nine races. 

The first race with the sponsor will be this weekend’s Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. King’s Hawaiian also will be the primary sponsor on Keselowski’s car for Atlanta (March 19), Bristol Dirt (April 9), Kansas (May 7), World Wide Technology Raceway (June 4), Sonoma (June 11), Pocono (July 23), Daytona (Aug. 26) and Martinsville (Oct. 29).

Jockey returns to sponsor the Trackhouse cars of Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez for three races each this season with its Made in America Collection.

Jockey will be on the No. 99 car for Suarez at this weekend’s Busch Light Clash, the Bristol Dirt Race (April 9) and  Martinsville (Oct. 29).

Chastain’s No. 1 car will have Jockey as the primary sponsor at Richmond (April 2), Dover (April 30) and Michigan (Aug. 6).

Hooters returns to Hendrick Motorsports and will be the primary sponsor on the No. 9 car of Chase Elliott for the Bristol Dirt Race (April 9), the Chicago street course event (July 2) and Homestead-Miami Speedway (Oct. 22).

Toyota has ‘irons in the fire’ for expanding its lineup in NASCAR Cup Series for 2024

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Toyota Racing Development is making a renewed push to expand its lineup in the NASCAR Cup Series, and president David Wilson is optimistic about adding new teams for 2024.

“We’ve got some good irons in the fire now,” Wilson told NBC Sports last weekend at Daytona International Speedway. “What was once a very effective strategy to amass our resources across fewer cars, with the marginalization of the areas that we have to play in and the flattening out of the playing field, we definitely need some more help.”

When TRD entered NASCAR’s premier series as a fourth manufacturer 16 years ago, the target was fielding roughly a quarter of the 43-car field. But Toyota’s Cup fleet always has remained in the single digits even as NASCAR shrunk to three manufacturers and a 40-car field.

Last year, there were six full-time Camrys in Cup between Joe Gibbs Racing (four) and 23XI Racing (two). Wilson said “nine to 10 cars is probably our sweet spot with this new car.”

Over the past two years, TRD has talked to teams within NASCAR and at least two potential car owners who had yet to enter racing. Wilson declined to say if Toyota now is focused on existing or new teams but did rule out a Chevrolet or Ford anchor team such as Hendrick Motorsports or Team Penske.

“We’re talking to a lot of the incumbents,” Wilson told NBC Sports. “It’s a very dynamic time right now. If you’re a team, you want to have an association with a manufacturer. Again, even in spite of the new car, the flattening of the playing field, there’s still something about having an alliance and partnership. The good news is there’s a lot of interest. The bad news is you don’t have to worry about Penske or Hendrick.

“So what’s interesting from a fan standpoint, what’s going to continue to drive interest in our sport is the trajectory of some of the smaller organizations. The Tier 2 or 3 and how they get better. And that’s good for the sport, because as we saw last year, the number of teams that won, the number of drivers that won was historically unprecedented.”

The Next Gen made its debut in NASCAR last year with the goal of reducing costs through standardization of the chassis and parts supplied by single-source vendors while also reducing development expenses. While primarily intended to introduce a more cost-effective team business model, the Next Gen also delivered a new era of competitiveness in its inaugural season. The 2022 season tied a modern-era record with 19 race winners, and the Championship 4 breakthrough by Trackhouse Racing (with Ross Chastain) was indicative of a new crop of teams able to contend outside of the traditional powerhouses.

Wilson also believes the Next Gen should allow TRD to pursue more teams without breaking the bank.

“My budget doesn’t extrapolate with added cars, so it’s a matter of allocating the same resource across more cars and not taking away from your current effort,” Wilson said. “But again, that’s more doable now because we’re much more constrained with our wind tunnel time as an example. That’s a resource that we pay, a number of dollars per hour, and NASCAR continues to trim that back. It wouldn’t surprise me in a couple of years if there is no wind tunnel other than for body submissions purposes. They’re being very intentional and thoughtful about trying to keep coming back into areas where the team feel they have to spend or OEMs feel they have to spend.”

Manufacturer investment remains important, though, and Wilson takes some solace (while also gritting his teeth) about the impact Toyota has made in NASCAR.

After a rough debut in 2007, TRD added Joe Gibbs Racing in 2008 and also opened a technical center in Salisbury, North Carolina, that helped drive its approach of getting its teams to work closely together.

It’s been an approach adopted by Ford and Chevrolet over the past decade. Ford opened its tech center in Concord several years ago, and General Motors opened a new 130,000-square-foot performance and tech center last year (just down the road from Hendrick Motorsports headquarters) with NASCAR operations overseen by Dr. Eric Warren.

“To suggest that we don’t have areas to work in, all you have to do is look at the monstrosity that General Motors has built in Concord,” Wilson said. “I haven’t been invited to tour it yet, but I have talked to some folks that have been through, and hats off to Eric and the guys there. They’re investing significant resources. Can’t say that I’m not a little envious.

“We cut the ribbon (on the Salisbury facility) in 2008, and it seems like just yesterday. What I love about this world or what I hate about it, if you’re not constantly moving forward, you’re falling behind. I love it that our competitors are re-evaluating how they participate. Not that they’re following our lead, but when we came in the sport, we were the only ones doing it this way. Getting our hands dirty and really participating is material to the return on that investment. I’m glad that there are others doing the same thing, but it does cause us to look forward and look at what we need to do to make sure that we remain competitive.

“It’s competition. It makes all of us better, and I like that side of it. That’s a microcosm of the greater automotive industry. When Toyota came to this country, ultimately we helped the competition indirectly get better because they had something different to compete against. That’s kind of fun.”

Wilson was at Daytona International Speedway last weekend to watch Vasser Sullivan’s No. 14 Lexus finish third in the GTD Pro category of the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Surveying key race dates for the 2023 Cup season

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NASCAR Cup Series cars will fire up again Feb. 5 as the 2023 season begins with the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum in Los Angeles.

Two weeks later, the regular season opens with the Feb. 19 Daytona 500, for decades the curtain-raiser for the Cup Series’ 10-month cross-country marathon.

With only a single week break in mid-June, the Cup schedule visits familiar stops like Darlington, Bristol, Martinsville, Talladega and Dover but adds two new locations that should be highlights of the year — North Wilkesboro and Chicago.

Here’s a look at key races for each month of the season:

February — With all due respect to the unique posture of the Clash at the Coliseum (Feb. 5) and the apparent final race on the 2-mile track at Auto Club Speedway (Feb. 26) before it’s converted to a half-mile track, the Daytona 500 won’t be surpassed as a February highlight. Since the winter of 1959, the best stock car racers in the land have gathered on the Atlantic shore to brighten the winter, and the results often are memorable. Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Jeff Gordon and so many others have starred on Daytona’s high ground, and sometimes even rookies shine (see Austin Cindric’s victory last year).

MORE: Friday 5: Legacy aiming for breakout season

March — The newly reconfigured Atlanta Motor Speedway saw its racing radically changed last year with higher banks and straights that are tighter. The track now is considered more in the Daytona/Talladega superspeedway “family” than an intermediate speedway, generating a bit of the unknown for close pack racing. William Byron and Chase Elliott won at AMS last year.

April — Ah, the return to Martinsville (April 16). Despite the rumors, Ross Chastain’s wild last-lap charge in last October’s Martinsville race did not destroy the speedway. Will somebody try to duplicate Chastain’s move this time? Not likely, but no one expected what he did, either.

May — North Wilkesboro Speedway is back. Abandoned by NASCAR in 1996, the track’s revival reaches its peak May 21 when the Cup All-Star Race comes to town, putting Cup cars on one of stock car racing’s oldest tracks for the first time in a quarter century.

June — The June 11 Sonoma road course race will end 17 consecutive weeks of racing for the Cup Series. The schedule’s only break is the following weekend, with racing resuming June 25 at Nashville Superspeedway. Sonoma last year opened the door for the first Cup win by Daniel Suarez.

July — The July holiday weekend will offer one of the biggest experiments in the history of NASCAR. For the first time, Cup cars will race through the streets of a major city, in this case Chicago on July 2. If the race is a success, similar events could follow on future schedules.

August — The Aug. 26 race at Daytona is the final chance for drivers to qualify for the playoffs, ratcheting up the tension of the late-summer race considerably.

September — The Cup playoffs open with the Southern 500, making Darlington Raceway a key element in determining which drivers have easier roads in advancing to the next round.

October — The Oct. 29 Martinsville race is the last chance to earn a spot in the Championship Four with a race victory. Christopher Bell did it last year in a zany finish.

November — Phoenix. The desert. Four drivers, four cars and four teams for the championship.

 

Trackhouse Racing picks up additional sponsorship from Kubota

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Trackhouse Racing announced Friday that it has picked up additional sponsorship for drivers Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez from Kubota Tractor Corp. for the 2023 season.

Kubota sponsored Chastain’s No. 1 Chevrolet last October at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It is expanding its sponsorship to six races for the new season.

Chastain will race with Kubota sponsorship at Auto Club Speedway, Phoenix Raceway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway and Homestead-Miami. Suarez’s Chevrolet will carry Kubota livery at Texas Motor Speedway.

MORE: Friday 5: Legacy seeks breakout year in 2023

The team also announced that a $10,000 donation will be made to Farmer Veteran Coalition for each Kubota-sponsored race in which Chastain finishes in the top 10. The FVC assists military veterans and current armed services members who have an interest in farming.

“The sponsorship from Kubota is especially meaningful to me because it allows me to use my platform to shine a bright light on agriculture and on the men and women who work so hard to feed all of us,” said Chastain, whose family owns a Florida watermelon farm.