NASCAR President Steve Phelps shares vision of sport moving forward

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AVONDALE, Ariz. — NASCAR President Steve Phelps lauded the direction the sport is headed, hinted at a behind-the-scenes TV show, and noted the need to improve the weekend experience for fans at the track.

Those were among topics Phelps addressed in 60-minute session with reporters Friday at Phoenix Raceway.

He also talked about how the 2023 schedule won’t look like the 2022 schedule, along with the potential of moving the championship weekend to other venues.

One of the biggest issues in recent weeks has been attendance at tracks. Texas and Kansas had many empty seats, while Martinsville had a large crowd and Sunday’s Cup finale at Phoenix Raceway is sold out.

Phelps called the crowd size at Texas Motor Speedway “an unacceptable level of tickets sold in that marketplace.” He said NASCAR and Speedway Motorsports officials are working how to improve attendance there.

As for Kansas Speedway, which is owned by NASCAR, Phelps said 80% of the tickets were sold but only 60% of those tickets were scanned at the gates on the day of the race.

Phelps said for tracks owned by NASCAR, attendance is up for every race vs. 2019 with the exception of Darlington Raceway. That track went from one Cup race in 2019 to two this season.

As for the issue of making more races events, Phelps noted: “We need to make sure that the marketing and promotion is as strong as it can be. We need to make sure we are driving storylines. We need to make sure the event experience is better than it’s ever been. Are we satisfied with where that is? We’re not. We’re going to constantly get better.”

Some people have noted how the Netflix series “Drive to Survive” has helped boost Formula One interest in the U.S. and wondered why NASCAR can’t have something similar.

“We are in discussions with NBC Entertainment,” Phelps said. “Things look very positive. I think actually if we’re able to get a few contracts signed in the next couple weeks, they will begin production in December. They will be at the L.A. Coliseum (for the Feb. 6 NASCAR Clash).

“There’s a decent possibility that they will not just look at us as a segmented period of time like they were going to do in the playoffs, but they’ll extend it to potentially the entire season.

“Again, nothing to report there. If it looks like I’ve just reported something, I haven’t. But we are encouraged.”

As for future schedules, Phelps said: “I don’t know what the ’23 schedule is going to look like, but I know it’s not going to look like the ’22 schedule.”

Some drivers have said they would like to rotate the championship weekend. Phelps noted all the Phoenix community has done for this event, but he also acknowledged that the season finale could change at some point.

“I think the move from Miami to here was an important one after 20 years,” Phelps said. “I think thus far it’s worked out very well. The community here has embraced us. I think you see that.

“The question to me is really more about the competition, right? We’ve been embraced by this community. Would we be embraced by other communities? I suggest we probably would be.

So what is the best place to host or championship? Would we be open to rotation? Yes, we’d be open to rotation.

I would say every single option out there we look at. I think you’ve seen that over the last 18 months, that we are going to not be afraid to maximize the opportunity to create the best racing that we can in the best market we can and at the best racetracks that we can.”

Phelps also noted how the sport has seen growth.

“Our digital and social numbers are the highest they’ve been since 2015,” he said. “We continue to add on the social side. We feel that energy level, that excitement level throughout the digital and social channels.

Television, which gets a lot of focus, we are the most stable sport on television since 2018. No other sport, none, can match what NASCAR has done from a stability standpoint with our ratings. If you consider our share numbers since 2019 in our Cup Series, it’s up 18%, which is hard to do at this point. It’s just hard.

“Then you look at our ratings for Xfinity and our Camping World Truck Series, they’re up double-digits. The share in both of those series is up 25% to 30%. We are having a moment as a sport, it’s important that we keep it going, which is exactly what we’re going to do.

We’re going to continue to invest, we’re going to continue to collaborate with the rest of the industry to continue the growth this sport is on.”

Additional comments from Steve Phelps

Q. You said recently everything that’s still ailing NASCAR in terms of the Next Gen car, this is the panacea for what that is. What is your comfort with the level in terms of the economy with supply issues, certainly there seem to be some issues with the car, and right now you’re three months away from putting a product on track in front of a public audience, national television audience?

STEVE PHELPS: What I would say is that this car has been tested, run, more collaboration than any other new car in the history of this sport. Not even close. The Gen-5 car that came out, we ran a test in January before we raced it at Bristol for the first time.

I am confident, and we check all the time on supply chain issues. As of now there are no issues. We’ll continue to monitor that because it’s important. If you got 30 major components to the car, you only have 29 of them, you have a problem. Until the car is on the racetrack, we’ll continue to give it all the attention that it deserves, which is a lot.

With respect to issues with the car that we’re working through, right now it’s really down to two things that we see, which is steering, which you guys have talked about, and getting that right, the other is the heat in the car. We’ve got some solves for that that the drivers I believe are feeling more satisfied with.

Listen, until it comes out and we’re actually at the L.A. Coliseum, we’re at the 500, with race cars on the racetrack, I’ll continue to be concerned. But I would say Steve O’Donnell, Probst, Brandon Thomas, that group, working with our teams, working with our OEM partners, have done an incredible job getting us to this point.

I’m super proud of the group. I think this is a really important milestone for NASCAR. We have to get it right.

Q. We haven’t heard a lot on Fontana recently, converting it to a short track. Given supply chain issues, pandemic disruptions, are you still anticipating it will be a short track in 2023?

STEVE PHELPS: I don’t know. I think the difficulty to your point, there are a lot of uphill battles we have from a timing perspective. We are hopeful, right? Part of it has to do with there’s going to be a conversion of the two mile, right? What we know as the two-mile racetrack where we’re going to race next year, we’re selling some land around that. There are entitlements to it that no one really cares about, but we’ve got to make sure those things get done so we then can take the next steps to build that short track.

I think there’s a lot of excitement from the race fans. Talked to a number of people in the garage this morning. Look at Martinsville. Short-track racing at Bristol and Martinsville were incredibly exciting. Us adding another half-mile racetrack in a very important marketplace for us, I’ll call it the L.A. (designated market area), it’s important. We have more fans in L.A., in that L.A. (designated market area), than any other (designated market area) in the country. It’s fertile ground.

My expectation is we’re going to see an unbelievable crowd at the Coliseum. Many of those race fans, I would say 40% to 50%, probably will never have been to a NASCAR race before. Right now the ticket sales are trending really well. 50% of the people have never been to a NASCAR race. We want them there. We are going to expand the fan base. We’re doing it by meeting people where they are, whether that’s physically at a racetrack or through our mediums, whether it’s direct to consumer, over the air, radio, digital, social. We need to meet them where it is. Gaming. All of those things are important to the success of this sport. That’s why I think there’s such great opportunity for us.

Q. Your two predecessors, they seemed to be pretty high on the fact that a new manufacturer would be coming in. There’s more than a buzz going around in the garage about Dodge. If they were to sign on the dotted line, clearly I don’t know the answer, but how long before we could expect to see another manufacturer on the racetrack?

STEVE PHELPS: You know what, there are some discussions that are going on with other OEMs, new OEMs, that would come into the sport.

Our three existing OEMs are happy about that. Our race teams are happy about that. We’re happy about that. It’s been widely rumored that Dodge is one of those or closest. I won’t confirm or deny that.

It is important. We’ve made no bones about the fact that we want to have a new OEM in our sport. I think we got delayed with the pandemic.

With that said, we are an attractive place I believe for OEMs to come into the sport. Now is an important opportunity for them to do that because of the Next Gen car.

I also believe the fact that the sport is growing and has a relevance that it hasn’t had in decades is causing some real interest from other OEMs.

Nothing to report at this particular point. It is important. I would suggest things are progressing or I would say that things are progressing. When we have something to announce, we will.

Q. You talked in the spring about the importance of trying to bump up the vaccination rate in the industry. What is that rate now? How do you feel about those numbers?

STEVE PHELPS: It’s not high enough. We have seen a significant increase from where we were in the spring. I’ll just call it the garage. I think to me there’s a responsibility that individuals have to each other. That’s my opinion.

Do I think the vaccination rate is going to climb significantly from here? I don’t know. But I do think it’s important. As I said, I think there’s a responsibility that we each have to each other to make sure we’re staying safe. If you are someone who doesn’t believe in vaccinations, then making sure that you’re masked and socially distanced, making sure you’re taking the precautions necessary in order to have people stay safe is our responsibility.

Q. Anecdotally there’s a vocal segment of the fan base that doesn’t like the philosophy of what the 550 package represented. Even though it’s going to be a different rules package, the same philosophy is there, the lower horsepower. What do you see in terms of evidence from the fans that encouraged you to sort of double down with the Next Gen car?

STEVE PHELPS: I think, again, I would look at it two ways. As I said in my opening, optically what do you see? Do you think the racing is good or not? Our fan council data would suggest the answer is yes. Is there a vocal minority that says that they don’t like a 550 horsepower package, they want to see 750 plus? Absolutely.

I would go back past kind of the optics test or the I test, I would go to the data. The data suggests we have better racing right now than we’ve had arguably ever.

When you are at a 550 track, you have a restart, I mean, it is wild. These drivers are up on the wheel and they’re making moves that are incredible. I frankly don’t know how they do it. Certainly not something I would do. They’re incredible. I think they’re putting on some unbelievable racing.

So I’ve said it before, and I know that it seems convenient, but we are not going to make every race fan happy. I wish we could, I really do. But what one person likes, another person doesn’t. So what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to look at the number of people who are saying, the maximum number of people who are saying, I really like that, give them more of what they’re getting.

I think we’ve responded frankly to what the fans have had to say. Fans said they want more road courses. We have more road courses. Fans say they want more short tracks. I think people who bang that drum, we’ll do our best to find short tracks that will satisfy them that can host Cup races, like we may see in the future in southern California.

 

Joe Gibbs Racing adds young racers to Xfinity program

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Connor Mosack, 23, and Joe Graf Jr., 24, each will drive select races in the No. 19 Xfinity Series car for Joe Gibbs Racing this season.

Mosack, who has a 20-race Xfinity schedule with Sam Hunt Racing this year, will run three races for JGR: Chicago street course (July 1), Pocono (July 22) and Road America (July 29) while also competing in six ARCA Menards Series races for JGR, including Feb. 18 at Daytona.

Graf, who has a 28-race Xfinity schedule with RSS Racing this year, will run five races in the No. 19 Xfinity car for JGR: Auto Club Speedway (Feb. 25), Las Vegas (March 4), Richmond (April 1), New Hampshire (July 15) and Kansas (Sept. 9).

“I made my Xfinity Series debut with JGR last June at Portland and from the moment I made my first lap in their racecar, I realized why they’ve been so successful,” Mosack said in a statement. “Their equipment was second to none and the resources they had in terms of people and their knowledge was incredible.

“Jason Ratcliff was my crew chief at Portland and he’s got a ton of experience. I was able to learn from him before we even went to the track. Just in our time in the simulator, we made some great changes. So, to be back with him for three Xfinity races is going to be really valuable.

“And when it comes to JGR’s ARCA program, it’s the class of the field. After having to race against JGR cars, I’m really looking forward to racing with a JGR car. No matter what track they were on, they were always up front competing for wins. To have that chance in 2023 is pretty special, and I aim to make the most of it.”

Said Graf in a statement about his opportunity with JGR: “Running five races with JGR is a fantastic opportunity for myself and for my marketing partners. I think I can learn a lot from JGR and showcase my skills I’ve been growing in the series in the past three years. 2023 is shaping up to be a great year and I’m pumped to get started with the No. 19 group.”

Ryan Truex has previously been announced as the driver of the No. 19 Xfinity Series car in six races this season for JGR. The remaining drivers for the car will be announced at a later date.

Mosack didn’t start racing until he was 18 years old. He went on to win five Legends car championships before moving to Late Model stock cars in 2019. He graduated from High Point University in 2021 with a degree in business entrepreneurship. Mosack’s first Xfinity Series race with Sam Hunt Racing this season will be March 11 at Phoenix Raceway.

 

NASCAR weekend schedule for Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

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NASCAR’s winter break ends this weekend as Cup Series drivers return to the track for Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum in Los Angeles.

The second Clash at the LA Memorial Coliseum has been expanded to 27 (from 23) drivers for the 150-lap main event. Qualifying, heat races and two “last chance” races will set the field.

MORE: Drivers to watch in the Clash

Joey Logano won last year’s Clash, the perfect start to a season that ended with him holding the Cup championship trophy.

Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (Cup)

Weekend weather

Saturday: Mostly sunny. High of 71.

Sunday: Partly cloudy. High of 66.

Saturday, Feb. 4

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 2 – 11:30 p.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 6 – 8 p.m. — Cup Series practice (FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 8:35 – 9:30 p.m. — Cup Series qualifying (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, Feb. 5

Garage open

  • 11 a.m. – 12:30 a.m. Monday — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 5 – 5:45 p.m. — Four Heat races (25 laps; Fox, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 6:10 – 6:35 p.m. — Two Last chance qualifying races (50 laps; Fox, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 8 p.m. — Feature race (150 laps; Fox, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Drivers to watch in Clash at the Coliseum

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The 2023 NASCAR season will begin with Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum, the second race on a purpose-built track inside Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Although a non-points race, last year’s Clash generated intense interest as NASCAR moved the event from its long-time home at Daytona International Speedway to Los Angeles. The race was rated a success and opened doors for the possibility of future races in stadium environments.

MORE: NASCAR Power Rankings: 10 historic moments in the Clash

MORE: Toyota looking to expand NASCAR presence

Year Two will find drivers competing on a familiar landscape but still with a track freshly paved. Last year’s racing surface was removed after the Clash.

Drivers to watch Sunday at Los Angeles:

FRONTRUNNERS

Joey Logano

  • Points position: Finished 2022 as Cup champion
  • Last three races: Won at Phoenix, 6th at Martinsville, 18th at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: Won in 2022

Logano put bookends on 2022 by winning the first Clash at the Coliseum and the season’s final race at Phoenix to win the Cup championship. He’ll be among the favorites Sunday.

Ross Chastain

  • Points position: 2nd in 2022
  • Last three races: 3rd at Phoenix, 4th at Martinsville, 2nd at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: Did not qualify last year

Chastain was the breakout star of 2022, winning a pair of races and generally putting himself front and center across much of the year. Can he start 2023 on a big note? If so, he will have to do so without replicating his Hail Melon move at Martinsville after NASCAR outlawed the move Tuesday.

Kevin Harvick

  • Points position: 15th in 2022
  • Last three races: 5th at Phoenix, 16th at Martinsville, 8th at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: 10th in 2022

Sunday will begin the final roundup for Harvick, who has said this season will be his last as a full-time Cup driver. He is likely to come out of the gate with fire in his eyes.

QUESTIONS TO ANSWER

Kyle Busch

  • Points position: 13th in 2022
  • Last three races: 7th at Phoenix, 29th at Martinsville, 9th at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: 2nd in 2022

Welcome to Kyle Busch’s Brave New World. After 15 seasons at Joe Gibbs Racing, he begins a new segment of his career with Richard Childress Racing. He led 64 laps at last year’s Clash but couldn’t catch Joey Logano at the end.

Tyler Reddick

  • Points position: 14th in 2022
  • Last three races: 23rd at Phoenix, 35th at Martinsville, 35th at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: 21st in 2022

Reddick ran surprisingly strong in last year’s Clash, leading 51 laps before parking with drivetrain issues. He starts the new year with a new ride — at 23XI Racing.

Ty Gibbs

  • Points position: Won Xfinity Series championship in 2022
  • Last three (Cup) races: 19th at Martinsville, 22nd at Homestead, 22nd at Las Vegas
  • Past at Clash: Did not compete in 2022

After a successful — and controversial — Xfinity season, Gibbs moves up to Cup full-time with his grandfather’s team. Will he be the brash young kid of 2022 or a steadier driver in Season One in Cup?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interstate Batteries extends sponsorship with Joe Gibbs Racing

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Interstate Batteries, which has been a Joe Gibbs Racing sponsor since the team’s first race, has expanded its involvement with the team for 2023.

Interstate, based in Dallas, will be a primary JGR sponsor for 13 races, up from six races, the number it typically sponsored each year since 2008.

Christopher Bell and Ty Gibbs will run the majority of Interstate’s sponsorship races, but Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. also will carry the sponsor colors.

MORE: NASCAR outlaws Ross Chastain Martinsville move

“We’re extremely proud of our partnership with our founding sponsor, Interstate Batteries,” said team owner Joe Gibbs in a statement released by the team. “They have been such an important part of our team for over three decades now, and it’s exciting to have them on board all four of our cars this season. The best part of our partnership is the relationships we’ve built with everyone there over the years.”

Bell will carry Interstate sponsorship in Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum, the All-Star Race May 21, the Coca-Cola 600 May 28, at Texas Motor Speedway Sept. 24 and at Martinsville Oct. 29.

Gibbs, in his first full season in Cup racing, will be sponsored by Interstate at Daytona Feb. 19, Bristol April 9, Nashville June 25, Chicago July 2, Texas Sept. 24 and Charlotte Oct. 8.

Hamlin will ride with Interstate sponsorship March 26 at Circuit of the Americas, and Truex will be sponsored by Interstate July 23 at Pocono.

Interstate was a key JGR sponsor in the team’s first season in 1992.