Racing legend Mario Andretti has been announced as the honorary pace car driver for the Cup Series race on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval on Sept. 29.
The Indy 500 and Daytona 500 champion will pilot a Toyota Camry XSE pace car around the 17-turn, 2.28-mile road course and lead the field to the green flag for the second Cup race on the circuit.
Andretti was part of the development of the track before its debut last year.
He visited Charlotte Motor Speedway in March 2017 for a test drive around the Roval.
“When (Speedway Motorsports, Inc. CEO) Marcus Smith was creating the Roval, he invited me to check out the improvements to the infield road course,” Andretti said in a press release. “It was such a fun course to drive and the more I drove it the more I got into a rhythm, but I knew it would be challenging to the NASCAR competitors with the elevation change and transition from road course to oval.
“After last year’s successful playoff debut for the course, I’m honored that Marcus would ask me to return to lead the field to green for this year’s Bank of America Roval 400.”
After the test, Andretti suggested adding chicanes on the frontstretch and backstretch to slow the cars down and create additional passing zones.
“I liked the higher speeds so I was hesitant, but after hearing it from someone of his caliber and expertise, it made even more sense to create chicanes on our straightaways,” Smith said in a press release. “Mario’s forward thinking and his unparalleled vision for creating a spectacle contributed to the incredible finish we had last year with Ryan Blaney, Martin Truex Jr. and Jimmie Johnson.”
Andretti made one start at Charlotte in his racing career, competing in the fall 1967 race on the 1.5-mile oval. He finished 27th.
Charlotte Motor Speedway announced changes to the backstretch chicane for its Roval that are intended to create a wider zone to enhance passing and slow the cars through that section.
The chicane’s original layout was 32 feet wide at its widest point. The new version will be 54 feet at its widest point and feature additional runoff areas that were not available last year.
The new chicane is meant to require heavier braking and a sharper entry. Marcus Smith, president and CEO of Speedway Motorsports Inc., said that cars were going about 130 mph through that section of the course last year.
“This is all about a very hard braking zone, a hard real left turn and another right,” Smith said Sunday at Sonoma Raceway. “It’s slow in but fast off. We think that’s going to set the cars up for a really great frontstretch chicane as well and give us a chance for more side-by-side racing.”
Larson was among those consulted before this change.
“My hat’s off to Marcus and the team at Charlotte Motor Speedway for talking with drivers and industry experts as they work to further improve the Roval,” Larson said in a statement from Charlotte Motor Speedway. “The changes to the backstretch look like they will help create an additional passing zone and make it that much more exciting for the fans. After last year’s wild finish, I’ll take every possible opportunity to gain track position and earn some points.”
Track officials also announced Sunday that the Xfinity race will be 12 laps longer. That will make the race 67 laps. Stage 1 will be 20 laps. Stage 2 will be 20 laps. The final stage will be 27 laps.
Last year’s 55-lap Xfinity race was 1 hour, 32 minutes. Chase Briscoe won that race.
Dale Jr. Download: Steve Phelps on NASCAR’s mistakes, future, and more
“Do I think we’ll make some changes moving forward to that? We’re going to have to. That was unacceptable if I’m a race fan and unacceptable if I was at the race track. Do I have some influence there? Yeah, I have some influence there. But I want to make sure the guys that are responsible for that particular area are doing that. Not too dissimilar to what I would do for Jill Gregory on the marketing side or Daryl Wolfe on kind of the sponsor side and business development side. You want your people to do their jobs and they’re talented people and they can do that. To the degree I can help them, I want to do that.”
MOST IMPORTANT VOICE TO LISTEN TO IN THE SPORT/THOUGHTS ON 2020 SCHEDULE
“The most important one is the fan. What does the fan want to see? What’s the product they want to see? What kind of racing do they want to see? So some of the questions last night (On Twitter) is … I think (Autoweek reporter Matt) Weaver said, ‘Hey, remind Steve that a short track is .75 miles and below.’ I am aware of that. … Fans have said that they want to see more short tracks and more road courses. I get that. And fewer intermediate tracks. We totally understand that. We tried to mix up the schedule as much as we could with the limitations that we had. Cause we had five-year agreements, 2020 is the fifth year of the agreement.
“So we had to go to all the same race tracks, but the way we kind of configured them kind of puts some emphasis on short tracks or an emphasis on road courses, or the Roval in that case. I think the Indy-Daytona switch is to provide more drama. I know we’ve been accused of manufacturing drama. I’m OK as long as there’s drama. If I’m a race team or I’m a driver, the likelihood of me winning Indy if I’m already outside of the playoffs is pretty slim. The likelihood of me winning at Daytona at the final regular-season even, at least I got something there.”
IS BEN KENNEDY BEING GROOMED TO BECOME THE FACE OF THE FRANCE FAMILY AT NASCAR?
“I’ve never had this conversation with Ben, so I’ll put myself out there. Ben has done a tremendous job in the short time he’s been here (first as Truck Series general manager and now managing director of racing operations and international development).
“He is working on kind of the competition side of where things are. He worked with Steve O’Donnell extensively on the schedule. So they were really the force of the schedule … They did a great job I think getting tracks aligned on the changes that we made.
“If that’s what Ben wants to do, run his family’s business. I think that’s fantastic. He’s smart. He’s passionate about the sport. He did drive and was a winner in Trucks and (raced in) Xfinity. … I think it would be a great natural step to have him in there. How soon he comes in and runs the place, that’s really between (CEO and Chairman) Jim (France) and Lesa (France Kennedy), his mom, and Ben.
“I wouldn’t bet against him.”
WILL NASCAR LOOK AT TRACK AGREEMENTS DIFFERENTLY SO IT’S NOT BOXED IN?
“That’s the plan. We think that having race tracks kind of be in it together with us in making changes and having a certain standard for what it looks like to run a race track, run a race at the highest level of NASCAR, I think that’s important. Could we see different tracks? Yeah, we absolutely could. What they are, where they are, there’s a ton of speculation of what would be a good race track for us to go to. We’ve heard, ‘Hey, don’t run two races on mile-and-a halfs.’ I saw that on Twitter last night. I’m not suggesting we’re not going to do that.
“I just think, listen, we have to do some things differently. Fans want us to do things differently and I think we need to do it as quickly as we can within reason, understanding that there are three legs to that stool and one of those legs are the tracks.
WHAT IS NASCAR GOING TO DO DIFFERENTLY OR WHAT IS IT GOING BACK TO?
“I think that there was, this was in an interview I did around Daytona, (where I said) ‘Hey, we made some mistakes.’ Listen, we’re not the only business that’s made a mistake. I think we chased a new fan at the expense of an existing fan. We’ll never do that again. It doesn’t mean we can’t have new fans in the sport, of course we can. But we want our new fans and our existing fans, avid, longtime, loyal fans, we want them to kind of nurture and grow these young fans or these new fans, young or old, I don’t care what they are. As long as there’s more people that are coming into the sport. We have a great sport. We want to share it.
“Other things that we can change, again I think it goes back, first and foremost, it goes back to the racing. Where are we racing? What does the racing look like? Is the car going to look more, quote ‘Stock’? I think our auto manufacturers, OEMs, would like to see body styles that are more reflective of what happens in a showroom. I think they would want to see some different types of engine packages that we could put together that would be more relevant to what would be good for them and as part of that I think we could hopefully take the three existing OEMs we have and add a couple of more. I think the winner frankly is the race fan. I believe that because it’s just more and more excitement, more and more rivalries. It would be great, for example, to have Dodge back in the sport. We’ve had discussions with Dodge, and we’d love to see them come back. So come on back.”
ARE MORE ROVALS IN THE FUTURE?
“You take a look at the Roval, right? Ratings were up, attendance was up. So the first, immediate reaction is, ‘Oh, we’ve got other Roval opportunities at other mile-and-half-tracks.’ I don’t think that is the answer. It doesn’t mean we won’t do that in the future at a small number. Could we support another, quote ‘Roval.’ We could. But it’s kind of like Eldora. There’s something special about Eldora. It doesn’t mean you’re going to run eight dirt races for Trucks, four for Xfinity and two for Cup. There’s a specialness that exists, and I think we have to try to get at opportunities to go to places that are different and unique from each other.
“You can go to a mile-and-half-track that looks the exact same layout as another mile-and-a-half track, but the surface is different, the weather is different and you’re going to get different results. With that said, this kind of lumping in of intermediate tracks, ‘We just have too many.’ OK. So is there an opportunity to potentially go elsewhere and shorten a number of intermediate tracks? Yeah, that’s something we can look at and we’re going to.”
“Listen, Nashville is a great town for us, right? So we have two different tracks, the fairgrounds and the one outside of town. Would we like to run at Nashville again? We would. I think it’s a great town for us. I think having our banquet there is a great place to go. There was a time, a kind of thinking of NASCAR at the time, don’t embrace country music because that’s kind of the core, that’s our roots. Well, that’s a mistake. We want to embrace country music. Not only is country music incredibly popular, but it’s part of a natural tie for our sport.
“So going to Nashville I think is a great idea. What’s going to happen moving forward into 2021? Are we going to be racing in Nashville or not? I don’t know. I know that at least I’ve been told, (Speedway Motorsports, Inc. CEO) Marcus (Smith) has had discussions with the folks in Nashville at the fairgrounds. How likely is that going to happen? Right now he has no sanctioning agreement for 2021, so he can’t bring anything there. If he wants to bring something there, obviously NASCAR has to have an involvement. They are our dates. We will absolutely (get involved) when it’s time.”
IS THE GEN 7 CAR ON SCHEDULE?
“As of right now, our Gen 7 car is on schedule. I think we have a lot of work to do. We have a lot of work to do with our OEM partners, and we have a lot of work to do ourselves and a lot of work to do with the race teams. I think that a 2021 Gen 7 car, body style, chassis, as well as a 2022 potential revamped engine is a distinct possibility. That’s what we’re working hard to get. We’ve got folks working on that every day as hard as we can, cause I think it would just be better, frankly. It seems a bit, you’re going to take an engine and put a tapered spacer to essentially create, quote, ‘better racing,’ right? I think that would it make sense to just build the engine to whatever the specifications are going to be? I would say the answer to that is yes.”
WHAT IS (CEO AND CHAIRMAN) JIM FRANCE DOING? HOW MUCH OF A TURN HAS HE MADE TO BE HELPING NASCAR AS A WHOLE?
“How involved? He’s involved every day. He’s maybe not out in front, in your face on the microphone granting 50 interviews. Not kind of his style. But he knows exactly what’s going on. It has his kind of guiding hand on it. Talked about Gen 7. Jim France knows all about Gen 7 and how to get there. It’s important to him.
“Jim France also knows about, ‘Hey, we need to grow our database and know who our fans are.’ Jim France is involved with something we call ‘Project Horsepower’ to try and increase ratings and attendance. That has been at the heart of our marketing efforts that Jill and her team are doing. Jim France asking all the time, ‘Hey, what’s Jill doing? How are they doing? How did we do in the ratings?’ We’re up for the year. We were up 36% yesterday (at Texas). We were on big Fox instead of FS1, but even so, our numbers and our share numbers continue to increase.
“Those are exciting things. Every single Monday, I send a note to Jim and Lesa, ‘Here’s where we are.’ That portion has certainly been a success story. He wants to know how’s the racing going. He’s been at every single event but one and that was some circumstances that he and I needed to be in Daytona so we couldn’t be at Auto Club. It’s been fantastic.”
ON REVAMPED DRIVERS COUNCIL
“So the driver council right now is in a little bit of a state of flux. In a good way. … You’re talking to 10 guys, right? Most of that time the way it was made up, you had veteran drivers and then you had younger drivers because we want to have some representation across the different OEMs, future Hall of Famers plus these young kids who are coming into the sport.
“The problem is then you had 30 drivers that were not represented. The difficulty is it’s not that the information we got was flawed information you got from the 10, the other 30 didn’t know what we were talking about so they felt out of the loop. Then they’re out trying to figure out what’s going on, the lobbying. So what we’re doing now, we started this last fall, is we’re going to meet with all the drivers and you’re going to do it with smaller groups. So we’ll do in groups of three or four around Richmond.
“Three or four groups around Richmond where you’re going to lump your champions and kind of veteran drivers together so they can talk and listen to where we’re going and we can listen to where they want to be. Then we’ll separate into two or three other groups of various teams. Teams will stay together for the most part. We think that’s a better way of doing it. That’s why I say the driver council is kind of in a state of flux. It’s just changing. So I would call it a new driver council, just not with a formality of what we had previously.”
Listen below for the full interview with Steve Phelps.
Here are answers to some of the questions from the schedule reveal.
Why is the championship race moving from Homestead-Miami Speedway to ISM Raceway?
Homestead-Miami Speedway provides arguably the best racing at a 1.5-mile track. Leaving it as the title race could leave a void.
ISM Raceway is a tight 1-mile track where passing can be difficult — although Kyle Larson showed earlier this month that one can gain several spots on a restart if they’re willing to use the high line after a restart.
So why the move indeed?
“Going to the same tracks year in and year out could potentially favor certain drivers,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, in a conference call with the media. “We wanted to take a look if we had the opportunity to go to another venue, what would that be.”
It also didn’t hurt that Ford’s contract as the sponsor of the championship weekend in Miami ends after this season, making a move easier.
And International Speedway Corp. spent about $180 million renovating ISM Raceway. When you have something shiny and new, you want to show it off. The championship race is one of the best chances to do so.
How long will the championship race be at ISM Raceway?
O’Donnell said: “I think our hope would be to stay there for a little while. I think with any venue you want to see it have a chance and grow a little bit and see how it works. … This wasn’t a decision we said, ‘hey let’s just go there for a year and rotate it. Our intention is to stay there a few years.”
Joey Logano voiced his desire for moving the title race around, saying on the NASCAR.com show after the schedule was revealed: “I kind of like that (the title race) has moved. I think it we should move it every year like the Super Bowl.”
Who does this move favor if they make it to the championship race?
Kyle Busch. He has won the past two races there and has an average finish of 2.9 there since 2016. If NASCAR keeps the title race at ISM Raceway for a few years, Busch could be the one who benefits the most. He has made it to the championship finale each of the past four years.
Kevin Harvick has a track-record nine wins there but he will be 44 next year when the finale is there, so he will likely have few opportunities to turn that success into another title.
Of course, the key is making it to the championship race.
How much more difficult did it get to advance in the playoffs?
It could be significantly harder. The cutoff races in next year’s playoffs will be Bristol (round one), Charlotte Roval (round two) and Martinsville (round three).
NASCAR has two shorts tracks and the Roval as cutoff races. That makes it easier for drivers to beat and bang should they need to do so for the win to advance or to gain a position and score enough points to advance. When drivers make contact, anything can happen.
Why a doubleheader at Pocono?
O’Donnell said that NBC had expressed interest in such a concept. The Pocono races will be held during the portion of the season NBC and NBCSN broadcast the races.
O’Donnell said NASCAR talked to “a number” of tracks about it and Pocono was willing to do it.
What about those races?
Details are to be worked out. O’Donnell noted that the Xfinity and Truck series will also be there with a plan of a Truck/Cup doubleheader on Saturday (June 27) and Xfinity/Cup doubleheader on Sunday (June 28). Oh, ARCA also is expected to be there, so there will be a lot of racing crammed into the weekend. Let’s hope for good weather.
“I think it’s neat, to see two back-to-back races at Pocono,” Ryan Blaney said on the NASCAR.com show. “That’s going to be really exciting.”
Why did Daytona move off its traditional spot of being on or near July 4 to being the regular-season finale on Aug. 29?
O’Donnell said those in the sport wanted to make it the regular-season finale, adding drama to the last race.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway takes over Daytona’s date. But what about the heat there?
IMS officials noted the cooler temperatures for the fans when the track’s date switched from July to September last year.
As for the issue about heat, O’Donnell said: “I think it’s hot in Daytona on July 4th. A bit of a myth to say it’s hot in a certain market.”
Why is the Clash still on its own weekend a week before the Daytona 500 and why is the All-Star Race still on a weekend of its own?
O’Donnell said that NBC, which broadcasts the last 20 races of the season, wanted to end on Veteran’s Day weekend in November. With the back-to-back off weekends in August because of NBC’s airing of the Summer Olympics, it didn’t make sense to truncate the Daytona or All Star/Coca-Cola 600 schedule.
When are the 2020 Xfinity and Gander Outdoors Truck schedules coming out?
O’Donnell said he hoped those could be released in the next week or so.
What about the 2021 schedule?
O’Donnell said: “I think some of the moves were made (this year) thinking ahead. We still have a lot to look at for 2021.”
The five-year sanctioning agreements NASCAR has with tracks ends after the 2020 season. That means NASCAR could change what tracks are on the schedule.
What about the future of the All-Star Race?
O’Donnell was asked if that event could be put on a rotating basis at some point. He said: “If we’re going to do that, we need to make sure it works for both Charlotte and a potential new venue. That is something we’ve had discussions on. … Still a little premature for 2021.”
2020 NASCAR Cup Schedule
Sunday, Feb. 9
Thursday, Feb. 13
Duel at Daytona
Sunday, Feb. 16
Sunday, Feb. 23
Las Vegas Motor Speedway
Sunday, March 1
Auto Club Speedway
Sunday, March 8
Sunday, March 15
Atlanta Motor Speedway
Sunday, March 22
Sunday, March 29
Texas Motor Speedway
Sunday, April 5
Bristol Motor Speedway
Sunday, April 19
Sunday, April 26
Sunday, May 3
Dover International Speedway
Saturday, May 9
Saturday, May 16
All-Star Race, Charlotte
Sunday, May 24
Charlotte Motor Speedway
Sunday, May 31
Sunday, June 7
Michigan International Speedway
Sunday, June 14
Sunday, June 21
Saturday, June 27
Sunday June 28
Sunday July 5
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Saturday July 11
Sunday, July 19
New Hampshire Motor Speedway
Sunday, Aug. 9
Michigan International Speedway
Sunday, Aug. 16
Watkins Glen International
Sunday, Aug. 23
Dover International Speedway
Saturday, Aug. 29
Daytona International Speedway
Sunday, Sept. 6
Saturday, Sept. 12
Saturday, Sept. 19
Bristol Motor Speedway
Sunday, Sept. 27
Las Vegas Motor Speedway
Sunday, Oct. 4
Sunday, Oct. 11
Charlotte Motor Speedway
Sunday, Oct. 18
Sunday, Oct. 25
Texas Motor Speedway
Sunday, Nov. 1
Sunday, Nov. 8
Jerry Bonkowski contributed to this report
Bristol, Martinsville will be elimination races in 2020 Cup playoffs
The end of each playoff round will have a rock’em, sock’em feel with the changes NASCAR announced Tuesday to the 2020 schedule.
Bristol Motor Speedway’s August race will move to Sept. 19 and be the elimination race in the first round.
Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Roval, which saw Ryan Blaney win from third on the last lap after Jimmie Johnson and Martin Truex Jr. crashed just before the finish line, will again be the cutoff race in the second round.
Martinsville Speedway’s fall race will be Nov. 1 and mark the final race of the third round. It will be the last chance for drivers to qualify for the Nov. 8 championship race, which moves to ISM Raceway in Avondale, Arizona.
The playoffs begin Sept. 6 at Darlington. The first round will have Darlington, Richmond (Sept. 12) and Bristol.
“If NASCAR fans thought they’ve seen tempers flare and sparks fly under the lights at the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race, just wait until they experience a real pressure-packed NASCAR playoff elimination race at Bristol Motor Speedway,” said Jerry Caldwell, executive vice president and general manager at Bristol Motor Speedway. “We’re thankful to the fans that voiced their opinions and rooted for more short-track racing in the playoffs, and appreciative of NASCAR collaborating with its many stakeholders to deliver a schedule with many positive adjustments.”
The second round of the playoffs will be Las Vegas (Sept. 27), Talladega (Oct. 4) and the Charlotte Roval (Oct. 11).
The third round of the playoffs will be Kansas (Oct. 18), Texas (Oct. 25) and Martinsville (Nov. 1).
“We are going to move to one of the most important races on the schedule, setting up the Cup Series finale,” said Clay Campbell, president of Martinsville Speedway, in a statement. “Recent history has shown us that drivers will do whatever it takes to secure a spot in the championship race, and now the urgency and intensity will go to another level, as it’s the last shot for teams to have a chance at the championship.”