Dennis Bickmeier

Brad Keselowski brings Gong Show to Richmond victory lane

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Brad Keselowski turned around at one point during his victory celebration Saturday night at Richmond Raceway and had another reason to be excited.

“You are a man of your word!”

Keselowski’s declaration was aimed at the track’s communications director, Brent Gambill, who had just entered Victory Lane.

It wasn’t Gambill’s presence itself that elicited Keselowski’s enthusiasm.

Instead, it was the large gong that Gambill held in his hands.

More: Keselowski on pole for Bristol night race

The gong, which you may have seen on NBCSN’s post-race show or on Keselowski’s social media channels, is not a regular presence in Richmond’s Victory Lane.

It’s regular home is as a fixture in the Richmond Raceway media center. But it was in the track’s ticket office where Keselowski first laid eyes on it. There, the track’s staff would bang the instrument anytime they made a big sale, according to Gambill.

As a guest of Gambill’s, Keselowski visited the office last year on Sept. 11 to offer encouragement for the staff members.

“As we entered, a staff member named Rob Garella was about to clang the gong for a big sell,” Gambill recounted in an email to NBC Sports. “Brad asked if he could hit the gong as well. I later found out that Rob was a lifelong Keselowski fan.”

Garella and Keselowski took turns banging the gong.

As they left the office, Keselowski told Gambill and track president Dennis Bickmeier that if he won that weekend’s race he wanted to bang the gong in Victory Lane.

Later, when Keselowski arrived in the media center after winning the pole for the race, he asked about the gong. Gambill reminded him he had to win the race.

“You better be ready!” Keselowski declared.

The Team Penske driver would have to wait. Martin Truex Jr. claimed the win that weekend.

Keselowski’s wait ended Saturday night when he beat Truex to take his second career victory at the short track.

On Friday Gambill had received a text from Keselowski’s PR person asking if the gong would be ready should Keselowski win.

Before the race, Gambill responded: “We’ll be ready if Brad wins.”

Gambill was a man of his word.

“I would not be surprised to see a gong in victory lane at Richmond in the future,” said Gambill.

NASCAR realigns dates for Chicagoland, Richmond, Sonoma

Photo: Dustin Long
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NASCAR announced Friday that events at Chicagoland Speedway, Sonoma Raceway and the April Cup race at Richmond Raceway have been realigned because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Chicagoland Speedway Cup and Xfinity races have been moved to Darlington Raceway on May 17 and May 19.

Richmond Raceway’s spring Cup race has been realigned to May 20 at Darlington Raceway.

Sonoma Raceway’s Cup event moves to May 27 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. That race will be on Charlotte’s oval.

NASCAR stated that further schedule adjustments will be released in the near future.

NASCAR stated: “Due to the current pandemic, NASCAR has faced several difficult decisions, including realigning race dates from several race tracks. These decisions were made following thorough collaboration with local and state government officials from across the country, including the areas of the affected race tracks. We thank all our fans for their support, and we look forward to our return to racing.”

In a press release, Sonoma Raceway stated that “a workable time when the series could return to the West Coast given the ongoing uncertainty around large events in California could not be confirmed.”

Chicagoland Speedway stated in a press release that the track’s Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series and ARCA Menards Series races also will be realigned.

“The difficult decision to realign our race events was a combination of where we fell on the schedule, proximity to NASCAR’s teams and the safety and well-being of our community and larger NASCAR industry,” said Chicagoland President Scott Paddock in a statement. “We will miss the roar of the engines at Chicagoland Speedway this season, but we will be rooting for and supporting our NASCAR colleagues at Darlington Raceway as competition returns on Sunday, May 17.”

Richmond Raceway stated that it’s April Gander RV & Outdoors Truck race remains postponed for a future rescheduled date.

“As a sport, we continue to be united in the best interests of the safety and well-being of our fans, competitors, stakeholders, and track personnel,” said Richmond President Dennis Bickmeier in a statement. “There will be brighter and healthier days ahead in the greater Richmond region when NASCAR returns to Richmond Raceway for the NASCAR Playoff Race Weekend on Sept. 11-12. We look forward to NASCAR’s best getting back on the track at Darlington Raceway on Sunday, May 17 as we launch a new countdown to the return of racing in RVA this fall.”

NASCAR has only announced that races from May 17-27 at Darlington Raceway and Charlotte Motor Speedway. NASCAR will run four Cup races, two Xfinity races and one Truck race during that time.

As for why the Sonoma race won’t be held on the Charlotte Roval on May 27, a NASCAR spokesperson tweeted a reason:

Kevin Harvick, Gander RV CEO put up $100K bounty to beat Kyle Busch in trucks

Kyle Busch
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Kevin Harvick and Gander RV & Outdoors CEO Marcus Lemonis issued a bounty poster in tweet form Saturday.

WANTED: A full-time Cup Series driver to beat Kyle Busch in any of his remaining four Truck Series starts this year (without wrecking him).

REWARD: $50,000 each from Harvick and Lemonis.

The bounty comes the night after Busch won his seventh consecutive Truck Series race, which includes all five starts he made in 2019.

Saturday’s race was his first of five in the trucks this season. He’ll be back in the series March 14 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, March 20 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, March 27 at Texas Motor Speedway and May 30 at Kansas Speedway.

Busch won at Atlanta and Texas last year.

Busch himself didn’t seem too impressed with the bounty when told about it in the media center.

So what is in it for Busch?

If no full-time Cup driver is able to beat Busch in those four races, the bounty will be given to the Bundle of Joy Fund, the organization founded by Kyle and Samantha Busch that helps couples who require fertility treatments to conceive.

Lemonis wasn’t done there. Later Saturday night, he put another proposition out into the Twitterverse. If Fox Sports moved any of the races to prime time, he’d increase the purse among the top-five finishers to $250,000.

Needless to say, the original bounty got the attention of a few drivers, including Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Denny Hamlin.

Disclaimer on the following tweet by Hamlin: As noted above, none of Busch’s remaining four truck races are at Richmond Raceway. But…..Richmond is the site of the first Triple Truck Challenge race on April 18.

Richmond’s track president, Dennis Bickmeier chimed in with his thoughts.

Richmond president: ‘Everything’s on the table’ to improve track’s attendance

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After Richmond International Raceway had many empty seats during Sunday’s Toyota Owners 400, track president Dennis Bickmeier said “everything’s on the table” in hopes of improving attendance of future races, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

That includes moving the late April race back to a night event.

The 0.75-mile track has 59,000 seats, according to International Speedway Corp.’s annual report, and those were about half-full Sunday afternoon, according to the newspaper, as Joey Logano won his first Cup race of the season.

Bickmeier told the Times-Dispatch there had been three years of growth in the track’s “Richmond Nation” season-ticket package.

“You see glimmers of hope, and you build on that,” Bickmeier said.

Richmond announced in early 2016 that it would remove bleachers on the backstretch, reducing its seating by about 9,000. The “Action Track” had a seating capacity of 109,000 seats in 2008, according to ISC’s annual report that year. It recorded 33 straight sellouts from 1992-2008.

The streak ended with the September 2008 race when Tropical Storm Hanna resulted in the race being postponed.

RIR is under consideration by International Speedway Corp. as one of its next tracks to be revamped.

In March 2016, ISC CEO Lesa France Kennedy named it and Phoenix Raceway as tracks the company would pursue improvements at following the completion of the $400 million renovation of Daytona International Speedway.

“Those are great markets that we need to look at and also great racing experiences,” Kennedy said.

While nothing has been announced regarding Richmond, ISC approved a $178 million renovation of Phoenix last November. The project is scheduled for completion in late 2018.

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