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NFL schedule reveals conflicts in some markets with NASCAR races

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The NFL released its schedule for every team Thursday night, revealing conflicts with a few NASCAR Cup races — but not as many as it could have been.

The first conflict comes Sept. 9 when Indianapolis Motor Speedway hosts the Cup regular-season finale at 2 p.m. ET. The Indianapolis Colts play their home opener against the Cincinnati Bengals at 1 p.m. ET.

“In a perfect world, we’d rather not be head-to-head at home,” Doug Boles, president of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, told The Indianapolis Star. “But we knew we’d be head-to-head regardless, whether they were here or on the road. … We just had our fingers crossed that it wouldn’t be the first year of the new date for the race.” 

Other places where NASCAR and NFL compete nearby:

# Oct. 7 – NASCAR races at Dover International Speedway. The Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles, who have a strong following in that region, are home to the Minnesota Vikings in a rematch of the NFC championship game that sent the Eagles to the Super Bowl. The race is at 2 p.m. ET. The game is scheduled for 4:25 p.m.

# Oct. 21 – NASCAR races at Kansas Speedway at 2 p.m. ET, and the Kansas City Chiefs are home to the Cincinnati Bengals at 1 p.m. ET.

NASCAR avoided conflicts a few other weekends.

The Charlotte Roval race is Sept. 30 and the Carolina Panthers have a bye that weekend.

The Texas race is Nov. 4 and the Dallas Cowboys play Nov. 5 in a Monday night game.

The Phoenix race is Nov. 11 and the Arizona Cardinals are on the road.

The season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway is Nov. 18. The Miami Dolphins have a bye that weekend.

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Monster Energy extends title sponsorship of NASCAR Cup Series to 2019 only

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Monster Energy will remain the title sponsor of NASCAR’s premier series after agreeing to a one-year extension through the 2019 season but is not expected to return in that role, a senior NASCAR executive said Tuesday.

Steve Phelps, NASCAR Chief Operating Officer, said Tuesday that it is “highly unlikely” that Monster returns as series sponsor as NASCAR looks at a new model toward the entitlement sponsorship. Phelps said it was mutual on both sides to go only through 2019.

NASCAR is looking toward a new model for sponsorship. Phelps said NASCAR wants to bundle sponsorship with sanctioning body, tracks and media partners.

“We want to make sure that our sport is as easy or easier than other sports to do business with,” Phelps said. “We think this is a better model to make sure that sponsors want to stay involved. We think there’s an opportunity for them to feel more invested in the sport … more invested in the sport so they will turn around and do more activation.”

Phelps said he expects Monster Energy to remain in the sport. Monster Energy was aligned with drivers and a team before becoming series sponsor.

NASCAR announced the extension this afternoon. Sports Business Journal first reported the agreement Tuesday.

Monster Energy is in its second year as Cup Series title sponsor after agreeing to a deal in December 2016. The company was to have given NASCAR a decision before Jan. 1 about remaining as series sponsor but requested an extension since 2017 was its first season in that role.

Monster Energy, the fourth brand to sponsor Cup since 1971, is viewed as a company that can connect the sport with a younger demographic.

NASCAR Chairman Brian France was upbeat about what Monster Energy delivered in 2017.

“The promises they’ve made, they’ve kept, with the young demo, edgy shows, edgy marketing, putting our drivers in different places in different light,’’ France said in Nov. 2017 before the Cup season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. “That’s what we want. They’ve delivered on that. 

“And like anything else, I think it will get better. This is also a hard program. It’s a complicated program. It’s the best program, but to execute across all these platforms, it’s a big, big sport. There’s nothing like it, so you don’t get an opportunity to just go, well, we’ll do it like that guy did it or this guy does it over here because nobody can have, today anyway, in a major sports league, an entitlement position like this, so it’s a great program ‑‑ and I think it will get better next year.’’

According to Directions Research, 11 million additional NASCAR fans are Monster Energy drinkers. According to the same research, 16 million additional NASCAR fans have heard of the Monster Energy brand.

Cup Series Sponsors

1971- 2003 — Winston

2004 – 2007 — Nextel

2008 – 2016 — Sprint

2017 – present — Monster Energy

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Kevin Harvick glad to see evolving Cup schedule, but wants more changes

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CHARLOTTE, North Carolina – If Charlotte Motor Speedway hosts a Cup race on its infield road course just once it would be worth it to Kevin Harvick.

For Harvick, the buzz around the Sept. 30 event is an example of what good can come from experimenting with the 36-race Cup schedule.

“If we don’t ever run it again, think about all the conversation that it has created,” Harvick said Tuesday at the NASCAR Media Tour. “If you did it every year, it would just be another race. Those are the types of things that we need to create. We need to create events and moments.”

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver has been one of the most outspoken drivers in recent years regarding a desire for NASCAR to shake up its schedules, including a return to short tracks in the Truck Series.

In 2015, Harvick said 90 percent of tracks that host Cup events should only have one race a year. A few months later he advocated moving Saturday night races to Sunday afternoons and said Iowa Speedway should be given a Cup race.

Harvick expressed approval of changes NASCAR has made this year, including the swapping of race dates.

“You see Richmond in the playoffs (Sept. 22) and Indy in a date (Sept.  9) where the fans can sit in the stands and not burn their rear ends off,” Harvick said.

Another change is Las Vegas Motor Speedway hosting two Cup races, including the playoff opener on Sept. 16. The second race date was moved from New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Both tracks are owned by Speedway Motorsports, Inc.

“Going to Vegas to kickoff the playoffs is a good move from a market standpoint,” Harvick said. “It is a great race track but the market itself is something you have to pay attention to.”

According to Accuweather.com, the average temperature in Las Vegas on Sept. 16 is 93 degrees.

Harvick, the 2014 Cup champion, also expressed his desire for a rotation of the championship race.

The Cup season has ended at Homestead-Miami Speedway, a 1.5-mile oval, since 2002.

“I think it gets stale,” Harvick said. “It is a great race track but it isn’t all about the race track. It is about the event. How many times have you had a crappy Super Bowl but everybody goes to the Super Bowl because it is an event. That is what we need to create.”

The swapping of race dates and the creation of the Charlotte road course have occurred while NASCAR is in the middle of a five-year sanctioning agreement with tracks. The agreement ends in 2020.

Harvick presented other ideas for getting tracks more attention and creating unique events, including the prospect of a wild card race.

He also believes tracks should be able to lease their race dates to other tracks, especially when they’re undergoing renovations.

“You renovate your race track, then you have the right to take your date and lease it to someone else during the renovation process so that you can go try new markets and you can go have a unique event,” Harvick said. “Then that gives that particular race track a grace period to get all the work done and not have a race so they can keep working and get the renovations done in a shorter amount of time. That allows you to keep the race tracks renovated and still make money off their race by working a deal out with another race track with their sanctioning agreement.”

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The moral choice that Kyle Larson made in the closing laps at Miami

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CHARLOTTE – Every NASCAR driver has a code of ethics, and the closing laps of last season’s finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway presented a quandary for Kyle Larson.

If you can’t pass two title contenders with a championship on the line, does discretion become the better part of valor in choosing to pass neither?

It did for Larson, who reflected on his most recent Cup race this week.

With eventual champion Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch dueling ahead of him in the final 20 laps, Larson elected to stay in third place and let them settle the title instead of passing Busch and then taking a shot at Truex with his No. 42 Chevrolet, which led a race-high 145 laps.

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver, who has led the most laps at Miami the past two years, said his only option in vying for a victory would have been having the consistent speed to assure he could overtake Truex and Busch.

“I think there were some laps I was faster than them,” he told NBC Sports during a Tuesday announcement to announce DC Solar as an expanded primary sponsor in Cup for 2018. “I obviously didn’t want to affect the outcome of the race. The only negative part of the (playoff) format is when you’re not in the final four, you can’t race your hardest.

“I don’t know if I would have won. I think I could have got to second and potentially the lead. I wanted to pass both of them quickly. I didn’t want to pass Kyle and then stall out for three laps and have him be upset or whatever.”

Indeed, Busch was upset with another driver, expressing frustration that he believed Joey Logano blocked him while trying to take fourth after the final restart.

Though Larson made a conscious choice to avoid separating Truex and Busch, he also dispelled the notion that he still wasn’t trying to muster the speed to win.

“I was driving my ass off,” Larson said. “Obviously, I ran into the wall a few times trying to pass them or get the run to pass both of them quickly, but I could never get it going. So no, I didn’t let (Truex) win or whatever. I was still racing hard.”

Larson, who scored a career-best four wins last year, seemed a good bet to be racing for a title until an engine failure at Kansas Speedway. After a busy offseason of racing sprint cars around the world, a refreshed Larson returned to his team’s NASCAR shop this week and ready to reset his focus.

“I don’t even think about NASCAR until now,” he said. “I feel like today is Day 2 of my offseason. I’m just now getting back into the swing of things.

Larson is enthused about a Jan. 31-Feb. 1 test of Chevrolet’s new Camaro at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (“You can kind of get an idea of how the start of your season will be there.”) before heading to Daytona International Speedway for Speedweeks.

“Last year, I didn’t know we were going to be that good, and then we started the year off really good, and we maintained that consistency and competitiveness,” said Larson, who led the points standings after the fourth through 11th races of the 2017 schedule. “I hope that we can do that again. I feel like when you get close like we did last year, it pushes everybody to be as good or better than what we were.

“I expect that we’ll be contenders again, but it’s hard saying with the new body and stuff like that. I’m sure there’ll be growing pains throughout it, but I definitely feel we have an extremely smart group of people who can do what it takes to get our cars better every week to have a shot.”

Watch: Denver-area fans celebrate Martin Truex Jr.’s championship

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Barney Visser’s Furniture Row Racing is the only Cup team headquartered west of the Mississippi River, claiming Denver, Colorado, as its home.

Since the team began competing in NASCAR in 2005, the team has built up a dedicated fanbase in the city.

Those fans were rewarded when Martin Truex Jr. won Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 and claimed the team’s first Cup championship.

One watch party in the area took place the Quaker Steak & Lube in Westminster, just north of Denver.

A fan has shared video of the moment Truex captured the championship.

Above, you can watch the Furniture Row Racing fans in attendance celebrate during the final lap of the race.