Photo by Richard W. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway

SMI executive discusses 2020 schedule, racing at Nashville

Leave a comment

Marcus Smith, chief executive officer of Speedway Motorsports Inc., says many changes have been discussed for the 2020 NASCAR schedule and that he’s optimistic to have a NASCAR national series race in the future at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway.

The 2020 season marks the final year in the five-year sanctioning agreements between NASCAR and tracks. NASCAR President Steve Phelps has said that “everything is in play” when examining the Cup schedule.

“I think there are all sorts of ideas, and you always like to think about different ideas and not be constrained by the box you’re in, think creativity,” Smith said of discussions about the 2020 Cup schedule. “The thing I think will be encouraging for race fans out there is that everybody involved wants to do something that is fantastic for racing. Wherever we end up will be something that is great for racing and NASCAR and race fans.”

Smith did not reveal any specific ideas being discussed.

Smith also is looking to bring a NASCAR national series race to Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway.

Speedway Motorsports and Formosa Productions are exploring a joint effort to bring major motorsports to the Nashville track. Formosa Productions has a multi-year contract with the Metro Nashville Board of Fair Commissioners to promote and manage the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway. Cup last raced in Nashville in 1984.

“We’re continuing to speak to leaders in the city, to work towards the goal of being able to bring racing, NASCAR back to Nashville,” Smith said. “It’s fairly complicated, lots of people involved, lots of different parties involved. It’s a goal of ours, and I think it would be fantastic for the sport.”

Smith said that based on “construction and everything” 2021 “would probably be the soonest” the track could host a NASCAR national series event if deals can be made.

The key would be upgrading the track to NASCAR standards.

“We have a really good idea of what it would take to get it NASCAR ready,” Smith said. “There’s a wide range of what you could do. There’s a minimal level and there’s our level, so I think there’s tremendous potential for that facility. It’s a legendary facility in the world of racing, Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway, and it also serves as the location for the state fair, for regular community activities. My vision would be something that would serve all those purposes for the next 50 years.”

During the Nashville Board of Fair Commissioners meeting earlier this month, Councilman Robert Swope told the Board: “Since Nashville lost its Cup races in 1984, this is the first opportunity for a major vision for the future of our track. I encourage the Fair Board, Mayor (David) Briley and all stakeholders to seize this opportunity.”

Long: Kansas a warning sign for Martin Truex Jr.?

Leave a comment

KANSAS CITY, Kansas — The voice did little to mask the frustration, confusion and level of desperation.

For much of the season, Martin Truex Jr. has been in control, and at times dominant, winning four races and finishing in the top five in 17 of the first 31 starts entering last weekend’s race at Kansas Speedway.

But little went right for Truex on Sunday.

That the team finished fifth — in the odd stat category, all 18 of Truex’s top-10 finishes this year have been top fives — was a testament to its ability to persevere but the question is if that will be enough in this round? It helps that he has plenty of playoff points but that almost wasn’t enough to keep his title hopes alive beyond Kansas.

The issues they had with the car Saturday in practice weren’t resolved in the race. That proved frustrating for Truex and the team.

At the completion of the first stage on Lap 80, Truex radioed crew chief Cole Pearn: “I don’t know what to do. Maybe I just need to tighten this thing up and run the wall.”

Pearn responded: “We’re not making any ground with what we’re doing.”

About 25 laps later, Pearn asked Truex what he needed to run better near the wall. Truex said: “Everything. It does the same thing on the bottom. Won’t turn.”

Twice in the first 120 laps, Pearn brought Truex in early to start a wave of green-flag pit stops. Pearn did that with the hope that having fresh tires sooner would help the No. 78 leapfrog a few cars. The gain proved minimal.

On Lap 140, Truex, running 11th, told Pearn: “I’m so bad in traffic. It’s ridiculous.”

On Lap 165, Pearn told Truex, who was running sixth, that the points were tight and that “you’ve got to race as hard as you can.”

Truex said: “Doing all I can right now.”

He did enough to advance.

We had to dig deep,” Truex said afterward. “A lot of pressure and a bad situation and we were able to come out looking good. That being said, we’ve had a lot of headwind that we’ve had to battle through the playoffs, we haven’t had much go our way.

“We had a few races like that this year, we had a few like that last year. Seems like this year they’ve been a little bit more frequent but again we finished fifth. You can’t complain too much. At the end of the day, we’re still searching a little bit at certain race tracks.”

One of the things that Truex can take away is how strong his pit crew was Sunday. Twice he gained four spots on pit road. The second time came after the end of the second stage and allowed Truex to restart sixth.

Even with his struggles, that track position was critical. He never ran worse than seventh in the final 100 laps and finished high enough to advance to third round and continue his quest for back-to-back Cup titles.


Don’t expect to see another Roval on the schedule at this point. Marcus Smith, chief executive officer of Speedway Motorsports Inc. and creator of the Roval at Charlotte Motor Speedway, said after the event there that he was not looking at having another Roval at any of SMI’s other tracks.

“I feel like this is unique to Charlotte, and we’ve got other speedways out there that produce their own unique action,” Smith said.

International Speedway Corp., which owns 12 tracks that host Cup races, also does not have any plans at this point of turning one of its oval races into a Roval event.

Lesa France Kennedy, chief executive officer of ISC, praised Smith for the Roval.

“I think Marcus Smith did an amazing job of taking his idea from start to finish … to get to the point that he did,” Kennedy said this past weekend at Kansas Speedway. “I think the fan reaction was amazing. I think it’s created a lot of hype and attention to the sport and I really applaud him and his team’s efforts. I think everybody is paying attention.”


John Hunter Nemecheck’s victory in Saturday’s Xfinity race was celebrated throughout pit road among title contenders.

Nemechek was not eligible for the playoffs since he didn’t run the full season. His victory takes away an automatic spot to the championship finale in Miami and means at least two of the four contenders will advance via points.

“It was big because that keeps us all in play where it doesn’t give anybody an advantage for Homestead where you can work on your stuff (early) for that particular race,” Elliott Sadler told NBC Sports after the race.

A first-lap crash triggered by playoff contender Justin Allgaier took him out along with title contenders Christopher Bell and Austin Cindric. The incident also damaged playoff contender Cole Custer’s car. 

The Xfinity Series is off this weekend. Teams are back in action Nov. 3 at Texas Motor Speedway.


NASCAR is expected to issue its penalty report Wednesday. Daniel Hemric‘s Xfinity car was found to be too low in post-race inspection. The likely L1 penalty will cost Hemric 10 points. If so, that will drop him out of the lead. He currently leads Elliott Sadler by nine points.

Should Hemric lose 10 points, it will put the top six drivers within 18 points.


NASCAR examined why the hood flew off Ross Chastain‘s Xfinity car during Saturday’s race. The car suffered front-end damage in an earlier incident.

NASCAR also planned to review this week why a caution was not called when Chastain’s hood flew off near Turn 3. It was run over and broken into smaller pieces.

 

Dale Jr. Download: Marcus Smith gambled his legacy and won with Roval

Leave a comment

Charlotte Motor Speedway President Marcus Smith gambled his legacy on the creation of a Roval. By most people’s estimation, he won.

“To define this as an act of desperation sort of takes away credit of the (vision) Marcus brought because I don’t know if there are a lot of track owners that would be so dang bold to even make this,” Mike Davis, co-host of the Dale Jr. Download said on Wednesday’s edition of the show. “This is a bold move. This is almost something that you strap your legacy to. … This is going to define you, make you or break you.”

Last week’s Bank of America Roval 400 rejuvenated a race that had grown stale in terms of attendance. More importantly, it provided a platform for some battles that would not be seen on a traditional road course, much less a standard oval.

“When we were watching I think one of the best races of day with the 2 car Keselowski and Kyle Larson – they had a great battle that was just the essence of racing,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. “The way they were both driving was completely opposite. One guy would take a high line into the corner to drive off the bottom of the exit. They were just trying two different lines really almost around the whole race track.”

The track was great, but not perfect in Earnhardt’s estimation.

“I’m sure the drivers are texting and talking with Marcus and his team about how to improve that backstraightway chicane.” Earnhardt said. “It’s not a chicane. It’s a bend. It’s 140 miles per hour. … What we need to achieve, basically is the same thing we have on the backstraightaway at Watkins Glen where we have the bus stop. They slow down, brake hard and turn into that corner. Well, that’s a passing zone.”

For more, watch the video above.

Follow Dan Beaver on Twitter

Long: Will Roval open door to Cup race on street course?

Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
5 Comments

With NASCAR President Steve Phelps saying that “everything is in play” in regards to the sport’s future combined with the successful debut of Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Roval this past weekend, now is the time to think bigger.

Along with the notion of midweek races, doubleheaders and a race on a dirt track for Cup, the thought of a street course race shouldn’t be too far-fetched.

The Roval, as close to a street course as any road course with its walls and minimal run-off space, showed that NASCAR drivers and cars could handle running on a tight circuit. And do it two-wide and even three-wide in at times.

Now, the sport should look to take that racing to the people and compete on the streets of a city.

“I think if somebody wanted to do that and put that on, it would be very interesting,” said car owner Roger Penske, who brought the Detroit Grand Prix to the streets of Belle Isle.

Justin Marks, a road racer who competed in this weekend’s Xfinity and Cup races at the Roval, is all for a NASCAR street course event because of what it could mean to the sport.

“I’m a huge believer you have to take your product to the people,” Marks said. “In 2012, I went to the Long Beach Grand Prix as a competitor in the Pirelli World Challenge Series and I remember spending the weekend at that race there looking around at 100,000 people and thinking that 90,000 of these people aren’t racing fans. They’re here because it’s a great cultural event.

“I think that the days of people driving 500 miles from their home to spend four days at a race track camping are numbered.”

Marks admitted there would be challenges to do a Cup street race but “I think it could be a hell of a show if they did it, especially if they went to a market like Detroit or LA or South Florida or if they managed to pull something off in Nashville or Austin or something like that, great cultural hubs and great markets.

Former IndyCar driver Alex Tagliani, who has run select Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series along with competing full-time in the NASCAR Pinty’s Series, said Toronto could be a good place for NASCAR to run. IndyCar runs on a street circuit there.

“I would not give up (on) a track like this because it would be tough to reproduce the atmosphere, the event downtown, the feeling,” Tagliani said. “I think it’s worth to have an event like this in our country.”

The challenges or racing on a street course, though, wouldn’t be only for teams and competitors.

Marcus Smith, chief executive officer of Speedway Motorsports Inc., and the creator of the Roval for Charlotte, raises questions about a street race.

“For a driver, it’s not really a problem, but hosting the race is a big problem with street courses, they’re incredibly expensive to put on,” Smith said on the NASCAR on NBC podcast. “They’re temporary so you have no benefit to amortize expense over the years.

“Street courses just tend to fail. I’m not a fan of street courses for that purpose. It’s interesting, but they’re just incredibly expensive and bad business models. Things that are good for NASCAR overall need to also be good for the business of the sport.”

The Detroit Grand Prix and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, which oversees Belle Isle, reached an agreement in August to continue the event there for three more years. The deal includes an option to extend the length two more years.

As part of the agreement, the Grand Prix will increase its annual total contribution to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources for hosting the event on Belle Isle from $200,000 to $450,000 each year.

Among the series, the Grand Prix hosts are the IndyCar Series and IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Series.

Now could be a good time to consider at a street course option. NASCAR is looking to revamp its schedule beginning with the 2021 season. NASCAR’s five-year contracts with tracks expire after the 2020 season.

“There are a lot of things in play,” Phelps said. “We would rule out nothing at this particular point. We need to make sure that we have all the input, all the information necessary to make an informed decision that will allow us to get to what that 2020 schedule will look like.”


Jimmie Johnson was two turns from advancing to the second round of the playoffs. He was safe, running second and needed only to finish to keep his hopes alive for a record eighth Cup championship.

Instead, Johnson went for the win, locked his brakes, spun and took out leader Martin Truex Jr., allowing Ryan Blaney to win.

Johnson crossed the line eighth to finish in a three-way tie for the final two transfer positions. Kyle Larson and Aric Almirola grabbed those spots over Johnson because they each had a better finish than him in the first round.

Johnson’s title hopes are over.

But he made the right decision to go for the win.

A seven-time champion who was on a 51-race winless drought showed how much winning means to him when he risked it all to be victorious. This isn’t an aging athlete mailing it in.

Frankly, Johnson would have made the playoffs had Jeffrey Earnhardt not spun after contact from Daniel Hemric and stalled less than 100 yards from the finish. With Earnhardt unable to cross the line, Larson chugged by after blowing a tire and hitting the wall twice in the final third of a mile to gain the spot — and the extra point that forged the three-way tie with Johnson and Almirola.

Yes, Johnson was greedy. Yes, it would have been easier to back off but what if he had finished second? 

Just as no one could have imagined Larson, driving a battered and broken vehicle, would pass a car stopped so close to the finish line to knock Johnson out of the playoff, who is to say Johnson might not have needed those playoff points with a win to get to the third round?


While it’s easy to say Jimmie Johnson’s move at the end of the Roval cost him a chance to advance in the playoffs but he had opportunities to get that one extra point throughout the playoffs and couldn’t.

Looking back at the end of the first two stages at Las Vegas and Richmond, one can see the opportunities lost earlier in the first round.

At Las Vegas, Johnson scored no points in the first stage. In the second stage, he was sixth with five laps to go. He gained two spots, collecting two additional points.

But at Richmond, he was 11th with eight laps left in the first stage and could not get into the top 10 to score any points. In the second stage, he was eighth with eight laps to go and couldn’t gain another spot.

Meanwhile, Larson found himself in a desperate situation at the end of the Roval race because of what happened in the first two stages at Las Vegas and Richmond.

The biggest blow to Larson was that 10 laps from the end of stage 1 at Las Vegas, he had to give up third place and pit for a right front tire issue. Had he finished third in that segment, he would have had eight more points and would not have been in a three-way tie for the final two transfer spots.

Aric Almirola can look back at a move at Las Vegas with helping create that tie after the Roval race. Almirola was 10th with five laps to go in the first stage. He passed Clint Bowyer before the end to finish the stage ninth and gain an extra point. If Almirola doesn’t get that spot, he’s not tied with Johnson and is eliminated.

Every point matters.


Saturday’s Xfinity race lasted 1 hour, 32 minutes, 35 seconds. It was the shortest Xfinity race on a road course since June 1991 at Watkins Glen. That race lasted 1 hour, 36 minutes, 5 seconds.

Excluding the Dash4Cash races that had been shortened when those were paired with heat races, last weekend’s event was the shortest Xfinity race since Darlington in September 2015. That race lasted 1 hour, 25 minutes, 14 seconds.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, said that the sanctioning body would increase the number of laps for the race next year. It was 55 laps this year.

The question is what should be the proper length of a race? The Xfinity Series has had one race last three hours (season opener at Daytona) and seven races last more than 2 hours, 20 minutes. The series has had five races (other than the Roval) last less than two hours. The shortest race had been Michigan (1 hour, 45 minutes) before the Roval.

So what should be the proper length of a race? Does it matter if a race lasts barely 90 minutes?

 and on Facebook

SMI executive says it won’t add Roval concept to its other tracks

Getty Images
4 Comments

CONCORD, N.C. — Don’t expect the Roval to be incorporated into other tracks owned by Speedway Motorsports Inc. even after Sunday’s debut at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“I’m not looking at any of our properties to add a road course …  Rovalizing as you said,” Marcus Smith, chief executive officer of Speedway Motorsports Inc., said after Ryan Blaney’s victory. “I feel like this is unique to Charlotte, and we’ve got other speedways out there that produce their own unique action.”

MORE: Roval provides roller coaster of emotions to playoff drivers

SMI owns eight tracks that host 12 Cup points races annually. SMI’s tracks are Atlanta Motor Speedway, Bristol Motor Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway, Kentucky Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Sonoma Raceway and Texas Motor Speedway.

Charlotte Motor Speedway spent millions to upgrade the road course in its infield and attach it to the oval to create the 17-turn, 2.28-mile track. The move was made to add excitement to Charlotte’s playoff date, an event that had seen a steady decline in attendance in recent years.

Sunday’s race was one of the most anticipated NASCAR races in years because of the new concept and unknowns in a first event.

Charlotte has been innovative through the years. It was the first large NASCAR track to have lights. But after many other tracks added lights, the concept was no longer novel or fresh for fans.

Smith doesn’t want that to happen to the Roval.

“I do think that we can learn from our history,” he said.

Also, he suggests additional Rovals aren’t needed at his company’s tracks — even though five of SMI’s tracks are 1.5-miles long — because of the 2019 rules package that NASCAR is set to unveil this week. The new package, which has elements of what was run in the All-Star Race in May, is intended to tighten the competition.

“I’m really excited about all the things I’m hearing about next year’s racing with the new aero and power package,” Smith said. “I think it’s going to be fantastic for the whole sport.”