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NASCAR-IndyCar doubleheader? ‘Bring it on’ say some drivers

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CONCORD, N.C. — What do NASCAR drivers think about the prospect of their world colliding with IndyCar’s in a hypothetical doubleheader weekend, with their top series competing at the same track?

The idea of a doubleheader has been part of the conversation this week in Indianapolis, where the Indy 500 preceded tonight’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

At least three NASCAR drivers would embrace it with open arms.

“Sure, bring it on,” Daniel Hemric told NBC Sports. “I have nothing against it. Obviously, Chevrolet does a lot for our garage, as well as that side of it. I think it would be cool.”

Denny Hamlin echoed Hemric’s sentiment about the possible mixing of the two different motorsports circuses.

“I think it’d be great,” Hamlin said. “I mean I think that sometimes our fans are not the same and so it would be an opportunity to introduce each other. I’ve never been to an IndyCar race before, so it would be an opportunity for me to kind of see it up close and personal and I wouldn’t mind wandering around the garages and seeing how they do things.”

Former Team Penske driver Justin Allgaier experienced the NASCAR-IndyCar overlap when he competed for the team in the Xfinity Series. Allgaier is “all for” a doubleheader.

“When I was at Penske, being able to go through the IndyCar shop, I’ve made a lot of friends over there,” Allgaier said. “The technology in those cars are fantastic. I love watching IndyCar races. I’m hopeful that we can make it happen.

But Allgaier admitted “there’s a lot of challenges” facing the two sanctioning bodies.

“There’s safety, (NASCAR’s) AMR team vs (IndyCar’s) Holmatro team,” Allgaier said. “The difference in tires. Having the different rubber compounds. For us it doesn’t affect us as much, but it affects them a lot. There’s a lot of question marks. You know what, if any two series can make it happen, I really firmly believes it’s NASCAR and IndyCar. It’d be great to have a doubleheader.”

With NASCAR expected to make overhauls to its schedule in the coming years, the possibility of the two different racing disciplines’ top series coming together for a weekend under one tent has picked up momentum.

IndyCar president Jay Frye has said he would be a “huge supporter” of an IndyCar-NASCAR doubleheader weekend.

“It could be a cool American motorsports extravaganza-kind of weekend,” Frye said. “We’ve talked about we’d run a Saturday night, and that Cup stays in its normal spot on Sunday. There are a lot of crossovers with manufacturers and amongst teams. We’ve talked about the friendships we have with them.”

The two worlds already get a small taste of one another each June when IndyCar and the Gander Outdoors Truck Series share Texas Motor Speedway for a weekend. There’ll be a second IndyCar-Trucks weekend at World Wide Technology Raceway starting next year.

Other tracks NASCAR and IndyCar compete on at different times of year include Iowa Speedway (Xfinity and Trucks), Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Road America (Xfinity), Mid-Ohio (Xfinity) and Pocono Raceway.

Texas and Charlotte Motor Speedway are among the eight tracks that Cup visits that are owned by Speedway Motorsports, Inc.

SMI CEO and President Marcus Smith said he was aware the topic had come up earlier in the week.

“I wouldn’t say it’s on my top 10 list at this point,” Smith told NBC Sports and the Athletic prior to the Coca-Cola 600. “But we’re certainly open for discussions because we like to do things that are different and fun. So who knows? Our schedule for NASCAR is set for next year. I’m sure if it’s interesting to IndyCar after they finish the Indy 500 then they’ll want to talk about it.”

Which of his eight tracks would best fit the bill for a doubleheader?

“We have a lot of tracks that could run IndyCar,” Smith said. “I don’t know off the top of my head where it’s best suited. People have talked about maybe running the Roval in the fall as a doubleheader. There’s a lot of logistics that need to be worked out. Our entire business is a logistics business. We’re in the entertainment business, but in order to do that we’ve got thousands upon thousands of items that need to be to kind of checked off the list. The details, the space, the timing. So many things that come to my mind. We’ll just have to look and see. Certainly, all of our tracks except Bristol could host.”

Friday 5: The tale of two comments and one fine

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What’s the difference between these comments?

Denny Hamlin after the March 3, 2013, Phoenix race: “I don’t want to be the pessimist, but it did not race as good as our generation five cars. This is more like what the generation five was at the beginning. The teams hadn’t figured out how to get the aero balance right. Right now, you just run single-file and you cannot get around the guy in front of you. You would have placed me in 20th-place with 30 (laps) to go, I would have stayed there — I wouldn’t have moved up. It’s just one of those things where track position is everything.”

Kyle Busch after Monday’s race at Dover on the package for the cars: “It’s terrible. All I can do is bitch about it and fall on deaf ears and we’ll come back with the same thing in the fall.”

NASCAR fined Hamlin $25,000 for his comments.

NASCAR explained the reason for the fine by stating: “Denny Hamlin made some disparaging remarks about the on-track racing that had taken place that afternoon. While NASCAR gives its competitors ample leeway in voicing their opinions when it comes to a wide range of aspects about the sport, the sanctioning body will not tolerate publicly made comments by its drivers that denigrate the racing product.”

Six years later, NASCAR said this week that it would not fine Busch for his comments after the Dover race. Busch said this week that he was not surprised NASCAR decided against fining him for his comments because “I’m not sure I said anything wrong.”

But don’t try to dissect the comments. That’s not the place to look in examining why one driver was fined and another was not.

NASCAR’s reaction to Busch’s comments shows a calmer approach. That’s a difference between Jim France, who is now the sport’s CEO, and Brian France, who was the CEO when Hamlin was fined.

Brian France often used a simple example to explain his reasoning for fining drivers for comments, saying in November 2011: “If I own a restaurant and I say you know what, the food in my restaurant is not very good, we’re not going to accept it. It’s as simple as that.”

With that as a key component, NASCAR issued secret fines to Hamlin, Ryan Newman and Brad Keselowski for comments and actions.

When public pressure grew for NASCAR to do away with secret fines, Brian France said in January 2012 that the sanctioning body would still react to driver comments.

“If you challenge the integrity of the sport, we’re going to deal with that,” Brian France said then. “You know, we have to deal with that. And I think what’s really interesting is I can’t tell you how many owners or drivers come up to me and say thanks for doing that because some of these comments were irresponsible and unhelpful to growing the sport.”

If drivers can’t pass, they’re going to be frustrated. Some drivers noted how winner Martin Truex Jr. had the best car at Dover but it took him 240 laps to get to the front.

Truex took the lead for good with 53 laps to go. The same car that struggled in traffic — “It was definitely really hard to pass,” he said — then drove away from the field, winning by 9.5 seconds.

While the package has improved the racing at some tracks, it’s not perfect every place. The key is making changes for tracks where the package isn’t as effective.

With car owners facing additional costs with the Gen 7 car’s projected debut in 2021, they likely will be hesitant to be in favor of any expensive midseason changes. It’s 21 months until February 2021. With many details to be worked out with the new car, the question is what can NASCAR do to allow drivers to show more of their skill? If NASCAR can’t find a solution, how much longer will they allow drivers to speak up about the package?

2. Is time running out for NASCAR to go to Nashville in 2021?

In December, Formosa Productions, which promotes races at Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville, Tennessee, and Bristol Motor Speedway reached an agreement to “explore bringing major NASCAR racing events” back to the .596-mile track.

Nearly six months later, work remains.

An issue is getting an agreement done with the city by next spring when NASCAR is expected to announce the 2021 schedules. NASCAR announced the 2020 Xfinity and Gander Truck Series schedules April 4, 2019. If NASCAR aims for a similar target date, that would leave 11 months to get a deal complete.

If more time was needed, NASCAR might be able to delay the 2021 Xfinity and Truck schedules. The 2019 schedules for both series were not released until June 13, 2018. Either way, time is ticking.

“Days, weeks and months go by quickly when you’re not really paying attention to it,” Marcus Smith, president and chief executive officer of Speedway Motorsports, said. “However, it’s very possible things can get put on the right track and move along very swiftly and that’s certainly our interest.”

He says conversations are ongoing.

I think the most important part is we’ve got a strong interest and it seems like in general there is a big interest in the people we’re talking with,” Smith said.

A few issues facing an effort to get on the 2021 schedule:

Nashville elections, including for mayor, are Aug. 12. There are multiple candidates for mayor and should a runoff election be needed, it would be held Sept. 12.

Smith notes that Fairgrounds Speedway “needs some TLC.” So far a financing plan has not been finalized.

Also, the Metro Board of Fair Commissioners raised issues in its April meeting about SMI’s involvement.

While the Tennessean had reported that SMI/Bristol Motor Speedway officials have met with Mayor David Briley and his administration, the Fair Board — which oversees the track — has not had any contact.

“I think there has sort of been a transparency problem here,” said fair board member Jason Bergeron at the April meeting. “It’s been eight months and we haven’t heard any details. … It’s a little frustrating. We have no concrete proposal and there’s been no real engagement with the community.”

He later said: “I think SMI needs to bring a real proposal to the table.”

The agenda for the May 14 Fair Commission Board meeting includes a “presentation by Speedway Motorsports Inc.”

3. A new test

Cup teams return to a 1.5-mile speedway this weekend for the first time in more than a month.

Denny Hamlin won at Texas on March 31 in the most recent race at a 1.5-mile speedway. That race also saw Hendrick Motorsports lead 110 of 334 laps between Jimmie Johnson (60 laps led), Chase Elliott (35) and William Byron (15). Johnson finished fifth, Byron sixth and Elliott 13th.

Stewart-Haas Racing, which is winless this year after winning a series-high 12 races last year, placed all four of its cars in the top 10 at Texas: Clint Bowyer was second, Daniel Suarez placed third, Aric Almirola was seventh and Kevin Harvick finished eighth.

Almirola is excited to see where his team stands this weekend at Kansas Speedway.

“We’ve built new race cars going to Kansas,” Almirola said. “We built new race cars going to Texas, which I thought were in the game. We were competitive, we led some laps and challenged to lead the race at the end.

“We were in the right direction with our race cars and then we’ve taken another step in going to Kansas. Just continuing to evolve our mile-and-a-half program. Having a month off has really allowed us to kind of take as step back, go through lot of data, look at a lot of different things and build these race cars.”

4. Record streak

No, we’re not talking about Kyle Busch tying Morgan Shepherd for the most consecutive top-10 finishes in a row at 11, but what Ross Chastain has done this year.

Ross Chastain has competed in every Cup, Xfinity and Truck race this season. Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Chastain has started every Cup, Xfinity and Gander Outdoors Truck Series race. That’s 27 consecutive races and it will grow this weekend with Chastain entered in both the Truck and Cup races at Kansas Speedway.

Chastain is one of three drivers to have started more than 16 consecutive races in Cup, Xfinity and Trucks to start the season. Chastain ranks No. 1 on the list.

Kyle Busch is next. Busch started the first 22 races in the 2008 season and started the first 20 races in the 2009 season. Rick Mast started the first 16 races in the 1989 season.

5. Looks familiar

In 2017, Martin Truex Jr. had two wins, three top-five finishes, seven top-10 finishes, led 536 laps and had an average finish of 10.5 after 11 races.

This year, Truex has scored two wins, four top-five finishes, seven top-10 finishes, led 343 laps and has an average finish of 10.3 after 11 races.

Truex went on to win the title in 2017. While it’s too early to forecast anything like that this year, his start in his first season at Joe Gibbs Racing should not go unnoticed, especially heading to Kansas. He has four consecutive top-five finishes there. He won both races there in 2017, finished runner-up in the May 2018 race and placed fifth in last year’s playoff race.

Bristol official responds to report regarding Nashville efforts

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An executive involved in Speedway Motorsports Inc.’s efforts to bring NASCAR national series racing back to Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville, Tennessee, responded Tuesday to a report about the company’s talks with city officials.

SMI officials have had discussions with Mayor David Briley and his administration about how to finance the upgrades needed to the track to bring NASCAR national series races there. The Tennessean reported Tuesday that SMI pitched a plan that called for $54 million in bond payments and $2 million cash from the city. The proposal was rejected by Briley’s administration.

Jerry Caldwell, executive vice president and general manager of Bristol Motor Speedway, issued a statement responding to The Tennessean’s article.

“Our very first step has been to engage Mayor Briley to explore potential renovation of the speedway that would allow major races to return to Nashville. This renovation can be accomplished through a cooperative partnership by utilizing revenues from increased activity at the Fairgrounds and private investment without the use of current Metro tax dollars.

“Recognizing that the city has an obligation to maintain their racetrack long into the future, we are offering an opportunity for private partnership that delivers an attractive, long-term solution to improve a historic, public treasure that has been in decline in recent years.

“We look forward to sharing our proposal with the Fair Board, Councilman (Colby) Sledge and the neighboring community. We are confident that this partnership will achieve a brighter, more successful future for the speedway, the Fairgrounds and the community. We appreciate interest by the mayor and Fair Board so far because in the end we all want the same thing – a first class facility.”

During Tuesday’s Fair Board meeting, board member Jason Bergeron lamented a “transparency problem” with plans Speedway Motorsports Inc. has for Fairgrounds Speedway.

“It’s been eight months and we haven’t heard any details, and I don’t think there’s been any real talks with the community … it’s just a little frustrating,” Bergeron said during the meeting, according to video by The Tennessean. “We have these renovations ready to go with the speedway. It keeps going on and on. We have no concrete proposal and there has been no real engagement with the community.”

When asked earlier this month about Nashville hosting a national series race, NASCAR President Steve Phelps said on the Dale Jr. Download: “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.”

Fairgrounds Speedway faces setback with cancellation of All American 400

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Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville, a possible site for future NASCAR national series races, announced Wednesday that it has canceled Sunday’s 34th All American 400 Super Late Model race because of impending rain.

Kyle Busch was scheduled to compete in the event, which is among the top Super Late Model races in the country.

The cancellation comes a day after The Tennessean reported that the track’s operator breached its contract with Nashville Fairgrounds.

Last week, The Tennessean reported that financing to upgrade the .596-mile racing facility and other matters have led to questions about the viability of bringing a national series NASCAR race back to Nashville.

Bristol Motor Speedway and the track’s operator entered into an agreement in December to try to bring NASCAR national series events to the track.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. asked NASCAR President Steve Phelps on the Dale Jr. Download about a national series race returning to Nashville.

“Are we going to be racing in Nashville or not? I don’t know,” Phelps said. “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.”

The All American 400 Super Late Model race was set to run last fall before it was postponed by rain and rescheduled for this weekend. Sunday’s forecast for Nashville, Tennessee, calls for a 100 percent chance of rain, according to wunderground.com

“The forecast is awful for this weekend and we don’t want the racers and fans to have to spend the money in travel costs to come here for nothing,” said Claire Formosa, VP of Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville, on the track’s Facebook page. “Many of the drivers were coming from a long way, so we wanted to do this early to help them out. We are now going to focus on our regular season opener next Saturday and get prepared for the 35th All American 400 this year.”

The All American 400 is scheduled for Nov. 3, 2019.

This decision comes after questions about certain actions by the track promoters.

The Tennessean reported this week that Laura Womack, Nashville Fairgrounds director, notified track operators Tony and Claire Formosa in a letter that they have 30 days to remedy issues.

According to the newspaper’s report, Womack said that the Formosas:

# Failed to pay rent on time.

# Owe $31,930 from concessions revenue from the 2018 season.

# Violated track rental curfew on March 27.

The Tennessean reported that the track’s rent for January to March was paid April 4.

Womack requested that the Formosas appear at the Fair Board meeting April 16 to address the matters.

Claire Formosa told the Tennessean that “there are some things that we are aware of that we have taken care of, like the office rent. The other two things … there is a lot more to it than what is being stated in the letter.”

 

 

 

SMI executive discusses 2020 schedule, racing at Nashville

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