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Bob Bahre
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Former New Hampshire Motor Speedway owner Bob Bahre dies at 93

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Bob Bahre, who built New Hampshire Motor Speedway and also formerly owned Oxford Plains Speedway in Maine, has died. He was 93.

New Hampshire Motor Speedway opened in 1990. NASCAR ran its first Cup race there in 1993. Rusty Wallace won that first race. Kevin Harvick and NASCAR on NBC analyst Jeff Burton each share the track record for most Cup wins with four. The Cup Series races there next on Aug. 2.

Bahre was known in the racing community for his generosity, often providing tow money to competitors who failed to make races.

Bahre purchased half of North Wilkesboro Speedway in 1995 and moved one of the track’s dates to New Hampshire Motor Speedway, giving it a second date. Bruton Smith purchased the other half of North Wilkesboro Speedway and moved that date to Texas Motor Speedway.

Bahre and his son Gary sold New Hampshire Motor Speedway to Speedway Motorsports in 2007 for $340 million.

Bruton Smith, Speedway Motorsports Executive Chairman, said: “Bob Bahre was a true pioneer for motorsports in New England. He wanted to grow our sport and build things that people will remember. He was a smart businessman and I have a lot of respect for that, but I have even more respect for the positive impact he had on people. I’ll pray for Sandy and Gary during this tough time, and I know they are proud of the legacy Bob leaves behind.”

Marcus Smith, Speedway Motorsports President and CEO said of Bahre: “What I’ll remember most about Bob Bahre will be his character, understated yet charming. Every time I saw him he had on khakis and a white shirt. I always enjoyed our genuine conversations. He was very generous to people in the motorsports industry and to the New England communities where he did business. He went about things in a quiet, dignified manner and often times that simple approach is the most impactful. It’s truly an honor to have known Bob. He lived a meaningful life. My thoughts and prayers are with his family. ”

David McGrath, NHMS executive vice president and general manager, said of Bahre: “On behalf of our team at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, I’d like to extend our deepest condolences to Sandy, Gary and the entire Bahre family. Bob left an incredible mark on auto racing through the New England region, and his love of motorsports was legendary. He had a passionate commitment to both drivers and race fans, and that commitment was evident when he built our facility in 1990. I am proud to have known Bob. It was a true pleasure to have spent time getting to know him and learning from him over the years. He will be missed, but his legacy of supporting and building motorsports in New England will live on forever.”

 

Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick state concerns about track prep

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The two winningest Cup drivers this season have raised concerns about how traction compound was applied to Kentucky Speedway last weekend, and the president of the company that owns the track said that if drivers have such concerns they “are welcome and encouraged to call or text me directly.”

What happened at Kentucky is a concern because NASCAR heads to Texas Motor Speedway this weekend for Truck, Xfinity and Cup Series races. That track and Kentucky are both owned by Speedway Motorsports, the company founded by Bruton Smith and run by his family.

Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin, who each have a series-high four wins this year, were critical this week of traction compound being re-applied to Kentucky Speedway before last weekend’s Cup race.

“I love the Smith family, but they go rogue sometimes when it comes to thinking that they’re in the competition business,” Hamlin said Friday in a Zoom session with media. “It’s disappointing because the information that NASCAR gets from us on track prep and how to prepare the racetrack to put on the best possible racing comes from the drivers who do it themselves, and they know better than anyone. Better than anyone.”

Said Harvick: “Last week we showed up on race day, the PJ1 (traction compound) was put on the racetrack without anybody knowing.”

Marcus Smith, president and CEO of Speedway Motorsports, responded to their concerns in a statement to NBC Sports.

“I know the drivers want to put on the best show for the fans, and EVERY effort we make as track operators both on the track and in the grandstands is geared toward doing right by the fans.” Smith said in the statement emailed to NBC Sports. “Track prep has been happening for decades, and we unapologetically work for compelling competition that will keep fans on the edge of their seats. Our team at Texas is working hard and I’ve got a seat on the Tire Dragon for any driver who’d like to help us out. The drivers are welcome and encouraged to call or text me directly with any concerns.”

A NASCAR spokesperson told NBC Sports on Friday that there is no change to the process of applying traction compound to tracks, adding that drivers are consulted each week and the series has developed a “solid dialogue and process.” The spokesperson also said that if traction compound is re-applied, NASCAR lets drivers know in advance of the race.

MORE: Friday 5: Kyle Busch bewildered by Cup car’s performance 

MORE: Cup starting lineup for Texas

Traction compound is meant to help deliver multiple lanes of racing in the corners, providing more chances for drivers to pass instead of running single-file. It is used at several tracks for Cup, Xfinity and Truck races, including Kentucky, Bristol, Texas, Charlotte, Pocono and Phoenix, among others.

Hamlin is among the drivers who have taken an active role in working with NASCAR on where and when to apply traction compound.

Hamlin said it didn’t take long to see an issue with Kentucky Speedway and where it had applied the traction compound leading into a weekend of racing that included two Xfinity races, an ARCA race, a Truck race and a Cup race.

“The track was prepped in a certain way,” Hamlin said. “We weren’t overjoyed with it to start the weekend, and we saw the Xfinity race, the first couple of races. We had an issue and we really needed to work on it, and the issue is to let that main line run off.

“The only way to stop that one lane racetrack is to let (the traction compound) wear out and with them just going in overnight and respraying that middle lane again before the (Cup) race was just not ideal and there was a lot of people that weren’t happy with it.

We had a four-wide to the finish, that saved the day as far as A, do we have a great race or not? Man, you got to, I really wish SMI in particular would just kind of listen to the guidance in which the drivers and NASCAR give them when it comes to spraying these race tracks.”

For this weekend at Texas, NASCAR stated this is how the track will be prepared:

In Turns 1 and 2, the low groove (approximately 18 feet from the apron) will not be treated. The middle grooves will be treated with PJ1 traction compound and tires will be dragged over that portion. The area treated is about 60 feet wide.

In Turns 3 and 4 at Texas, the low groove (approximately 18 feet from the apron) will not be treated. The middle grooves will be treated with PJ1 traction compound. Tires also will be dragged over that area, which is about 30 feet wide.

No practice, qualifying at Bristol All-Star events, Kansas race weekend

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The upcoming NASCAR All-Star Race and All-Star Open at Bristol Motor Speedway, as well as the three-day race weekend at Kansas Speedway, will all be run without practices or qualifying, according to schedules released by the sanctioning body.

That continues a practice that has been in effect since racing resumed last month following the coronavirus hiatus. The only exception to that policy has been qualifying that was held prior to the Coca-Cola 600.

The 36th annual NASCAR All-Star Race will be held on Wednesday, July 15. The green flag is slated to fall at 8:30 p.m. ET. The race will be preceded by the All-Star Open, which begins at 7 p.m. ET.

This will mark only the second time in All-Star Race history that the event will not be held at its traditional home of Charlotte Motor Speedway. It has been moved to Bristol due to ongoing restrictions on mass gatherings at events in the state of North Carolina.

On Wednesday, a North Carolina judge ruled against a small track in that state reopening because it had previously violated the ban on mass gatherings.

The only other time the All-Star event has been held elsewhere was in 1986 when Atlanta Motor Speedway played host. The race returned to Charlotte the following year.

Speedway Motorsports President Marcus Smith has previously said that up to 30,000 fans will be permitted to attend the event at Bristol. Speedway Motorsports owns both the Charlotte and Bristol tracks.

As for the Kansas Cup race, it will be held under the lights on Thursday, July 23, with the green flag slated to fall at 7:30 p.m. ET. Two other races will be held at Kansas on the following days: the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series event on Friday, July 24 (7 p.m. ET start) and the NASCAR Xfinity Series event on Saturday, July 25 (5 p.m. ET start).

All races at Kansas will be held without fans, as will be the case for races preceding it including Pocono this weekend, Indianapolis on July 4-5 and Kentucky on July 9-12.

However, Kansas Speedway officials previously said in a statement on the track’s website that it will continue to monitor the situation “to determine if it may be possible to have fans attend our races in July.”

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Nashville Superspeedway to host Cup race in 2021

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The NASCAR Cup Series will race at Nashville Superspeedway in 2021, NASCAR announced Wednesday.

As part of a four-year sanctioning agreement with NASCAR, the track in Lebanon, Tennessee’s first Cup race is tentatively scheduled for June 21, 2021.

The 1.333-mile oval is owned by Dover Motorsports Inc., which also owns Dover International Speedway. One of Dover’s two race dates will be moved to Nashville. Next year’s Cup race at Dover is tentatively scheduled for May 16 or May 23.

According to a filing with the SEC, the cost of making Nashville Superspeedway ready to host a Cup race will be $7-$10 million over the next two years.

In an afternoon teleconference, Denis McGlynn, president and COO of Dover Motorsports, said the speedway is “in great shape. There are some needs to replace some SAFER wall that we cannibalized over the years to bring to Dover.  … The buildings need to all be gone over for all of the infrastructure that services them and the fixtures inside.  We’ll be spending money on new carpets, whatever, air‑conditioning units, all that other stuff.”

McGlynn said a sellout for a race at the speedway would be 25,000 people.

“As we’ve done in the past out there, we’ll augment our permanent seats with portable seats for this first go around,” McGlynn said. “We always like to make sure we have a solid market that we can rely on before we go to the investment for permanent seats.  But we’re targeting somewhere between 25,000 and 50,000 attendance for that.”

The SEC filing lists the total purse and sanction fees to be paid by Nashville for the events over the next four years: 2021 – $8.6 million, 2022 – $9.0 million, 2023 – $9.4 million and 2024 – $9.9 million. Estimated live broadcast revenue to be recognized by Nashville for the events is approximately: 2021 – $18.2 million, 2022 – $18.9 million, 2023 – $19.9 million and 2024 – $20.8 million.

“Thanks to the collaboration of Dover Motorsports and our broadcast partners, we are excited to bring NASCAR racing back to Nashville, a place where the passion for our sport runs deep,” NASCAR President Steve Phelps said in a release. “The Nashville market is a vital one for our sport, and bringing NASCAR Cup Series racing to Nashville Superspeedway will be an integral building block in helping us further deliver on our promise in creating a dynamic schedule for 2021.”

The move to the superspeedway likely means that Speedway Motorsports’ efforts to bring NASCAR back to Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville will not take place in 2021.

“The news that NASCAR will bring a Cup race to Wilson County and the greater Nashville region in 2021 is a positive move for the sport of NASCAR and for NASCAR fans,”   Speedway Motorsports President and CEO Marcus Smith said in statement. “In recent years, we’ve made it very clear that we think Nashville is a place where NASCAR should be for the future and not just the past. Our efforts to work with state and local government officials to revive the historic Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway will continue. We believe that the beloved short track in downtown Nashville provides tremendous opportunity to be a catalyst for year-round tourism and entertainment development.”

Nashville Superspeedway hosted Xfinity and Gander RV & Outdoors Series races from 2001-11.

Nashville will be the first new facility for the Cup Series since it began racing at Kentucky Speedway in 2011.

Denis said the discussion about adding Nashville to the schedule began during the Cup Series Awards Banquet in Nashville last December.

‘We had a chance to sit down with the NASCAR leadership and listen to where everybody was on this subject,” McGlynn said. “We talked about a list of possibly 10 markets that NASCAR had identified for penetration. And as it turned out, No. 1  on that list was Nashville. And, of course, us having a track already built in Nashville led to the conversation that basically resulted in what we’ve announced today.”

McFlynn called the deal a “win‑win‑win for everybody, specifically for our company now that we’ll be able to have two operating Cup tracks, one here on the East Coast in the middle of major metropolitan areas, and the other in what is going to be the hottest market in NASCAR.”

Dover has hosted two Cup races a year since 1971. It has had a race weekend postponed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Dover is expected to host a Cup doubleheader Aug. 22-23.

“It looks more and more like we’ll be hosting a doubleheader,” Tatoian told the AP. “That’s a strong scenario and that’s what we’re focused on.”

 

Friday 5: When fans can return, how many will be allowed at tracks?

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As NASCAR moves ahead with racing, among the key questions are when will fans be allowed back at the track and how many fans will be able to attend?

NASCAR has stated that there will be no fans at any of its races through June 21, covering events at Bristol, Atlanta, Martinsville, Miami and Talladega. NASCAR has not announced what its schedule will be after June 21 and when fans could be back in the stands.

Marcus Smith, president of Speedway Motorsports, said “I think that NASCAR will be the first major sport with fans back in attendance, and I think it will be in a place where one, the state regulations allow it, and two, where the large outdoor facility gives an opportunity to provide plenty of space, plenty of distance and plenty of areas for people to still have fun but be in a  safe environment.”

Pocono Raceway announced Friday that its NASCAR events this season will be held without fans.

Pocono Raceway is in Monroe County in Pennsylvania. Gov. Tom Wolf has set three phases for easing of restrictions — red (most restrictions), yellow and green (fewest restrictions).

Asked if NASCAR could race at Pocono, Gov. Wolf said in a May 18 press conference: “If Monroe County goes to yellow before that race happens and NASCAR, in fact, has the competition without spectators in the stands and they follow other guidelines to keep the competitors safe, yeah.”

Monroe County enters the yellow phrase today.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway could be the first track that hosts fans when it has the NTT IndyCar Series and Xfinity Series race on the road course July 4 and the Cup Series race on the oval July 5.

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb has a five-step plan in easing restrictions for the state where the final stage is projected to be enacted July 4 and states that “raceway events may return to full capacity.”

Indianapolis Motor Speedway officials have not announced what plans they’ll have for the July 4-5 races. A track spokesperson told NBC Sports that they’re “hopeful” to have fans but “will be prepared to run with or without spectators.”

Whenever and wherever fans return, it won’t be at full capacity with the need for social distancing.

That will force tracks to determine who can attend races when they have more ticket buyers than seats they’re allowed to make available because of social distancing protocols.

“It’s going to be challenging,” Smith said. “I think if we have 40 percent or 50 percent capacity, it’s something that we’ll have to figure out. I don’t think we have those details yet, but it’s certainly something we’re sensitive to and working on right now.”

While Smith mentioned 40-50 percent capacity, he’s not sure what it will be at various tracks.

“Who knows if it’s 40 or 50 percent or 25 percent?” he said. “It’s something that when you take into account different regulations in different states, I think that percentage is going to change depending on what the regulations are.”

2. Feeling better

Crew chief Alan Gustafson admits it “wasn’t a great feeling” Sunday after his decision to pit Chase Elliott before overtime cost Elliott a chance to win the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

But Gustafson didn’t let the decision wreck him the rest of the week.

“I don’t base my self‑worth on other people’s opinions, or if I’m doing a good job based on what other people say, but certainly I’m a human being, too, and when you get that many rocks thrown at you, it doesn’t feel great,” Gustafson said after Elliott won Thursday’s Cup race at Charlotte. “It was a long couple days, but at the end of the day, you’ve just got to look past it and move on.”

Gustafson said of the decision to pit late in the 600: “There’s a lot of factors that went into it, and our struggles earlier in the race probably influenced me more than I should have let it, and it didn’t work out. We’re also assuming that we stay out and we win the race, so it’s tough. It’s just a tough situation.”

While it’s easy to look at how Elliott could have three wins in a row — he was running second late at Darlington when Kyle Busch’s contact wrecked him, then the 600 pit call and Thursday’s win — Elliott prefers to look at things differently.

“I think the biggest thing is if we can continue to put ourselves in position and give ourselves chances and we do a good job at controlling the things that are in our control, that’s all we can ask for,” Elliott said after Thursday’s win. “We can’t control when a caution comes out two laps to go and you’re kind of in a lose‑lose situation there. We’ve got to keep doing things that are in our hands and keep doing those well.”

3. Hold on tight at Bristol

Much was made about drivers not having practice and qualifying before they raced at Darlington Raceway since it is considered among the sport’s most difficult tracks.

While not as much has been mentioned about the obstacles drivers will face at Bristol Motor Speedway before Sunday’s Cup race and Monday night’s Xfinity race, they shouldn’t be overlooked.

Tyler Reddick, who won the Bristol Xfinity race last August and finished second in the April 2019 race there, notes some of the challenges drivers will face this weekend.

“I think the first challenge is going to be just completing that first lap,” he said. “That’s one of the toughest race tracks to go around when it doesn’t have rubber and heat on it. I’ve run Truck races there through my career and when we’re one of the first ones on the race track, that first hour of practice you can’t really learn much. The traction compound is slick – you go down in there to try to use it and you almost spin out. You run the middle and that’s about it. Man, the first hour or so of practice you can’t get up in that either because it’s slick and you almost wreck.

“I remember the first time they put traction compound down at Bristol. I went out for practice and I was in the middle, we were OK. But I wanted to try the bottom, so I went down there, got loose and couldn’t go anywhere. So, I was like ‘that’s not going to work’. I went up to try to use the top and I drove it straight into the fence.

“I’m worried that the start of the race is going to be very chaotic. I don’t know how that’s going to go. There’s only one groove and we’re going to be starting double-file, so that’s going to be very interesting.”

4. Midweek racing

Thursday night’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway marked the second midweek Cup race since NASCAR’s season resumed.

The series will race at Martinsville on June 10, a Wednesday night. There could be other midweek races as NASCAR seeks to run 32 Cup races in 25 weeks.

But what about next year? How realistic is it that there could be a Cup race in the middle of a week?

“Lot of people have talked about it,” Marcus Smith said this week. “Running midweek races with no attendees is not a concern in terms of how you pull it off. … You don’t have to take into consideration selling tickets and hosting live things.

“Very different model than hosting these big parties, these big events that we do. The biggest events happen on the weekends. That’s why NASCAR races typically are on a weekend. When you have these events as we do, and we have to think quickly and figure out how to catch up on this nine or 10-week delay of the NASCAR season, running races midweek was a natural way to get caught up.

“But going forward, I still don’t think that the biggest events in sports will be hosted midweek.”

Brad Keselowski would like to see midweek races continue.

“NASCAR, in my opinion, has hit gold with this format,” he said after Thursday’s Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “The limited practice, show up and race, and the time window that benefits both the East and West Coast. No qualifying. Inversion from the week before is really good because it mixes the field up and creates some good storylines there. I think it’s fair. 

“It’s compelling and it’s at a time where, quite frankly, the sports world, even if it wasn’t for COVID, midweek races in the summer, when you’re generally not having a lot of competition, is in a time period where everybody is hungry for content. I think they’ve got gold here. COVID or not, I hope we keep this for years to come. I think this is a great little format that’s good for the sport and good for the fans and good for everybody all around, so kudos to them.”

5. All-Star Race status

Charlotte Motor Speedway hosted four NASCAR races, including two Cup races, this week but none of those Cup races was the All-Star Race.

Marcus Smith, president of Speedway Motorsports, was asked this week in a media conference about that event’s future and if it will remain at Charlotte.

“I think the plan is that it would be at Charlotte, but I think it’s important to note that we haven’t announced it because it’s just not ready to be announced yet,” Smith said. “With all the moving parts in this time, we have to be aware of how things change. Very soon, and I think in the next two weeks or less, we’ll have the next round of events that will be announced (by NASCAR) and it will help solve those schedules.”