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SMI executive discusses 2020 schedule, racing at Nashville

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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.”

Deal reached that could bring NASCAR back to Nashville Fairgrounds

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A deal has been reached between track operator Formosa Productions and Bristol Motor Speedway that could lead to the return of NASCAR to the Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville, BMS announced Wednesday.

The deal is “an agreement to explore bringing major NASCAR racing events” to the .596-mile track.

The two entities will work “on a long-range plan of significant track improvements and high-profile race events that could include NASCAR events upon the facility meeting standards.”

The deal must be approved by Nashville’s Metro Board of Fair Commissioners.

“Tony and our team both see the same bright future for Fairgrounds Speedway,” said Jerry Caldwell, executive vice president and general manager of BMS, in a press release. “Nashville has a special reputation as one of the most exciting tracks in the history of motorsports, and the region has a remarkably large and passionate fan base. The motorsports industry – the sanctioning bodies, drivers and race teams – is excited about Nashville’s potential to be a regular site for major events. With Metro supportive of that vision, we are eager to start working tomorrow with the city, Tony (Formosa) and other stakeholders at the Fairgrounds and beyond, to develop a first-class racing facility and program.”

2018 was Formosa’s first year in a five-year agreement to run and promote the track after beating Bristol Motor Speedway’s bid to operate the track last year. Bristol is owned by Speedway Motorsports, Inc.

“This is terrific news for fans of racing and drivers all across the country and will bring a brighter future for Nashville Fairgrounds,” Formosa said in a press release. “I’m excited to work with Bruton and Marcus Smith and the Bristol team who I feel will bring this historic facility back to where it belongs. Today marks an exciting new beginning for the Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville.”

Autoweek reports that if the deal is approved it would see Claire Formosa, vice president of Formosa Productions, become a full-time employee at BMS as a liaison between the two tracks.

Tom Formosa told the Metro Board of Fair Commissioners in October a deal was “still very premature” according to a report by The Tennessean that said a possible deal could lead to the Xfinity and Gander Outdoors Truck Series competing on the track.

Fairgrounds Speedway last hosted a Cup race in 1984 and Xfinity and Truck Series races in 2000.

Marcus Smith, the CEO of SMI, said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “SiriusXM Speedway” that “there is potential” for Cup to make a return to the track.

“That is really dependent on how big the vision is we all settle in on,” Smith said. “My preference is to always go big. If we really set our sights on it, that would be the ultimate goal.”

Smith said the track, located roughly four miles from downtown Nashville, “would be a great place” to try holding a mid-week race.

But before any of that can happen, the track would need to see some major improvements.

“I love the classic style, the huge canopy that hangs over the grandstand,” Smith said. “I think there’s a lot of the character and the history you want to preserve. But you have to bring it up to current specs with proper crash wall, with SAFER foam, a catch fence and network-worthy lighting. There’s a lot that needs to be done.

“The good news is we’ve done it before.”

Smith said work on the track would “ideally” begin in 2019. The earliest any major changes to the NASCAR schedule can occur is 2020.

Smith also said the partnership between SMI and the Formosa’s has “gotta be long-term” and “that’s the only way it really makes sense to do the things we want to do.”

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

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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.”

Speedway Motorsports Inc. announces weather guarantee for fans

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Speedway Motorsports Inc. announced Thursday a weather guarantee for fans.

If a NASCAR race is postponed due to weather and the ticket holder is unable to attend the rescheduled date, a ticket credit can be issued toward a qualifying NASCAR race at any Speedway Motorsports venue.

This covers events at 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.

MORE: Is it time for all tracks to adopt a rain ticket policy?

“Of all major professional sports, none is as heavily impacted by adverse weather as NASCAR,” said Speedway Motorsports’ President and CEO Marcus Smith in a statement. “With drivers already racing on the very edge at nearly 200 mph, even a little rain can have a dramatic impact on race weekend schedules. What we want to do is take weather out of the ticket-buying equation so fans can focus on having a great time and making memories on our premier NASCAR event weekends.”

Fans with an unused, eligible ticket will have 60 days from the original race date to request a ticket credit on a qualifying future event. The credit must be used toward another Speedway Motorsports’ NASCAR event within one calendar year of the original race date or the same event the following year, even if it takes place beyond the one-year mark. Certain restrictions may apply. Click here for further details on the Speedway Motorsports Weather Guarantee.

This season, snow postponed the Martinsville Cup race a day and the Camping World Truck Series there two days. Martinsville is owned by International Speedway Corp.

Friday 5: A new way of thinking about NASCAR’s future?

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When examining NASCAR’s future are most people looking in the wrong direction?

There are those who say the schedule — 36 points races, two non-points races and the Daytona qualifying races in a 41-week stretch — is too long.

Maybe it’s not enough.

So said Brad Keselowski earlier this week on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

While some says less is more for the sport, Keselowski suggests that the Cup schedule should have 50-60 races a year and no weekend off in the summer.

His plan is this:

Cup should race on Sundays and the middle of the week from February to early October (instead of ending the season in November). Keselowski also says that no track should host more than one weekend race. So, a track with two dates would get a weekend date and a midweek date.

One thing he notes is that any midweek race should take no more than three hours, meaning a number of races likely would need to be shortened

Keselowski’s idea is a novel concept and presents a new way of thinking when looking ahead in NASCAR. It’s always good to be forced to look at issues in different ways. But there are many challenges to his plan.

One question is what about the costs to teams. It would be easy to see teams saying such a schedule would cost them too much with the additional travel, expenses of preparing cars and repairing cars for example.

“The race teams will adjust, they’ll figure it out,’’ Keselowski said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “Here’s what most people don’t understand. When a car owner complains about money, almost every race team out there has 20 or 30 engineers that don’t build the cars that make good wages and are smart people. What that tells me is they’ve got money and they’re just deciding to allocate it.’’

That might be a harder sell to teams. Rob Kauffman, co-owner of Chip Ganassi Racing and chairman of the Race Team Alliance spoke during All-Star weekend about cost to teams.

“It’s a joint concern, so it will be a joint solution to come up with how it works,’’ Kauffman said of working with NASCAR. “To get something like that in place will require quite a bit of collaboration.’’

Another concern would be tracks. A reason why there hasn’t been a midweek race yet is because a track executive has not volunteered to be the first.

The challenge with a midweek race is that the track likely won’t draw as many fans. Track officials note that they still have a significant percentage attend their races traveling from a few hours or more away. Not as many of those fans would probably make such a trip in the middle of the week. That could be lost income for the tracks.

Those are just among some of the key issues. It is a tangled web of trying to appease, teams, tracks, media partners, sponsors and fans as NASCAR forges ahead.

While there are many challenges to Keselowski’s plan — making it seem unlikely — that doesn’t mean such thinking should be immediately dismissed. Keselowski could be right in that bold thinking is what the sport needs as it looks ahead.

2. Kyle Busch could have company

While Kyle Busch became the first driver to win at every Cup track he’s competed with his Coca-Cola 600 victory, a couple of other drivers are not far behind.

Kevin Harvick has won at all but two tracks on the circuit (not including the Roval). He has yet to win at Kentucky (0 for 7) and Pocono (0 for 34).

Jimmie Johnson has won at all but three tracks on the circuit (not including the Roval). He has yet to win at Chicagoland (0 for 16), Kentucky (0 for 7) and Watkins Glen (0 for 16).

3. Back in the Day

LeBron James made his eighth consecutive NBA Finals appearance Thursday night. The last time he wasn’t in the NBA Finals was 2010.

That season in NASCAR:

Jimmie Johnson was on his way to a fifth consecutive Cup title.

Jamie McMurray won the Daytona 500, Brickyard 400 and Charlotte fall race.

Denny Hamlin won a series-high eight races.

Kevin Conway was Cup Rookie of the Year.

Joey Logano had just turned 20 years old.

Brad Keselowski won the Xfinity Series title.

Kyle Busch won 13 of the 29 Xfinity races he started.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was Xfinity Rookie of the Year.

Kyle Larson finished 10th in the Chili Bowl Nationals (Cole Whitt was second to winner Kevin Swindell).

William Byron wouldn’t turn 13 until November of that year.

4. France Family Group adds to portfolio

In a recent SEC filing, International Speedway Corp. stated that the France Family Group owns 74.11 percent of the combined voting power of common stock.

The France Family Group owned 73 percent, according to ISC’s 2016 annual report.

The France Family Group owned 72 percent, according to the ISC’s 2015 annual report.

As a comparison, Bruton Smith and son Marcus own 71 percent of Speedway Motorsports Inc.’s common stock. They owned 70 percent, according to SMI’s 2016 annual report.

5. A year later …

There will be much talk this weekend about how Jimmie Johnson has gone a year — it will be a year on June 4 actually — since his last Cup victory, the longest drought of his career.

But something else to ponder: In the last 36 races (a full season’s worth), Toyota has 19 wins, Ford has 12 and Chevrolet has five.

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