speedway motorsports

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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NASCAR All-Star Race moves to Bristol this year, will host up to 30,000 fans

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The July 15 NASCAR All-Star Race will move to Bristol Motor Speedway, marking only the second time in the event’s history it will be held away from Charlotte Motor Speedway, Marcus Smith announced on FS1 Race Hub.

Motorsport.com. first reported the change.

Speedway Motorsports owns both Bristol Motor Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway. 

Smith, Speedway Motorsports President and CEO, said up to 30,000 fans will be permitted to attend the event. Jerry Caldwell, general manager of Bristol Motor Speedway said the facility can hold 155,000. The crowd allowed would be less than 20% capacity. Tickets are on sale now.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Monday morning that having races with fans is important. NASCAR has announced its revised schedule through Aug. 2.

“As you see some areas open up, I think we start to concentrate on where could we have fans back,” he said about the rest of this year’s schedule. “Obviously, we want to keep the integrity of the championship in place and race at as many facilities as possible that were on the original schedule, but if we have the opportunity to make one or two additional adjustments where we could get fans back, obviously that is important for the sport.

“We want fans to be at the racetrack. We want new fans to be at the track. It’s also important … to our race teams. They’re involved in the sport, to bring their sponsors out and entertain customers. So if we can open some of those opportunities here toward the tail end of the season, we’re going to do that. Probably one or two adjustments to make.”

The Coca-Cola 600 was held in May at Charlotte Motor Speedway without fans, but North Carolina continues to see an increase in COVID-19 cases.

“Right now, they’re not trending in the right direction,” N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper said of the COVID-19 statistics on Monday.

Tennessee has allowed fans at large attractions, including racetracks, since May 22. The announcement was made too late for Bristol to have any fans for its May 31 Cup race. Moving the event could allow the track to have fans. 

“We are proud to welcome the return of live sports in Tennessee at the iconic Bristol Motor Speedway,” Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said in a statement. “The All-Star Race is a historic opportunity for our state and I look forward to seeing the World’s Fastest Half-Mile back in action.”

Last weekend’s Cup race at Homestead-Miami Speedway was allowed to have up to 1,000 military members and family members as guests, marking the first time since NASCAR resumed last month that there were fans in the stands. Up to 5,000 fans will be allowed to purchase tickets for Sunday’s Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway.

Cup races at Pocono Raceway (June 27-28), Indianapolis Motor Speedway (July 5) and Kentucky Speedway (July 12) will be held without fans, those tracks have announced. That would make the All-Star Race, scheduled for July 15, the next event after Talladega to have fans with a move to Bristol.

Drivers currently eligible include: Ryan Blaney, Alex Bowman, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliot, Justin Haley, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Erik Jones, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Ryan Newman and Martin Truex Jr.

The final four spots in the All-Star Race field will go to the two stage winners, race winner from the All-Star Open and the All-Star Fan Vote.

Voting for the All-Star Fan Vote is open at www.nascar.com/fanvote and the NASCAR mobile app. Fans may vote for one eligible NASCAR driver per ballot submission and submit one ballot per day per unique email address. Voting closes at 12 p.m. ET on July 14.

The All-Star Race debuted in 1985 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, moved to Atlanta Motor Speedway in 1986 and returned to Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1987. It has been held every year since at Charlotte.

This year’s race was postponed by the COVID-19 pandemic and rescheduled for July 15.

Speedway Motorsports announces layoffs, furloughs across company

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Speedway Motorsports, LLC announced Wednesday that it has laid off 180 employees across all of its facilities and subsidiaries and furloughed another 100 employees due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

Those facilities include 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.

Speedway Motorsports also has subsidiaries that include SMI Properties (souvenir merchandising services), U.S. Legend Cars International and the syndicated Performance Racing Network, which broadcasts races and shows.

Here is a statement issued by the company:

“The extraordinary circumstances presented by this pandemic and the subsequent shutdown of the economy have had a significant impact on our business.

“Since the beginning of the shutdown four weeks ago, we have kept our entire team on full pay while our properties remained dormant. In that time, it has become clear that we must be a more nimble, more efficient organization.

“As such, we have made the difficult decision to restructure our business and eliminate many duplicate positions. Unfortunately, part of this restructuring includes eliminating approximately 180 positions across all departments at our speedways and subsidiaries.

“Approximately 100 additional employees have been furloughed. These decisions were not easy. Our company is providing a severance package to each person affected by job eliminations.

“Speedway Motorsports remains committed to providing the very best entertainment experience to all who come through our gates when America’s fight against this pandemic is behind us. This reorganization positions us to move forward at that time and well into the future. In the meantime, our staff will continue to maintain our facilities in preparation for the event days ahead and support our community with outreach efforts during this time of need.”

The company did not specify how many employees are affected at each track or subsidiary, but the job layoffs (not including furloughs) account for 15 percent of all Speedway Motorsports’ overall staff.

The layoffs and furloughs come more than a week after NASCAR implemented layoffs. NASCAR previously had across-the-board pay cuts.

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Net income up, but admission revenue down for Speedway Motorsports Inc.

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Speedway Motorsports Inc. reported a net income of $31.1 million in 2014 compared to a loss of $6.5 million in 2013, the company stated in a SEC filing Wednesday.

The company issued its report for the fourth quarter of last year and for all of 2014.

That came as the company, which owns eight tracks that host NASCAR Sprint Cup races, reported admission revenues declined 5 percent from 2013 because of lower overall attendance. Speedway Motorsports stated that poor weather at its Bristol and Texas tracks last spring impacted those numbers.

Asked about the trend in admissions revenue during a conference with industry analysts Wednesday morning, Bill Brooks, SMI’s chief financial officer, said: “We haven’t got definitive proof yet that the admissions or sponsorships have bottomed. The other revenue sources seem to be fairly stable.

“We are optimistic that if there is decline in those categories of revenues that they would be similar to what we experienced.’’

SMI removed seats at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Atlanta Motor Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway last year.

SMI estimates 2015 revenues to be between $450-$500 million (the company reported total revenue of $484.3 million in 2014). SMI estimates that after tax income will be between $37-$45 million in 2015.

Bruton Smith, executive chairman of Speedway Motorsports, said in a statement: “We believe SMI’s future is brighter than it has been for quite some time. SMI’s financial position continues to strengthen. NASCAR’s improvements to our sport over the last few years are significant, and are showing positive benefits in renewed racing excitement, fan appeal and expanding media coverage.

“The media landscape is evolving, driven in part by the new FOX Sports Media Group and NBC Sports Group broadcasting contracts and NASCAR’s innovative marketing programs to capture the next generation of race fans. The new 10-year television broadcasting agreements though 2024 contain an annual average revenue increase of approximately 46 percent, reflecting the high quality of our sport’s entertainment content and long-term marketing appeal. We believe the many sizable and untapped demographics in motorsports, and the marketing initiatives of SMI, NASCAR and the media powerhouses, provide us and our NASCAR industry many long-term growth opportunities.”