The 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule is expected to include at least two new events, in Kentucky and Kansas, after NASCAR Senior Vice President of Racing Operations Steve O’Donnell said last week that both Speedway Motorsports, Inc. and International Speedway Corporation have submitted official requests to relocate races to those tracks in 2011.
Speedway Motorsports CEO Bruton Smith has repeatedly said he hopes to bring Cup racing to Kentucky and also add a second date at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. O’Donnell confirmed that a request has been made to move a race to Kentucky in 2001, but declined to comment on where that race will come from. Five SMI tracks -- Charlotte, Bristol, Texas, New Hampshire and Atlanta – host two Sprint Cup events each season, and multiple sources say the Kentucky race will come from New Hampshire Motor Speedway, leaving the Loudon oval with just one stop on the 2011 schedule. O’Donnell refused to comment on those reports, saying, “We’ve got a pretty long streak of great support in New Hampshire, but I’m not going to speculate on what may be out there.”
Rival International Speedway Corporation will also transplant a race next season, adding a second Sprint Cup date at Kansas Speedway. ISC is constructing a $521-million hotel and casino overlooking the track’s second turn, and the addition of a second Sprint Cup Series race there was listed as a contingency in their application for a Kansas Gaming License. ISC spokesman Lenny Santiago confirmed the move last weekend at Daytona International Speedway, saying, "We're hopeful. We've been working with NASCAR and recently made our formal request to them. We're not discussing the details of where the date may come from, but we have made the request and we'll wait for their decision."
ISC owns Daytona, Talladega, Auto Club, Martinsville, Richmond, Michigan, Phoenix, Watkins Glen, Darlington, Chicagoland and Homestead-Miami Speedways, with Auto Club, Martinsville and Michigan believed to be most likely to forfeit a date. Martinsville President Clay Campbell said recently that he has heard nothing from ISC about losing a race, and would almost certainly have been informed of such a move by now. MIS spokesmen say they too are proceding under the assumption that they will host two Cup dates next season. Multiple sources say the 2011 Kansas race will come from Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, which has struggled to fill seats since adding a second Sprint Cup date a few years ago.
Santiago said he expects an answer on relocation from the sanctioning body by late summer. NASCAR traditionally meets with track operators in May to discuss the next season’s schedule, but this year’s meetings were tabled in anticipation of a decision in the Kentucky Speedway lawsuit. That suit was dismissed last month, clearing the way for SMI’s Smith to act. NASCAR traditionally releases its schedule for the coming season around Labor Day, but O’Donnell said there is still time to make adjustments to the proposed 2011 agenda. “Last year, we didn’t get the schedule (done) until early September,” he said. “We’ve got enough time to look at (the requests), make a decision and work with all the tracks out there.”
Moving races from track to track – while sometimes unpopular – is a relatively simple undertaking. Juggling the schedule to avoid conflicts and accommodate each track’s unique weather, logistical and financial characteristics will be far more difficult.
Kansas Speedway is physically incapable of hosting events in February or March, since the area is often adrift in snow at that time of year. The track already hosts a Sprint Cup race in early October, meaning that a second Sprint Cup date will probably have to be scheduled early in the season; in April or May. Kansas already hosts an Izod IndyCar Series event the first weekend of May, raising the possibility of a NASCAR/IRL doubleheader. In order for that to happen, however, Richmond’s May Sprint Cup event will have to be moved.
A more likely scenario involves eliminating the February race at Auto Club Speedway, moving the spring Phoenix International Raceway event to that weekend and giving Kansas PIR’s traditional April slot.
Kentucky’s scheduling logistics will be less difficult; a simple case of transferring New Hampshire’s late June date to the Bluegrass State. The track’s schedule will easily accommodate the move, since Kentucky currently hosts only a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series/IRL IndyCar doubleheader the first weekend in September.
There will be some public relations hurdles to be cleared, however. Northern New England race fans have snapped up virtually every NASCAR Sprint Cup Series seat ever offered at the Magic Mile since it was added to the schedule in 1993, and they will not take the loss of one of their races sitting down. Smith is likely to use Loudon, NH, Police Chief Bob Fiske as a scapegoat for the move, blaming an ongoing dispute over the cost of police services for his decision to transfer a date, but public opinion in the Granite State has recently begun to sway heavily against the controversial track owner.
Sources say Smith met with NASCAR officials two weeks ago in New Hampshire to discuss proposed realignment scenarios, and ironically, it appears Granite State fans will lose one of their races the same way they required it. The Loudon oval added a second Sprint Cup event to its schedule in 1997, after Smith and then-NHMS owner Bob Bahre purchased the legendary North Wilkesboro Speedway, shuttered the venerable oval and moved its two NASCAR races to New Hampshire and Texas.