Editorial

NASCAR track realignment & 2005 Nextel Cup Schedule
by Pete McCole

May 14, 2004

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NASCAR has announced its schedule realignment for the 2005 Nextel Cup Series season today, giving the Speedway Motorsports Inc.- owned Texas Motor Speedway its long sought-after second race as well as expanding its schedule of dates on the West Coast by adding a second race at Phoenix International Raceway.

Under the realignment plan, North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham, N.C. would lose its only remaining date, which had been the second race of the season. Also losing a race would be Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, leaving it with just one race.

 “The 2005 schedule marks an important milestone in NASCAR’s realignment efforts because it provides opportunities for more fans to experience first-hand NASCAR NEXTEL Cup events near their hometowns,” said NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France. “All of our fans deserve the opportunity to attend the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup event in person, to experience the excitement of our sport firsthand.  NASCAR continues to reach out to new fans in all four corners of the country, at the same time, NASCAR has been careful to continue to serve its traditional fan base and recognize its traditional venues.”

France said the NASCAR Busch Series schedule would also be realigned to reflect the changes made to the Nextel Cup Series.

The announcement of the new race for Texas Motor Speedway, which had been rumored for weeks, was a direct result of a settlement of a lawsuit brought on by a SMI shareholder, Francis Ferko, who sued NASCAR saying the sanctioning body reneged on a promise to give Texas Motor Speedway a second race date.

 Under the settlement, SMI would purchase North Carolina Speedway from NASCAR’s sister company, International Speedway Corporation, and the race date would move to Texas Motor Speedway.

 “We found a solution (to the lawsuit), a solution that was in the best interest of everybody in the sport. Took advantage of realignment.  Took events to places where there were fans,” said France.  “So when you have a solution that works for the whole industry, that was a moment that we just frankly thought was worth putting forward as opposed to the distraction in a lawsuit.”

 NASCAR also announced that Darlington Raceway, the first superspeedway to host a NASCAR race, would lose one of its two races, which would move to Phoenix International Raceway.

 "The second Cup date in Phoenix strengthens our national presence and raises our value to our marketing and broadcast partners, providing another opportunity for them to access this key market," commented John R. Saunders, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of ISC. "In addition, race fans in the Southwest will have another opportunity to experience the excitement of live NASCAR Nextel Cup racing. We will install lighting at Phoenix in order for the facility's 2005 spring race to finish under the lights during east coast prime time, typically a time of day with larger television audiences.”

 The realignment leaves the Carolinas, which at one time hosted over 25 races a season, now left with just three races.

 Both tracks remote locations, as well as their failure to regularly sell-out events held at the track, ultimately sealed their fate.

 During the NASCAR media tour in January 2003, then NASCAR Chairman Bill France Jr. announced that four tracks were being studied for possible realignment – Atlanta Motor Speedway, Lowe’s Motor Speedway, Rockingham and Darlington.

 Bill France, Jr. said at that time that race dates might be moved within their own companies, prompting the sale of North Carolina Speedway to SMI.

 North Carolina Speedway has been part of the NASCAR schedule since 1965, and had hosted two races a year since 1966 until NASCAR realigned the schedule last year, moving Darlington’s traditional Labor Day weekend race to California Speedway and moving North Carolina Speedway’s fall race to Darlington.

 “I'd say we're disappointed the events didn't work as well as they work in California and other markets,” Brian France said. “I would say that there's plenty of good NASCAR racing right here in Richmond, in the Southeast.  I would tell you there's plenty of opportunities for our fans in the Southeast to see the sport that they love the most, which is NASCAR.

“(The West Coast) is under-served from our view.  The population base in Los Angeles is the second largest market.  Phoenix is the 16th to 17th largest market in the country.  I don't think it's any secret that the demand is there, the population is there, the race fans are there.  We're going to take our events there.”

SMI Founder and Chairman O. Bruton Smith has been seeking a second date for Texas Motor Speedway since the track opened in 1997. At that time, NASCAR didn’t have a slot on the schedule for TMS, so Smith and New Hampshire International Speedway owner Bob Bahre, each purchased half of the North Wilkesboro Speedway and closed the track, then moved the tracks two races to TMS and NHIS.

“We are very pleased to have reached the settlement agreement and to have obtained a second NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series date for Texas Motor Speedway,” said Smith. "The second Texas date falls in line with NASCAR's overlying strategy of expanding into underserved markets and will help strengthen the sport's national appeal.

“My desire, as it has always been, is to continue to help NASCAR build the sport of stock car racing. Working together will help build a better sport for the fans, participants and corporate partners,” Smith concluded.

NASCAR also announced that NASCAR’s annual all-star race, the NASCAR Nextel All-Star Challenge, would remain at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in 2005.

 It was also announced that ISC would purchase Martinsville Speedway, possibly putting that track's race dates in jeopardy.

  • “The realignment is going to continue,” France said.

  • The new schedule shakes down like this:

  • North Carolina Speedway will not be on the schedule in 2005.

  • Phoenix International Raceway’s second date will be a Saturday night affair, held on  April 23rd.

  • Texas Motor Speedway’s second race will be held on Nov. 6 in 2005, making that race part of  “Chase For The Championship”.

  • Darlington’s only remaining race will be held on Saturday night, May 7, the day before Mother's Day, which has traditionally been an off-day for the Nextel Cup Series.

  • California Speedway would keep its two races.

  • The Nextel All-Star Challenge will remain at Lowe’s Motor Speedway for 2005.

Tentative 2005 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series schedule

Date

Race

Venue

02/12/05

Budweiser Shootout

Daytona International Speedway

02/20/05

Daytona 500

Daytona International Speedway

02/27/05

TBA

California Speedway

03/13/05

TBA

Las Vegas Motor Speedway

03/20/05

TBA

Atlanta Motor Speedway

04/03/05

TBA

Bristol Motor Speedway

04/10/05

TBA

Martinsville Speedway

04/17/05

TBA

Texas Motor Speedway

04/23/05

TBA

Phoenix International Raceway

05/01/05

TBA

Talladega Superspeedway

05/07/05

Carolina Dodge Dealers 500

Darlington Raceway

05/14/05

TBA

Richmond International Raceway

05/21/05

NASCAR Nextel All-Star Challenge

Lowe's Motor Speedway

05/29/05

TBA

Lowe's Motor Speedway

06/05/05

TBA

Dover International Speedway

06/12/05

TBA

Pocono Raceway

06/19/05

TBA

Michigan International Speedway

06/26/05

TBA

Infineon Raceway

07/02/05

TBA

Daytona International Speedway

07/10/05

TBA

Chicagoland Speedway

07/17/05

TBA

New Hampshire International Speedway

07/24/05

TBA

Pocono Raceway

08/07/05

TBA

Indianapolis Motor Speedway

08/14/05

TBA

Watkins Glen International

08/21/05

TBA

Michigan International Speedway

08/27/05

TBA

Bristol Motor Speedway

09/04/05

TBA

California Speedway

09/10/05

TBA

Richmond International Raceway

09/18/05

TBA

New Hampshire International Speedway

09/25/05

TBA

Dover International Speedway

10/02/05

TBA

Talladega Superspeedway

10/09/05

TBA

Kansas Speedway

10/15/05

TBA

Lowe's Motor Speedway

10/23/05

TBA

Martinsville Speedway

10/30/05

TBA

Atlanta Motor Speedway

11/06/05

TBA

Texas Motor Speedway

11/13/05

TBA

Phoenix International Raceway

11/20/05

TBA

Homestead-Miami Speedway

The author can be contacted petem@autoracing1.com

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