Ky Speedway

Shakeup in Winston Cup schedule
looks good for Sparta

Kentucky Speedway officials
have fingers crossed for a 2004 race

By Don Ward

SPARTA, Ky. – (March 2003) Kentucky Speedway officials are eagerly watching the recent public statements and maneuverings by NASCAR executives regarding a possible shakeup of the 2004 Winston Cup Series schedule. They are in hopes that any dramatic change in the schedule would bode well for the Sparta, Ky., track being awarded a Cup date.

Winston Cup Drivers

Don Ward photo

Winston Cup drivers (from left)
Ernie Irvin, Brett Bodine, Michael
Waltrip and Sterling Martin.

“You never know what’s going to happen, but it looks interesting for us,” said Mark Cassis, vice president and general manager of the 4-year-old Kentucky Speedway. “We’ve got our fingers crossed.”
Kentucky Speedway developer Jerry Carroll and his investment partners had hoped to have earned a Winston Cup date by now, but the France family that owns NASCAR has been reluctant to award a race date to the track, since it has no financial interest in the facility. The France family’s International Speedway Corp. owns all or part of 12 race sites.
Meantime, Kentucky Speedway officials have worked hard to develop a first-class facility for fans and race teams, while putting on the best show possible for its NASCAR Busch Series and NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series events. The track also plays host to race events for the Indy Racing League and ARCA RE/MAX Series.
But Kentucky Speedway officials say they have no control over the decision by NASCAR to bring a Winston Cup Series event to the Bluegrass state.
But on Jan. 21, NASCAR officials announced they had devised a 2004 schedule realignment plan that could result in some tracks – prolific ones, at that – losing coveted Winston Cup dates. During a state-of-the-sport demonstration by NASCAR senior vice president George Pyne, Pyne vaguely inferred that NASCAR would soon take a proactive approach in realigning the schedule to accommodate supply and demand and geographic distribution of Winston Cup dates.
When clarification was requested later in the interview, NASCAR chairman Bill France rose from his seat to clarify the tracks at risk – Atlanta Motor Speedway, Lowe’s Motor Speedway, Darlington Raceway and North Carolina Speedway.
“There’s four good candidates: Atlanta, a race here at Charlotte, Darlington and Rockingham,” said France, who appears in good health after a multi-year battle with cancer. “We’re going to work in concert with (the tracks). If they don’t want to do it, they don’t have to do it. This is not a threat at all, but at the same time, we’ve got to continue to grow the sport.”
Under what France termed ‘Realignment 2004 and Beyond,’ NASCAR will work with track operators to determine whether shifting race dates from one venue to another would be prudent for both the sport and the track’s parent company.
For example, Speedway Motorsports, Inc. – the company that owns Atlanta, Charlotte, Las Vegas, Sears Point, Bristol and Texas – might opt to move a date from Atlanta to Texas.
Texas has long pleaded with NASCAR for a second date – so much so that the feud has escalated to the point of SMI filing suit against NASCAR – and Atlanta rarely sells out its spring event and is often victimized by inclement weather.
“This is going to be available to every track operator,” France said. “If Dover would like to take one of their races and shift it to St. Louis or Nashville, or if Humpy and Bruton would like to take an Atlanta race and shift it to Texas where they’ll sell all their tickets – from what I read – we’re going to be entertaining that.”
NASCAR president Mike Helton added that lengthening an already marathonish schedule is not part of NASCAR’s plan at this time. The Winston Cup Series currently competes 38 times in a 41-week window.
Supplemented by NASCAR.com reports.
“The schedule is pretty well maxed out. If it’s not, it’s pretty close to it,” Helton said. “We’ve been fortunate to be able to grow over the past several years, getting into new market areas like Kansas City, Las Vegas, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Chicago and Miami. Those opportunities don’t exist anymore.
“We have 38 weekends we’re racing in a 41-week window. So the idea here is make more efficient use of that, working along without abandoning past practices of putting the schedule together.”
Not only are some tracks in danger of losing races, but some may be forced to install lighting in order to keep them. NASCAR is also looking at changing the start times to many of its events to best maximize television viewership.
“The playoffs in the NFL are enjoying an eight percent increase in ratings because of the later start times. They’re two hours later,” France said. “So, obviously, there are more (television) sets on the later the day goes. So it stands to reason you’ll have more viewers.”
Helton even said that running the Daytona 500 under the lights wasn’t out of the question.
“The broadcast partners today is a significant partner to us, so we have to start making decisions that’s relative to their involvement,” Helton said. “And it could be a primetime Daytona 500 some day, sure. We just want to make more efficient use of our schedule.”
The following day, Speedway Motorsports Inc. owner Bruton Smith reacted to the NASCAR announcement by saying there would be “zero chance” his company would move a race from one of its other tracks to its Texas Motor Speedway, which already has one Cup date. SMI owns tracks in Atlanta, Lowe’s in Charlotte, N.C., Bristol, Tenn., and Las Vegas. Atlanta, Lowe’s and Bristol each have two Cup dates a year.

• Supplemented by NASCAR.com reports.

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