INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - NASCAR appears ready to give its 2011 Sprint Cup schedule a facelift.
CEO Brian France said before Sunday’s race at Indianapolis that stock car’s top series is in the “final throes” of completing next year’s Cup slate and that it will have a considerably different look.
“There will be some changes as they look now,” France said. “That could not quite materialize, but I sense it will and we’ll have some pretty impactful changes to the schedule that I think will be good for NASCAR fans.”
International Speedway Corp. and Speedway Motorsports Inc., the top two track operators in the series, have both petitioned NASCAR to alter the 36-race Cup schedule to accommodate date or track changes.
ISC is hoping Kansas will receive a second Cup date, while SMI could juggle its lineup to bring a second race to the popular Las Vegas venue and give its 1.5-mile track in northern Kentucky the Cup race its former ownership group has long coveted.
SMI president Bruton Smith wouldn’t reveal specifics of SMI’s requested schedule changes, but said NASCAR should feel “morally obligated” to bring a second Cup race to Las Vegas.
Smith also said he’d like to have a Cup race at “all” of SMI’s NASCAR-sanctioned tracks. The only one that lacks a Cup date right now is Kentucky, where the former ownership group filed an antitrust lawsuit against NASCAR and ISC five years ago after its request for a Cup race was consistently denied.
SMI bought the track in 2008 and the court case was finally dropped earlier this year. Smith believes the path is now open for Kentucky to get a Cup event and France appears to be open to the idea.
“It’s no secret that Kentucky is talking about hosting a Sprint Cup event and that’s not that far away,” France said. “It’s fine to talk about Kentucky. It’s a worthy market to at least discuss.”
It’s unlikely NASCAR would simply award Kentucky a race, meaning SMI will have to move a race from one of its other tracks to Kentucky. It’s possible the summer race at New Hampshire or the spring race at Atlanta could be moved.
Smith, who says SMI’s relationship with NASCAR is “better than it has ever been,” said there would be little problem getting Kentucky ready for a Cup race. Smith believes it would take maybe three months to add 30,000 to 40,000 seats to bring capacity to over 100,000.
France said an announcement on the changes could come within the next two weeks.
The schedule isn’t the only major adjustment the series could see in 2011. NASCAR is mulling a significant overhaul to its championship Chase, which has lacked much drama during Jimmie Johnson’s four-year title run.
“If we have the perfect Chase that we would love to see, it would be just like every commissioner would tell you,” he said. “They’d like to see great playoff events … action-packed, close games, great story lines. That’s what anybody’s after. We’re no different.”
France would like to put a greater emphasis on winning races. Options include possibly trimming the size of the Chase field as cars fall from contention. France suggested a race perhaps midway through the Chase that eliminated some Chase qualifiers could replicate some of the excitement felt during the fall race at Richmond when the 12-car Chase field is set.
France cautioned that any overhaul wouldn’t necessarily change the final result, adding that Johnson would have won each of the last four titles under all of the possible scenarios under consideration.
Reaction from the drivers has been lukewarm, but with TV ratings stalled and attendance sagging, France believes the series must adapt.
“It’s what you do when you’re sort of going through things and there’s a headwind,” he said. “Things aren’t as easy as they have been in the past.”
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