Nextel marks 2 races as westbound

Darlington, Rockingham each lose an event in '05

May 15, 2004|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

RICHMOND, Va. - A year ago, NASCAR began realigning the Nextel Cup Series schedule in an effort to expand the sport's reach and popularity. In doing that, it directed its gaze to the west.

Yesterday, the gaze had become a hard stare.

NASCAR chairman Brian France announced the 2005 Nextel Cup Series schedule and said it will move two races from North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham, N.C., and at Darlington, S.C., to Texas and Arizona. At the end of last season, NASCAR took the historic Darlington Labor Day race and shipped it to California Speedway and shifted the fall race at Rockingham to Darlington.

Yesterday's news brings the number of Nextel Cup races in Western states to seven. The number in North Carolina, where the sport was born, shrinks to two.

"Well, the Phoenix, Dallas and Los Angeles markets are huge markets," said France. "They're under-served. We've proven that. 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."

The announcement came in conjunction with the news that International Speedway Corp., a publicly owned corporation controlled by the France family, had settled the Ferko/Vaughn lawsuit. The suit was seeking a second race for Texas Motor Speedway, charging ISC was in violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act and that NASCAR has an illegal monopoly.

In the Cup garages here at Richmond International Raceway where teams are gathered for tonight's Chevy American Revolution 400, drivers took the schedule change in stride.

"I've said for several years now that I thought it was in the best interest of our sport to be in as many places as possible," said Jeff Burton. "It's disappointing for Rockingham, which is one of the most fun places for drivers, but what's in the best interest of the sport isn't necessarily in the best interests of the driver at times. I think this is one of those occasions."

Besides Rockingham and Darlington losing races, part of the Ferko/Vaughn settlement includes ISC selling the Rockingham track to Speedway Motorsports, Inc. (SMI) for $100.4 million. SMI owns Texas Motor Speedway and Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte, among others.

The money from the sale will be combined with $92 million ISC cash on hand to buy Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, a .525 mile oval that sells out twice a year.

"Although there are a lot of moving parts on this and it's complicated, it eliminates a big distraction with the Ferko settlement," said France. "It allows us to take full advantage of realignment."

Other key changes in the schedule include California's spring race being moved to Feb. 27, one week after the season opening Daytona 500, and the remaining Darlington Raceway date going to May 7 a Saturday night race the day before Mother's Day, a traditional non-racing weekend.

On still another front, Nazareth (Pa.) Speedway, which is also an ISC track, will be used only for testing and for track rentals after this season. Its Busch Series race and IRL Indy Car race will be moved in 2005.

"When you see a race scheduled for Mother's Day weekend, you know the southern influence is going away," said retired seven-time Cup champion Richard Petty. "On Mother's Day weekend down south, everything stops. But progress is going to come whether we want it or not and whether it's good or not.

"But, you know, if we'd stopped the game and kept it the way it was when I started racing and never made any changes, we'd still be running Richmond with 5,000 people in the stands and getting paid $1,000 for 200 laps."

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