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NASCAR is rethinking 2004 lineup

Posted: Friday, January 24, 2003

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Part of NASCAR's plan to change its racing lineup in 2004 is paying greater attention to each racetrack.

The sanctioning body will take several things into consideration when it makes up the schedule next year: geographic distribution, starting times, amenities, lights, supply and demand for tickets, condition of track, proximity to population centers, how a race fits into the schedule, travel, weather, roads, area infrastructure, hotels, restaurants, traffic, law enforcement and past history.

While saying additional races won't be added to a docket that already includes 36 official races and two all-star events, NASCAR said it would entertain ideas of moving races to more favorable dates and trading events between racetrack companies.

''We are not going to put tracks on notice; we won't be looking over their shoulders,'' said NASCAR vice chairman Brian France.

Chief operating officer George Pyne said NASCAR would likely be unable to add another week of racing, saying that officials plan to discuss with track operators ''other opportunities to continue the geographic distribution of our events to a more national approach.''

International Speedway Corp., which is owned by the same family that operates NASCAR, owns 12 speedways on the Winston Cup Series schedule. That company is expected to take a race away from the Darlington (S.C.) Raceway and the North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham and transfer those dates to the California Speedway in Fontana and the Kansas Speedway.

The sanctioning body challenged its rival, Speedway Motorsports Inc., to do the same to fulfill its demand for a second date at the Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.

An SMI shareholder has sued NASCAR, saying it promised Texas a second racing date.

''If Bruton (Smith, owner of SMI) would like to take an Atlanta race and shift it to Texas and sell all of their tickets, we're going to entertain that,'' France said.

Smith said he has no plans to take races away from any of his five tracks and move them to another.

''Moving anything to Texas is absolutely not anything we are thinking about,'' he said.

RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT: NASCAR revealed during its open house Tuesday for its new research and development center in Concord, N.C., that it was working on an escape hatch in future cars.

A prototype that included a third roof flap and a roof exit was being shipped to the University of Nebraska late Tuesday for further testing, said managing director of competition Gary Nelson.

The roof flaps release pressure inside the car during accidents to keep cars from becoming airborne. The escape hatch will allow an easier way to escape a car after a crash, especially if there's damage to the driver's side.

PIT STOPS: Jimmy Vasser, the 1998 CART champion, will drive 10 NASCAR Busch Series races this year as well as the full CART season. He posted the fastest lap during Busch testing at Daytona International Speedway. His Braun Dodge was clocked at 184.158 mph Tuesday. ... Dodge Motorsports will award 10 scholarships this year to the NASCAR Technical Institute in Mooresville, N.C., as part of its pledge to diversify motorsports.

... Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his stepmother, Teresa Earnhardt, have created Chance 2 Motorsports and will appear in 12 Busch Series races this year. Earnhardt Jr. will drive at Daytona and the Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, while Steve Park and Martin Truex Jr. each will drive five times. Also, Chance 2 will compete in three Winston Cup races with Jason Keller driving at Chicagoland and Ron Fellows competing on both road courses.

Reach Don Coble at doncoble@bellsouth.net.



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