ATLANTA Expansion to the regular season, including races on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, remains a way for stock car racing to keep up with demand from major markets to expand their presence on the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series.
As racetracks like the Pocono Raceway, Darlington Raceway, North Carolina Speedway and Watkins Glen International fight to keep one or both of their annual slots on the schedule, the push to add second races at the Texas Motor Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway plus the expected construction of facilities in the Pacific Northwest and New York City may prompt NASCAR officials to expand the schedule from 36 regular season events to 40.
NASCAR president Mike Helton has suggested that all-star events like the Budweiser Shootout and Nextel Challenge could be moved off their weekend spots and replaced with new races. He said his group has considered adding the all-star races to a track's weekend schedule, essentially making it one of the support events instead of a stand-alone event.
As the lawsuit to bring Texas a second racing date moves closer to its summer court date, the sanctioning body said it now wants to resolve its scheduling problems without a jury. That probably means Texas will get its second date, but it also could trigger a chain reaction that could be the biggest shakeup since the sport moved into its "modern era" in 1972.
A 40-race schedule would make speedway operators happy. And many race teams said if the schedule is done properly, they could handle the extra work.
"If they made some adjustments and looked at it carefully, yeah, we could run 40 or more races in a season," said Kyle Petty, a driver and team owner. "I don't really have a problem with, say a Wednesday or the Thursday night race, followed by a weekend race somewhere. They key would be to the midweek show a one-day affair and be close enough so you could get back to your shop and swap everything out for a two-day weekend race somewhere."
The only reason the expanded schedule would be considered is network television. Stock car racing realizes how big Monday Night Football has grown, and the idea of creating a midweek main event in racing has some appeal.
"A lot of that depends on what the TV networks want and will go with," Petty said. "If it helps us bring in bigger numbers by running a prime-time race during the week, then that just works for everybody. If more people are watching, that means the fans like what's going on. If the fans are happy, our sponsors are surely going to be happy. And that builds greater interest all the way around."
GIVE ME A BREAK: Ricky Rudd is looking forward to doing nothing during his rare break away from the Nextel Cup Series schedule.
Leap year gave the sport an extra off-week, meaning the sport now has four open weekends from Valentine's Day to Thanksgiving. And since Rudd spends the entire year traveling, he said he will visit his sister in South Carolina and rest.
"I want to spend time with my family," he said. "We'll probably go down there, relax and not have to do anything. We can sleep in late, go out to eat, not be on a schedule. To me, not having to be somewhere is my idea of a vacation."
And handful of Nextel Cup drivers will be working this weekend. Greg Biffle and Johnny Sauter also have full-time jobs on the Busch Series, which will race this Saturday night at the Nashville Superspeedway.
PIT STOPS: Ford hopes to have its new D3 cylinder head off the drawing board and under the hood in time for the 500-mile race at the California Speedway on May 2. If so, the new engine piece will be on the circuit about three months ahead of schedule. ... Jeff Gordon will use his old "rainbow" paint scheme during the Nextel Challenge all-star race next month at the Lowe's Motor Speedway.
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