NASCAR looks at track changes for 2004 season

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

CONCORD, N.C. -- NASCAR put tracks on notice Tuesday that the 2004 Winston Cup schedule could look a lot different under a realignment plan that might move races to different parts of the country.

That could be bad news for historic tracks such as North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham and Darlington Raceway in South Carolina -- facilities that are clinging to two Winston Cup races a year.

"We cannot expand within the current schedule, we're racing 38 weekends, and there's no more room to add another week," said NASCAR vice president George Pyne. "So we're now looking within the schedule to see if any moves make sense geographically."

The realignment plan was just one of many issues NASCAR addressed, including its new policy to reduce congestion in the garage by sweeping fans from the area whenever cars are on the track.

But it was the possible changes to the 2004 schedule that drew the most attention.

NASCAR has a set list of criteria it will be looking for track owners to meet in order to keep its current race dates.

Among things NASCAR will be studying are tracks that need significant upgrades, have trouble selling tickets, have a history of poor weather on race weekends, or are in small markets that lack adequate hotels and restaurants.

"We don't want any tracks to start looking over their shoulder wondering when NASCAR is going to pull a date from them," said NASCAR vice chairman Brian France. "But we are going to start looking at places where there is more of a demand for races."

NASCAR chairman Bill France Jr. said the intent is not to take races away from tracks owned by International Speedway Corp., which his family runs, or from rival Speedway Motorsports Inc., owned by Bruton Smith.

Instead, NASCAR might move races between ISC-owned tracks, as well as between SMI-owned tracks. That could offer a solution to a long-running feud over the awarding of a second date to Texas Motor Speedway.

SMI owns the Texas track, and Smith has long contended he was promised a second race date. NASCAR insists it never promised Texas another race.

NASCAR said tracks that currently don't have dates, like Kentucky and Nashville, would factor into the realignment only through potential deals with track owners currently on the schedule.

NASCAR is also looking at later starting times so races could stretch into prime time on Sunday evenings, as well as running more night races.

As for its new garage-access policy, the sanctioning body backed away from proposals to reduce the number of passes it gives out to each race as well as prohibiting the signing of autographs in the garage.

Instead, there will now be "hot" and "cold" times at the track. Anyone with a "hard card" -- the credential given out to team members and full-time media -- will have no garage restrictions.

Those without a hard card will not be allowed in the garage during "hot" times without obtaining a special credential. The garage will be considered "hot" 30 minutes before cars go on the track for any reason and last until the track-time session is over.

The pit area also will be "hot" 30 minutes prior to the start of a race.

France said the plan will be tweaked as the season goes on, and the ban on autographs could still be implemented at a later date.

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