News Analysis: Las Vegas Motor Speedway in talks for second Cup race

What happened: The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority has scheduled a special session to discuss a $2.5 million sponsorship opportunity that could bring a second NASCAR Cup Series race to Las Vegas Motor Speedway as soon as Fall 2018. In response to the R-J’s report, the track said it would comment further prior to the March 8 meeting, while NASCAR said the schedule has yet to be finalized for 2018.

What it means: This is a credible report, made clearer by the quick non-comments from the track and NASCAR. If this ends up happening, another Speedway Motorsports Inc. track would likely lose a race. All tracks are in the midst of five-year sanction agreements, so SMI would either have to buy another track and move one of its races or transfer one of its existing races (by far the more likely scenario). The current SMI tracks with playoff races are New Hampshire, Charlotte and Texas — and the repave at Texas means it’s an unlikely candidate.

News value (scale of 1-10): Nine. There hasn’t been a venue change in NASCAR since 2011, so this doesn’t happen often. People have been talking about Las Vegas getting a second Cup race for years, but the talk tapered off after Vegas stopped getting the mega crowds it once did. Perhaps this means it could finally happen.

Questions: Which SMI track would lose a race? Is it possible the season would end in Las Vegas, or will the postseason banquet move away? How would Las Vegas attendance be affected by having two dates instead of one?

Atlanta makes Carl Edwards miss racing, but no comeback plans

Carl Edwards was back at a NASCAR track on Friday for the second time this year, on hand at Atlanta Motor Speedway at the request of his successor in the No. 19 car, Daniel Suarez.

Edwards said he watched the first part of the Daytona 500, but skipped the rest once the field started wrecking. He didn’t miss that part of it, he said.

But standing in the infield of an Atlanta track where he won three times, Edwards said, “I miss driving” — at least for a day.

Still, Edwards said he was “going to try really hard to stick to my plan, step away and make sure I get my perspective right.” He said he was “certain” he wouldn’t take any full-time offers at this time and was only in attendance because he was asked.

“I’m really, really grateful to have made the decision I made,” he said. “I’m having a lot of fun. Everybody calls it retirement; I haven’t called it retirement officially.

“I admit I brought my helmet and driver suit today, just in case somebody needed something. But I’m having a lot of fun. I’m just so grateful to Coach (Gibbs) and everybody for letting me make the decision I made. But it is cool coming back here and seeing everybody.”

Edwards also attended the Phoenix test to help Suarez in January and openly addressed rumors about his departure.  He took another shot at them Friday.

“I could have messed with you guys somehow on the rumors and stuff,” he said. “Carlos (Slim) pays me a million dollars a race to come hang out. Penske wants me to spy on the Toyotas.”

He chuckled.

“No, it’s pretty cool just to be here (because) they want me here,” he said.


The qualifying quandary at Atlanta

This afternoon’s qualifying session at Atlanta Motor Speedway has me quite intrigued, thanks to a few new rules that could make it more unpredictable than usual.

It might turn out to be a whole bunch of nothing, but then again…it could be chaotic.

Here are the two reasons why:

1. Inspection

Oh, this is delicious. As a stickler for rules, I love it when the teams push the limits and then blame NASCAR for why they failed inspection. That happened two years ago, when 13 cars couldn’t get through inspection in time for qualifying and never got to make a lap.

At the time, it looked bad for NASCAR; all the drivers pointed fingers at officials, who were like, “No, YOU!” But if you examine at the situation today, any problems are going to be the teams’ fault.

Since this is the first “real” race with the new aero package, teams are going to push the limits. And if they go too far, it’s going to potentially cause them to miss qualifying.

Starting this year, teams can’t just fail an inspection station, pull out of line for a quick fix and try again. Now they have to take the car back to the garage, make a fix and start the entire inspection process from the beginning. That’s going to cost them a lot of time — potentially enough to never get on track for a qualifying spot, especially if other cars are doing the same thing.

But — and here’s the big twist for today — missing qualifying might not be the worst thing in the world because…

2. Tire strategy

As you know, the tires wear out quickly at Atlanta. Combine that with the new rule which requires teams to start the race on the tires they used for qualifying, and there’s a big opportunity for strategy there.

Think about it: If a car makes it to the final round, it will likely have at least two more laps on the tires than a car that doesn’t get past round one. So it might be an advantage to sandbag in qualifying, then zoom past cars on older tires at the start of the race.

Add in a rule — revised this week after discussion with the teams — that allows a team which doesn’t make a qualifying lap to start the race on sticker tires, and you could see some cars at the rear do the whole Kyle-Busch-in-Xfinity thing and go from back to front in no time.

Anyway, those things might not take place — since just when you expect something to go down in NASCAR, the opposite usually happens. But if you see it, then consider this a heads up.

Chase Elliott is prepared for take off

Chase Elliott is all business at the racetrack, and that makes his social media feed a valuable source of insight into who the 21-year-old budding superstar really is.

If you follow Elliott, you know he likes the Atlanta Braves and Eric Church. But there’s something else he also posts about on occasion that seems intriguing: Flying his own plane.

Elliott has a Beechcraft Baron he uses to fly himself back and forth to most of the races in the southeast. He’s based out of Georgia, so the furthest he’s flown is New Hampshire Motor Speedway — though he also twice flew to Michigan International Speedway last season, as well as Texas Motor Speedway last fall.

His love of flying came from his dad, NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, who became a pilot at age 21 and is still an avid flier to this day.

“I was always intrigued by my dad flying,” Chase said last week. “I was very lucky to grow up around him and when I was real little, flying places was just such a cool freedom to have. I always looked up to him a lot, not only for his racing, but for that.”

As a kid, Elliott can remember watching his father work on airplanes when they weren’t at the racetrack. So he’s always had an interest in becoming a pilot himself, and he got his pilot’s license in 2015 at age 20.

He moved up to the Baron from a Cessna 182, but it’s still a relatively small plane with no bathroom and “it takes me a lot longer (to get to a track) than it does these other guys with their big jets.”

Carl Edwards and Mark Martin often flew themselves to races as well, and Matt Kenseth is also a pilot.

Elliott can always hitch a ride with his Hendrick Motorsports team if he doesn’t feel like flying somewhere himself, but he’s found being a pilot is good brain exercise for racing.

“That mental process of trying to keep the right things in the right order (is similar),” he said. “You’re multi-tasking a lot. You’re always trying to stay ahead of the game, especially flying and racing — both of those things come hand in hand.

“Just from a mental exercise, to keep your mind in check and do something with your brain that’s not on racing but has the same type of flow is good. I enjoy that.”

This is a big weekend for Elliott, who returns to his home track of Atlanta Motor Speedway to run both the Truck and Cup races (he finished eighth in the Cup race last season).

This is a Beechcraft Baron G58, similar to the one Chase Elliott flies. (Publicity photo from Textron Aviation)

Fan Profile: Sally and Bob Wichert

This is part of a series of 12 Questions-style profiles of NASCAR fans. All of the people featured here are $25 or higher patrons on my Patreon page, which comes with this profile as a reward.

Names: Sally and Bob Wichert
Location:  Citrus Heights, Calif.
Twitter name: @NorCalFanSal and @RobertWichert

1. How long have you been  NASCAR fans?

Bob has been a NASCAR fan since 1969. Sally has been a fan since 1995.

2. How many races have you attended?

Around 40.

3. Who is your No. 1 favorite driver?

Jeff Gordon, but he’s retired. So Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson.

4. What made you a fan of those drivers?

Jeff was our local driver, he changed the face of NASCAR from being just a southern sport, he was good-looking, very fan friendly and knew how to beat Dale Earnhardt at his own game.

Kyle Larson is now our local driver and we’re also fans of Chase Elliott because he took over the No. 24 car.

5. Who is your most disliked driver?

Brad Keselowski is Bob’s most disliked; Clint Bowyer is Sally’s.

6. Why don’t you like those drivers?

Bob says Brad is snotty.

Sally says Clint is a smart aleck and a complainer. He’s not fun to listen to on the radio because he’s usually always mad about something. She doesn’t appreciate his humor either.

7. What is your favorite track?

Fontana has taken over in the past few years; Talladega is a close second.

8. What is one thing you would change if you were in charge of NASCAR?

The charter system is still a mystery. Make it transparent, along with the purse money. We really just want to know what the drivers make each race.

9. What is one thing you would keep the same if you were in charge of NASCAR?

The lucky dog and double-file restarts.

10. How often do you yell at the TV during a race?

Bob yells a lot. Sally yells whenever someone makes a bonehead move — either on the track or pit road that affects her driver’s position.

11. Do you have any advice for other fans?

If you’re at the track, go to the tweetup, get a FanView to enhance the experience and get seats high enough that you are able to see the entire track. Also, if you are able to obtain a hot pass for access to the garage, you won’t regret it.

If you’re at home, subscribe to RaceView on for live data on track position and the speed of each car and to listen to in-car radios.

12. What else do you want the NASCAR world to know about you?

Bob likes to ride his motorcycle whenever he can. We are both dog lovers. Sally has Jeff Gordon’s Saturday Night Live guest host episode on VHS tape.

Bob and Sally Wichert are featured in this edition of the NASCAR fan profile. (Photo courtesy of the Wicherts)

NASCAR Marketing Strategy: Comcast Xfinity

This is the first in an occasional series about how NASCAR sponsors are using their marketing opportunities in the sport. Up first: Xfinity, which relaunched its Xfinity Stream app this week and is making a big push to get the word out. Matt Lederer, Comcast’s executive director of sports marketing, spoke on behalf of the company.

What do you see as the identity of the Xfinity Series, particularly in light of fewer Cup drivers being able to participate in the races this season?

We love this idea of “Names Are Made Here.” We love not only the format changes, but some of the driver restriction changes. We want more Xfinity drivers hoisting the trophy in victory lane, because we think that’s good for the sport.

We’re excited Stewart-Haas is bringing in a full-time Xfinity car, Junior (Motorsports) is expanding to four full-time Xfinity cars. We knew making those changes were all going to be steps in growing more drivers into the series. I’d expect we’re going to see more Xfinity drivers in victory lane this season.

How does the Dash 4 Cash idea fit into what you guys do, and why is it so important to you?

What Dash 4 Cash provides is the ability to focus on four Xfinity drivers in those weeks — so it supports the “Names Are Made Here.” Even if the guy doesn’t get into victory lane, that allows you guys (in the media) and the networks to focus in on someone whose name is being made.

Also, we get a lot more brand mention and visibility on those weekends. The idea of the Xfinity Dash 4 Cash is good exposure for us.

Lastly, the drivers like it. They really do. And they’re so good to us, we want to make sure we do something for them.

What’s your strategy in how you talk to NASCAR fans?

We like to have a brand voice of being the host. The Xfinity brand, if you’re a customer, you’re going to use it hundreds of times a day — whether it’s the Wi-Fi, whether it’s TV, whether it’s your phone (with the streaming app). What we want to convey is we’re NASCAR fans, too. We want to host you on a great adventure, and that adventure is going to include all of our products.

We’ve had a three-year strategy, and if anything, we’re ahead of where we wanted to be. Everyone said, “The fans are going to know you, they’ll love you, they’ll be loyal to you.” They have, and now we’re going to take that love and hopefully turn them into customers. But we’re not changing anything about the way we talk to NASCAR fans.

What’s something you guys have done that worked better than you thought and something that didn’t work as well as you thought?

The Comcast Community Champion Award that we give out at the end of the year has been amazing. We were given — as part of our sponsorship — the right to brand an award. Some sponsors do a great job. So how do we stand out? How do we break through?

The way it’s morphed into something amazing has probably been my favorite thing to work on as part of this partnership. We try very hard with our company brand to be a human brand and a compassionate brand. The attention and overwhelming outpouring of emotion we get for that award, I never anticipated it.

As far as the other part of the question, we love to do retail store appearances, but we’re still getting better at those. What we’ve learned is in order to really maximize those is we’ve got to get the outreach out there earlier that, “Hey, Brennan Poole is going to be in the Richmond store on Wednesday.” So how do we leverage our radio assets? How do we leverage our TV assets, our print assets to make people aware? So getting ahead of that is going to help us do those things and make them better.

12 Questions with Martin Truex Jr.

The 12 Questions interview continues this week with Martin Truex Jr. of Furniture Row Racing. It is available in podcast form and is also transcribed below.

1. How much of your success is based on natural ability and how much has come from working at it?

I guess you kind of get to this level off natural ability. For me, building cars, growing up around racing and learning about it early before I even started driving is what helped get me to this level.

But once you get here, you realize, “OK, everybody is pretty good.” You’ve got to try to find those little things that stick out of how to get better. Obviously, a big part of it is the team you’re with and the ideas they have and how you kind of work together.

It’s definitely a combination of both. You’re always looking for something — that next little thing you can do better. After every weekend, we’re always looking at each other on our team and saying, “OK, what have we got to do to be better?” Whether it’s me or the crew chief or engineer or something.

2. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards have all retired in the last couple years. What’s your pitch for fans of theirs to become fans of yours?

Well, first off, I’m glad they’re fans of racing in general. I’m a nice guy. I’m just a regular guy just like most normal people and I drive a race car for a living. I don’t have any crazy sales pitch other than I’m pretty normal. (Laughs)

So if you’re normal and you want to relate to somebody else who is normal…

I’m your guy if you’re just a normal person. (Laughs)

3. What is the hardest part of your job away from the racetrack?

Meetings. I hate meetings. I sit there for five minutes and I start getting antsy. My foot starts tapping and I start looking at my phone (like), “How long is this going to last? I’ve got stuff to do.”

4. A fan spots you eating dinner in a nice restaurant. Should they come over for an autograph or no?

YES! Heck yes! Come on over. Say hello.

Even if you have food in your mouth?

Yeah, it’s fine. I’ll swallow it. (Laughs)

5. What’s a story in NASCAR that doesn’t get enough coverage?

Probably all the good things drivers and teams do — charity efforts, things like that. A lot of good comes out of this garage and the people who work in it, and we don’t hear a whole lot about all that.

6. Who is the last driver you texted?

Our group text has the Gibbs drivers on it, so I was on there. No, I’m lying to you — it was (Ryan) Newman! I was texting with him before practice.

7. Do you consider race car drivers to be entertainers?

Yes. If you’re not entertained by racing, I don’t know what to tell you.

8. What is your middle finger policy on the racetrack?

Somebody pisses you off, you show ‘em the middle finger. (Laughs) Pretty simple. I mean, these days, it’s so common, you don’t even feel bad about doing it anymore. You throw somebody the bird and after the race, you put your arm around them and it’s like, “Hey man, what’s happening? How you doing? You have a good race?”

It’s just a way of showing you’re mad at that guy. It’s not personal. It’s on the racetrack, and what happens on the track, stays on the track.

9. Some drivers keep a payback list in their minds. Do you also have a list for drivers who have done you a favor on the track?

Absolutely. You remember everything that happens on the racetrack, good or bad. How guys are racing you — you don’t forget things that happened years ago. You definitely have your list of guys you like to be around and you know you can work with and trust on the racetrack, and then you always have a handful of guys that you know you can’t.

10. Who is the most famous person you’ve had dinner with?

Gotta be Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Laughs) I mean, come on. He’s pretty famous. He’s like 10-, 15-time most popular driver? He’s kind of a big deal.

11. What’s something about yourself you’d like to improve?

I’ve kind of improved one thing this winter: I like to sleep in; I don’t like to get up early, and I feel like I waste the whole day. So I’ve been getting up earlier. I’m getting a little better at that. Aside from that, I’m pretty happy with who I am.

What do you define as “early?”

Before 10. (Laughs) Nine to 10 is pretty early for me.

12. The last interview was with Kyle Busch. His question for you is, “What does it feel like to get all the best stuff from Joe Gibbs Racing?”

(Laughs) It feels great. We led 1,800-something laps last year, so it feels better than getting the fourth- or fifth-best stuff, that’s for sure.

And do you have a question for the next interview?

You should ask who they think is the team to beat this year.