For the first time in 54 years NASCAR won't hold its Labor Day
race at tradition-rich Darlington. Instead, NASCAR makes its
second visit of the season to California Speedway (another
first), which also hosts a May event. "This is just another step
in modernizing tradition," said NASCAR president Mike Helton.
Phoenix International Raceway is the fifth NASCAR track to
install SAFER Barriers--collapsible steel-and-foam
energy-reduction barriers placed on the outer walls of the track.
Drivers are happy not only about the walls but also about
NASCAR's January hiring of an emergency medical technician who
will travel to each race and ride in the vehicle that is first to
respond to an accident. Many drivers would have preferred that
NASCAR hire a full-time traveling safety crew--every other major
racing series employs one--but this is a first step. Each week
NASCAR's EMT will work with the local safety crews.
LONE STAR SHOWDOWN
TEXAS MOTOR SPEEDWAY
Texas is one of seven tracks owned by Speedway Motorsports Inc.,
whose chairman is Bruton Smith (right). An SMI shareholder has
sued NASCAR, alleging that the sport reneged on a promise to give
Texas Motor Speedway a second Nextel Cup race. The trial is
scheduled to begin in May.
SCHOOL OF IDEAS
The HANS device, the rooftop escape hatch, SAFER Barriers--all
were developed at the Midwest Roadside Safety Facility at the
University of Nebraska.
NBC takes over the NASCAR telecasts from Fox, beginning with the
July 11 Tropicana 400 at Chicagoland Speedway. The network and
cable partner TNT will air the season's final 19 events.
According to Nielsen Media Research, 189 million households tuned
in to watch Winston Cup racing in 2003--a 58% gain since the 2000
THE SON ALSO RISES
NEW YORK CITY
When Brian France rises to speak at NASCAR's end-of-the-season
bash in Manhattan, it will mark the end of his first year as
NASCAR's CEO and chairman. Last October 70-year-old Bill France
Jr., whose father founded NASCAR in 1947, announced that
Brian--his son--would take his job. One of Brian's hopes is to
raise NASCAR's Q-rating in major media markets like the Big
Apple. (That's Matt Kenseth, right, stopping midtown traffic.)
THE CHASE IS ON
NASCAR's 10-race "playoff" season--dubbed the Chase for the
Championship--begins with the Sylvania 300 on Sept. 19. NASCAR's
new championship format, announced in January, works like this:
After the 26th race of the season only the drivers in the top 10
in points, as well as any others within 400 points of the leader,
will be eligible for the title. Point totals will be adjusted so
that only five points separate each driver from the driver
immediately behind him in the standings, creating a 10-race
shootout for the title.
BACK HOME AGAIN
When Bill France first visited the site of the Indy 500 in the
early 1950s as the founder of a fledgling stock car series, he
was promptly kicked out by Indianapolis Motor Speedway president
Tony Hulman. Now it's NASCAR that kicks butt in the open-wheel
capital of the world, drawing 300,000 fans to last season's
Brickyard 400, won by Kevin Harvick (above).
The birthplace of NASCAR is also the birthplace of Bill Elliott,
one of the sport's most popular drivers over the past two
decades. This season Elliott, 48, is finally slowing. He'll run
in two to 15 races (down from 36), and he'll serve as Evernham
Motorsports' competition director.
Toyota makes its debut in the Craftsman Truck Series in the
Florida Dodge Dealers 250 on Friday. NASCAR rules state that its
sport is open to American-made vehicles only, and in fact
Toyota's Tundra truck is made entirely within the U.S. (Toyota
hopes to roll out Cup cars by 2007.)
The first NASCAR Nextel All-Star Challenge (May 22) should be a
driver favorite, not just because it's the circuit's all-star
event, but also because it's close to home: Most drivers live in
or near Charlotte.
A TRADITION PASSES
The Mountain Dew Southern 500 will move to Nov. 14 from its
traditional Labor Day date. Says Cale Yarborough, who won five
Southern 500s, "I guess we'll just have to move Labor Day to
THE KID ARRIVES
Brian Vickers, 20, who grew up in Thomasville and was the 2003
Busch Series champ, will be the youngest driver in NASCAR's top
series--and most folks' pick to be the '04 rookie of the year.
Spoiler height reductions take effect at the Subway 400 on Feb.
22. At every track except Daytona and Talladega, NASCAR will
require 512-inch-high spoilers, three quarters of an inch lower
than last season--reducing downforce and making the cars less
Last May, Nextel, a Reston-based telecommunications company,
signed a 10-year deal to be NASCAR's primary sponsor, ending the
sport's 32-year relationship with Winston. Nextel, unfettered by
tobacco-advertising restrictions, brings new marketing
opportunities to the table.