Daytona International Speedway to get major facelift, eliminate 46,000 seats

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Big changes are on the way for NASCAR’s most famous racetrack, Daytona International Speedway, with the most significant facelift since the track opened 54 years ago in 1959.

Home of the season-opening Daytona 500 and the early July Coke Zero 400, the track will undergo a multi-phase update that will break ground July 5, the day before this year’s Coke Zero 400. With a price tag estimated to be up to $400 million, construction will be completed in segments and is due for final completion in January 2016.

The majority of change will come on the frontstretch, which measures nearly one-mile in length.

All seats will be replaced with wider and more comfortable counterparts. There will also be 11 “neighborhoods” installed for fans to still be able to see the action while socializing with other fans — much like overlook areas typically seen at horse racing tracks. Each “neighborhood” will measure about the length of a football field, capped off by the “World Center of Racing” area that will be somewhat of an open-air museum touting the history of the speedway and its most memorable moments.

Plans call for construction of 53 suites. New entrances, additional restrooms and concession areas, escalators and elevators are also part of the improvement program.

But there will be a significant price to pay: DIS will see its current capacity of 147,000 shrink by more than 30 percent to about 101,000 seats, with plans calling for the elimination of all grandstand seating on the backstretch area. However, there are additional plans to bring seating back to 125,000 if future economic conditions and fan demand warrant it.

At its zenith, DIS once had a capacity of 162,000.

“The decision was made with strong consideration of the current macroeconomic condition and a clear view for our long-term growth,” Lisa France Kennedy, CEO of International Speedway Corp., which owns DIS, said in a statement. “We are truly creating history with this unprecedented endeavor.”

Even though capacity will be dramatically decreased, ISC and track officials insist they won’t make up for lost revenue from the eliminated seats with higher ticket prices.

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Josef Newgarden wins pole for Grand Prix of Alabama

Photo by Robert Reiners/Getty Images
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With time running off the clock, Josef Newgarden lapped Barber Motorsports Park with a speed of 122.773 mph to win his third career pole and first on this track in the Grand Prix of Alabama.

Newgarden was .0128 seconds faster than teammate Scott Dixon in second.

Newgarden has two previous wins at Barber. He won last year’s edition of this race after starting seventh and in 2015 from fifth.

“I didn’t know if that was going to be enough,” Newgarden said after winning the pole.

“Team Chevy has done a good job,” Newgarden said. “They’ve really given us good power this weekend – good driveability. We’re going to need some fuel mileage tomorrow, which I think we’ll have. But it’s going to get mixed up with the rain.”

Fast 12

Newgarden topped this chart with a speed of 123.475 mph.

He brought Power, James Hinchcliffe, Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Sebastien Bourdais along with him to the Fast 6.

Marco Andretti (122.480 mph), Alexander Rossi (122.216), Simon Pagenaud (122.050), Robert Wickens (122.042), Zach Veach (121.784) and Ed Jones (120.984) failed to advance.

Round 1, Group 1

Newgarden posted the fastest single lap in round one, group one of qualification for the Grand Prix of Alabama with a speed of 122.550 mph.

Hunter-Reay, Hinchcliffe, Wickens, and Andretti also advance to the fast 12.

Taking the final slot was Jones with a speed of 119.835 after an off-course excursion in final practice.

This was Andretti’s first advancement to the fast 12 for the first time since 2014.

Round 1, Group 2

Power had the fastest lap of 121.570 mph

Bourdais, Veach (who is battling food poisoning-like symptoms), Rossi, and Pagenaud grabbed positions 2-4.

Scott Dixon had an uncharacteristically slow lap of 121.006, but managed to advance to the fast 12 when the session was red-flagged for an incident involving Tony Kanaan.

With three minutes remaining, Kanaan spun into the tire barriers while leaving pit road. Since he brought out the red flag, he lost his qualification time of 119.996 mph.

Takuma Sato had slipped off-course midway through the session and posted only the Ninth-fastest speed of 120.789 mph.