Report: On eve of Daytona renovation, other NASCAR tracks may also shrink seating capacity

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On the eve of the start of a massive three-year renovation, revitalization and 31 percent reduction in seating capacity of NASCAR’s biggest gem, Daytona International Speedway, comes a report that other tracks may also be in line for a cut in their capacity as well.

The Los Angeles Times reported that International Speedway Corp. – which owns 12 of the tracks the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races on (accounting for 19 of the 36 races on the season schedule) – may also be looking at cutting seating at other tracks under its corporate umbrella.

“We just simply have too many seats in the inventory and it’s time to do something about that,” John R. Saunders, president of International Speedway Corp., reportedly said on a recent conference call with Wall Street analysts, The Times reported.

“At the end of the day, to get out of this quagmire, we’ve got to get our [seating] capacity down,” Saunders added.

It was less than a decade ago that NASCAR would routinely sell out many, if not most of its Sprint Cup races. But since the economic downturn in the U.S. began in 2007, NASCAR has seen a significant downturn in ticket sales and at-track attendance.

Rather than continue to have empty seats, particularly when they are readily seen around the country on Fox, ESPN/ABC and TNT TV broadcasts, ISC is reportedly mulling following a similar plan put in place at Daytona, according to The Times.

On Friday, ground will be broken on the first major facelift of Daytona since it opened in 1959. As part of that facelift, 31 percent of the current 146,000 seats will be permanently removed, leaving capacity around the 2.5-mile, high-banked oval at just over 101,000 seats.

In addition to replacing the remaining seats with wider and more comfortable seats, ISC also plans on adding suites and 11 common meeting areas (called “neighborhoods”) where fans can get together to watch the racing action while also socializing.

ISC owns tracks that host Sprint Cup events in Daytona, Talladega (Ala.), Fontana (Calif.), Joliet (Ill.), Richmond (Va.), Watkins Glen (N.Y.), Homestead (Fla.), Kansas City (Kan.), Darlington (S.C.), Martinsville (Va.), Avondale (Ariz.) and Brooklyn (Mich.).

NASCAR and ISC both expanded at a significant rate from 1996 to 2006, but with the drop in the economy, the sport and its facilities have suffered. The situation is the same for Speedway Motorsports Inc., which owns nine tracks where Cup races are contested upon, as well as the independently owned Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Dover International Speedway.

Which ISC tracks will ultimately lose seating capacity? Such a decision is “still in the exploratory process” and it would be “premature to speculate” ISC spokesman told The Times in an email.

‘Still quite early’ for Ricciardo to think about Red Bull F1 future

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Daniel Ricciardo feels it is “still quite early” to make a decision about his Red Bull Formula 1 future despite seeing teammate Max Verstappen announce on Friday he would be staying with the team until 2020.

Verstappen, 20, put pen to paper on an enhanced F1 contract with Red Bull, with his previous deal due to expire at the end of next season in parallel to Ricciardo’s own agreement.

Ricciardo was asked following practice on Friday why he is yet to strike a new deal for himself with Red Bull, and explained he is in no rush to make a final decision when he has over a year to run on his current contract.

“It’s not that I’ve said no to anything. It’s just still quite early I think,” Ricciardo explained.

“People talked a little bit about contracts and the silly season for next year, but I thought that would still happen next year. It’s still quite early.

“If I’m to try and extract some positives out of his news it’s that it gives us good confidence for next year. He and his management see a lot of positives in the team to continue like that.

“I’m 100 per cent here next year, I can at least say that, and I think it gives both of us confidence that we’ll keep progressing the way we are.”

Red Bull said upon announcing Verstappen’s new deal that it wants to “build a team around him”, with the 20-year-old standing out as a once-in-a-generation talent.

The focus surrounding Verstappen has not left Ricciardo feeling as though he is in the shade or in any way playing second-fiddle to the Dutchman, stressing he has no internal concerns at Red Bull.

“For sure, as far as media goes, he certainly gets a lot of attention. He’s broken records for his age and things like that, so rightly so,” Ricciardo said.

“Take the media out of it, as far as inside the team, new parts on the car, things like this, there’s always been parity and equality.”

Verstappen is only the third driver to commit to a deal beyond the end of next season, following Sebastian Vettel at Ferrari and Fernando Alonso at McLaren on multi-year contracts.

All 10 F1 teams have at least one free seat for 2019, making Ricciardo a possible candidate for seats with either Mercedes or Ferrari were he to consider a move away from Red Bull.

Speaking to British broadcaster Sky Sports, Red Bull F1 advisor Helmut Marko said he felt Ricciardo was “putting himself on the market” by waiting to make a decision on his future, but that talks would take place when possible.