NASCAR Daytona Auto Racing

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.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Tony Kanaan

Tony Kanaan
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver lineup in the Verizon IndyCar Series, after the 2015 season, with eighth-placed Tony Kanaan.

Tony Kanaan, No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet

  • 2014: 7th Place, 1 Win, Best Start 2nd, 6 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 12 Top-10, 407 Laps Led, 9.2 Avg. Start, 9.3 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 8th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 2nd, 3 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 10 Top-10, 213 Laps Led, 7.6 Avg Start, 9.9 Avg. Finish

You have to give TK credit. Armed with one of the best cars on the grid, Kanaan has certainly raised his game the last two years, and probably hasn’t received enough credit or enough results for some of his drives he’s put in since joining Chip Ganassi Racing after the 2013 season.

The 2015 season was no exception. All 10 of his top-10 finishes were between second and seventh, so there were plenty of times he was in win and podium contention. The other area where he improved was his qualifying. Kanaan only had two starts outside the top-12 all season, one of which occurred at Detroit race two, where the grid was set by points following a rain cancellation. Detroit was pretty much the only weekend where Kanaan didn’t figure into qualifying or the race. Blame the Taylor Swift-inspired Big Machine Records livery for that one if you want.

Accidents at the Indianapolis 500 and Pocono were costly retirements as Kanaan definitely had a shot to win both those races. But realistically you couldn’t find many other faults. Losing a sure win at Iowa due to a mechanical issue was a gutting blow. He was also unlucky to come up just shy at Fontana, and may have prevailed in a last-lap shootout.

More often that not however, Kanaan was firmly on top of his game, and reliably on par with his championship-winning teammate Scott Dixon, which was all you could ask for. It’s fitting the two of them opened the year as part of the winning lineup in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, with Kanaan then helping out matters by finishing ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya at Sonoma, to ensure Dixon had enough points to win the title on countback.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Josef Newgarden

Josef Newgarden
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MotorSportsTalk continues to run through the driver-by-driver breakdown in the Verizon IndyCar Series field for 2015. Next up on the heels of another breakout year, Josef Newgarden, who has recently re-signed with CFH Racing for 2016.

Josef Newgarden, No. 67 CFH Racing Chevrolet

  • 2014: 13th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 2nd, 1 Podium, 2 Top-5, 7 Top-10, 20 Laps Led, 10.7 Avg. Start, 13.7 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 7th Place, 2 Wins, 1 Pole, 4 Podiums, 5 Top-5, 9 Top-10, 345 Laps Led, 8.4 Avg Start, 10.8 Avg. Finish

Josef Newgarden’s fourth year in the Verizon IndyCar Series was firmly, and without question, the year he arrived as the series’ biggest rising star. It followed on nicely after three prior years where he seemed to hit almost all the high points at various stages, but didn’t put together a fully complete season.

Perhaps some of that was due to having a teammate for the first time in his career, although it was not the same driver throughout the year – it was split between Luca Filippi and Ed Carpenter depending on the circuit. Still, there was always a second set of data to study and analyze. Even better, there was a Chevrolet in the back of his car for the first time, and that likely helped matters a bit. And retaining Jeremy Milless as his engineer continued to pay dividends; you can’t teach chemistry and it’s apparent these two have it.

It spoke volumes that in qualifying, Newgarden was the single fastest driver outside of the Penske and Ganassi camps all season. An average starting position of 8.4 was not only a career best, but best in the field behind six combined drivers from the two established “super teams.” Only at Detroit, where he had a nightmare weekend and at Texas, where Carpenter admitted the team missed the setup, did he start outside the top 12.

Yet it was in the races where again, he shone brightest. The Barber win was as dominant as it was overdue and deserved. The Toronto win – if a bit lucky due to when the cautions and pit stop cycle fell – was also well executed. Then the drives on the ovals at Milwaukee, Iowa and Pocono were excellent.

Far too often though, still, pit stops proved Newgarden’s undoing. Mid-Ohio was a sore spot again, and Sonoma in particular was the nadir. The other tough results races, notably at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and at Fontana, came through mistakes not of his own doing. Really only Detroit was a weekend he’d like to have back.

But he led the most laps in the field, he finally broke through to win, and firmly lived up to the hype and potential that’s been building for years. If you’ve been paying attention more than just this year though, Newgarden’s 2015 season will have come as no surprise.