Bristol Motor Speedway to host college football game in 2016 (VIDEO)

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On Sept. 10, 2016, the most infamous half-mile in NASCAR will play host to big-time college football.

Today, Bristol Motor Speedway officially announced that it will be the site of the “Battle of Bristol” game between the University of Tennessee Volunteers and the Virginia Tech Hokies.

According to the track, seating will be available for approximately 150,000 spectators – accounting for almost all of the track’s 160,000-seat capacity – and tickets will start at $40 apiece.

For the record, the current official attendance record for a college football game stands at 115,109, a mark set during last month’s Notre Dame-Michigan tilt at Michigan Stadium.

“There has always been a desire by fans to see a football game at our historic Speedway,” Speedway Motorsports Inc. chairman Bruton Smith said in a statement. “We couldn’t be more excited to turn this long-time rumor into a reality and to provide sports fans with an unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be a part of the biggest college football game ever.”

Bristol’s transformation from short track to football field will begin after its August 2016 NASCAR weekend. After cleaning, detailing and pressure-washing around the speedway, the turf and field build will then take place over a span of eight days, with 8,500 tons of rock (that’s approximately 400 truckloads’ worth) to serve as the base of the field.

In order to create proper sloping for drainage, the base rock will taper from three to six feet deep in the middle of the infield to about one to one-and-a-half feet deep on the sidelines.

The “Battle of Bristol” marks the culmination of what has been a longtime dream of Smith’s. Back in 2005, Smith said he had offered $20 million to both schools in order to get their football teams to play at his racing coliseum in the mountains of East Tennessee.

Additionally, another SMI facility, Texas Motor Speedway, has also made an attempt in the past to attract a major college football game – in their case, it was the Red River Rivalry contest between the University of Texas Longhorns and the University of Oklahoma Sooners, normally played at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.

But, now, finally, Smith has his game – and the Vols and Hokies are looking forward to it.

“We are looking forward to this opportunity to be a part of college football history,” Tennessee head coach Butch Jones said. “The chance to play in a great venue as Bristol Motor Speedway against a program the caliber of Virginia Tech is another illustration of how we are continuing to build upon our great and unique tradition here at Tennessee. Our players and everyone associated with our football program will have wonderful memories of being a part of such a historical event.”

“To be able to play in front of a crowd that is the largest to ever see a college football game is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer said. “With the great fan support that Virginia Tech and the University of Tennessee have, it should be a great atmosphere.”

IndyCar’s 2018 full-field grid nearing completion

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Following Wednesday’s confirmation of the all-Canadian tandem at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, each of the eight full-time teams in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season have announced at least one driver for 2018, leaving very few remaining question marks.

What stands confirmed is below:

CONFIRMED

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (1, Honda): Scott Dixon
  • Andretti Autosport (4, Honda): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2, Honda): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2, Honda): James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2, Chevrolet): Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter (ovals)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (1, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

There are four additional drivers confirmed for selected races or an month of May program:

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Calmels Sport with SPM (1, Honda): Tristan Gommendy
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser

All told that’s 17 full-season driver and team combinations confirmed and four additional part-time programs, at least, that are set. Several of those driver/team combinations will have engineering and strategist changes, as well.

In a minor note since our last update at Sonoma, Marco Andretti confirmed he won’t run No. 27 next year. Of note, Bryan Herta served as Andretti’s race strategist this year, although the car he was an entrant on was Alexander Rossi’s No. 98 car. Herta will continue his relationship with Andretti Autosport again next season.

WHAT’S LEFT TO SORT? NOT MUCH

Elsewhere, there’s only a handful of remaining question marks as the series hits mid-October, a rarity from past years and an illustration of the urgency to fill seats to get as much preparation time in testing with the new 2018 Dallara universal aero kit as possible.

NBC Sports expects 2016 Indy Lights champion and 2017 IndyCar rookie-of-the-year Ed Jones to be confirmed soon as second driver in Dale Coyne Racing’s No. 19 Honda alongside Sebastien Bourdais, with team personnel and Bourdais both having indicated a preference in keeping the Dubai-based Brit for a second year.

NBC Sports also expects Jones’ successor as Indy Lights champion, Kyle Kaiser, to have his future announced shortly in terms of which team he’ll step up to IndyCar with. It would not be a surprise if Kaiser does graduate along with Juncos Racing, although Kaiser is known to have talked to multiple teams. The Mazda Motorsports scholarship nets him $1 million for a three-race program, including the 102nd Indianapolis 500, with the driver then needing to secure additional funding for further races, as Jones and Pigot both have each of the last two years.

The status of Brendon Hartley has now been thrown up as a slight question mark dependent on how his Formula 1 debut with Scuderia Toro Rosso goes at this weekend’s United States Grand Prix, and if Toro Rosso provides him a further race opportunity in one of the remaining three Grands Prix thereafter. Having been all-but-earmarked for Chip Ganassi Racing’s second seat in 2018, if an F1 offer comes, Hartley’s potential IndyCar bow could get delayed.

A McLaren-named entry competing either in the Indianapolis 500 or full-time seems further off than realistic for next year, McLaren’s Zak Brown told reporters on a teleconference this week. McLaren maintains an IndyCar technical presence though, via its McLaren Applied Technologies outfit.

What’s left then are the dominoes of whether Carlin’s IndyCar plans officially come to fruition as the team has gotten closer than it ever has to doing so, and who emerges in the second seats at A.J. Foyt Enterprises and Ed Carpenter Racing (road and street courses), respectively.

A number of young IndyCar veterans – Max Chilton, Charlie Kimball, Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly namely – are yet to land for 2018 and there’s no guarantee all four of them will be back in IndyCar next season.

There’s also a handful of young drivers, namely RC Enerson, Jack Harvey, Esteban Gutierrez, Santiago Urrutia, Zachary Claman DeMelo, Sage Karam and Matthew Brabham among others, who could well emerge in the frame for seats.

Gutierrez’s status seemed dependent on Mexico City being added to the 2018 calendar, and although the race still could be added, the fact neither is in place at this point doesn’t inspire as much confidence about his presence as a regular on the grid as it did earlier this summer.

All told, there’s not nearly that much to sort out as IndyCar’s grid for 2018 is looking very much close to set at this early stage of a long offseason.