Sorry Las Vegas, Homestead-Miami and Ford extend season-ending championship weekend through at least 2019

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Any hope that Speedway Motorsports Inc. CEO Bruton Smith had of moving the season-ending NASCAR Sprint Cup race to Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 2015 ended Sunday.

Smith has sought to prod NASCAR to move the season finale to Las Vegas, given that Homestead-Miami Speedway’s agreement with Ford was due to expire at the end of this season.

Not anymore.

Officials from Ford and HMS announced Sunday morning prior to the Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway that the south Florida 1.5-mile track will continue to host the season-ending races for all three series through 2019, with an option to extend the agreement through 2024.

Ford has hosted the championship-deciding races in the Camping World Truck Series, Nationwide Series and Sprint Cup Series at Homestead-Miami since 2002.

“While many things have changed in those 13 years, one thing has remained constant and that’s the fantastic partnership that we have with Ford Motor Company,” HMS president Matt Becherer said.

“Whether you’re talking about the celebrity involvement, whether you’re talking about their best-in-class display that anchors our midway, or the iconic flags that are pulled behind the Ford trucks at the conclusion of the national anthem, there’s no doubt in our fan’s mind that we do everything possible to make Ford Championship Weekend a top-notch championship event.

“It’s for that reason I am thrilled to announce that Homestead-Miami Speedway and Ford Motor Company have extended their relationship on Ford Championship Weekend through 2019, with an option to continue through 2024.”

The last two times a Ford driver won the Sprint Cup championship was Matt Kenseth in 2003 and Kurt Busch in 2004, both out of the Roush Racing stable at the time.

With the new extension in place, Ford hopes to change that in this year’s season finale, particularly with the expanded and revamped Chase for the Sprint Cup format.

“I was there last year at Homestead-Miami Speedway and I’ll be there again this year to hopefully celebrate a Ford blue oval in the championship circle,” said Joe Hinrichs, Executive Vice Present/President of the Americas, Ford Motor Company.

“We think Ford Championship Weekend sets up now and into the future as an even bigger event with the new Chase format and the excitement around qualifying … and then of course the race itself and crowning a champion.”

When NASCAR and sister company International Speedway Corp. both agreed to keeping the season’s final race at Homestead, that sealed the deal for Ford and HMS to put a deal together – much to the chagrin of Las Vegas or any other potential suitors for the annual season-ending race.

“We’ve spent the better part of a year renegotiating this extension and we would not have expended the time and energy that we did had we thought there was any chance that the championship could be leaving Miami in the near future,” Becherer said. “… The reality is we would not have gone down the path we did if we thought there was a chance that it would leave. And frankly it shouldn’t leave.”

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Al Unser Jr. back in IndyCar after a decade away: ‘Life is very good’

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There’s been somewhat of a hole in Al Unser Jr.’s heart ever since he retired from racing in 2007.

It was a void, something was missing.

But now, after a decade away from racing, Unser has found the right medicine to fill that hole in his heart: he’s back in the racing game again.

No, he’s not driving again (although he does participate occasionally in vintage races), but the two-time Indianapolis 500 (1992 and 1994) winner is definitely back in the IndyCar world.

And he couldn’t be happier.

“For me, it’s a dream come true,” Unser told IndyCar.com. “Since I stepped out of the race car and retired from racing, there’s been something missing from my life, and it’s racing.”

Unser has hooked up with Harding Racing. The team competed in three races last season as a ramp-up for a full 17-race effort this season. While Unser’s official title with the team is “consultant,” he’s involved in so much more.

His main role is as a driving coach to 2015 IndyCar Rookie of the Year Gabby Chaves. But he’s also involved in so many other areas, including helping the team obtain sponsorships and much more.

He then added, “I’m involved in every sense of the word except actually driving the car. And I’m happy about that because I’m too old to drive the car.”

Unser, who won CART championships in 1990 and 1994, is now 55. He’s so involved with his new job that he even moved from his native New Mexico and has relocated to suburban Indianapolis.

Not only is it a new start for Unser, it also is for Chaves. After running all 16 races in 2015 for Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian, he competed in just seven races for Dale Coyne Racing in 2016 and only three races for Harding Racing last season.

But he definitely impressed the team, with a fifth- (Texas) and ninth-place (Indianapolis 500) finish in the first two races and 15th (Pocono) in the team’s final run of the season.

That’s why when Harding Racing decided to go fulltime in 2018, Chaves was their pick for behind the wheel. And Unser was their pick to help guide him to potential stardom in the series.

“(Team owner) Mike Harding is definitely a person that when he decides to do something, he does it right,” Unser told IndyCar.com. “The potential for this organization is through the sky. We’re all working really hard here and we see the potential.”

And as for Unser?

“Life is good, life is very good,” he told IndyCar.com. “We’re back full force, eager and better than ever.”

Click here for the full story about Unser from IndyCar.com.