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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Cooper solidifies PWC GT presence with Callaway Corvette

Callaway, Cooper, Gill. Photo: PWC
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Pirelli World Challenge could use a “face” of the series from a driving standpoint, and American Michael Cooper is a good candidate to fill that role for 2018.

Cooper, 27, has won PWC Touring Car, GTS and, most recently the SprintX GT titles within the series and has quickly blossomed into one of the series’ top GT stars.

It’s been a rapid rise for the Syosset, N.Y. native, entering into a world filled with series stars and champions such as Johnny O’Connell, Patrick Long, Alvaro Parente and a host of others.

But under O’Connell’s tutelage, Cooper admirably filled the rather gaping shoes vacated by Andy Pilgrim at Cadillac Racing, steering the Cadillac ATS-V.R to multiple race wins in the last two years – including a sweep of this year’s season finale weekend at Sonoma.

Cooper and Jordan Taylor were the model of consistency in SprintX this year, winning once at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and surviving contact at Circuit of The Americas to take that title.

With Cadillac withdrawing its ATS-V.R program at the end of the year though, Cooper was left a free agent for 2018. Fortunately with one door closed another opened, in the form of the GM-blessed but full Callaway Competition USA effort with its Callaway Corvette C7 GT3-R that will come Stateside next year. Cooper and Daniel Keilwitz will be in the team’s two cars for the full season; the car was fully unveiled last week at the PRI Show in Indianapolis.

The Callaway is a proven commodity in Europe but couldn’t run in the U.S. unless the path was cleared by one of GM’s factory programs to end a direct, potential head-to-head competition.

Moving from the Cadillac to the Callaway Corvette should be a natural transition, Cooper said last week.

“It worked out incredibly well that GM decided to allow Calloway to run the car in the United States and it created an opportunity for me that wouldn’t have been there otherwise,” he told NBC Sports. “I talked to a lot of other GT teams and at the end of the day, I felt like this was the best direction for me to be competitive next year and to also continue furthering my career with General Motors.”

Indeed Cooper has graduated from the Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R in GTS to the Cadillac and now to the Callaway Corvette. Cooper hailed the Cadillac team for what they did for his career growth.

“Working with Cadillac Racing has been instrumental in developing my abilities both on and off the track,” he said. “So I’m definitely a much more well-rounded driver now and have a lot of experience in the World Challenge GT field, so I kind of know what to expect going into that first race and going into that first corner in St. Pete.”

As noted, the car’s success in Europe means it’s a well-oiled machine by the time Reeves Callaway has worked with PWC to bring it Stateside next year. And as Cooper explained, discussions had been underway for a bit of time to ensure his presence in this car and team.

“I think the car is going to be extremely capable. It’s already won championships and races in Europe. I think, in bringing it over here, we’re going to hit the ground running straight away,” he said.

“Calloway had wanted me to come drive for them in July or August. We always kept in touch since then, and there was a lot of work trying to put together a program before they decided that they were going to do a fully fledged factory program. So once they made that decision, I think the pieces were kind of in place already, and the conversations had been had to be able to say ‘You’re going to be our guy.’”

December is late for IMSA programs to get finalized, but it’s relatively early for PWC, with the season not starting until mid-March in St. Petersburg. An extensive testing program should follow, as Callaway establishes its U.S. base and infrastructure.

“It’s definitely early for a Pirelli World Challenge program to be announced in December when we start racing in March. So that’s very good,” he said. “But, the team has a lot of work ahead of them in terms of getting infrastructure set up here in the United States, because a lot of their racing program has been in Europe. So, there will be a testing program, but they have to get the infrastructure in place first. But, we’ll be well prepared for St. Pete, I’m certain of it.

“Last year was the first year when I could sit back, kick my feet up, and know what I was doing next year. So, to be able to have everything done and be able to announce it this early on makes my life less stressful and now I can just focus on preparing myself and my team for next year.”