Brian France: Changes to 2015 Sprint Cup schedule likely, season finale to stay in Homestead, Dover status a concern

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In his annual mid-season state of the sport address Saturday at Daytona International Speedway, NASCAR chairman/CEO Brian France hinted that there could be changes to the 2015 Sprint Cup season schedule.

Fox Sports announcer Chris Myers tweeted earlier in the day that rumor has it Darlington may be moved to the second date on the Cup schedule, replacing the first of two Phoenix races (which it’s assumed would then be moved to a later date).

Here’s France’s response to the possibility of schedule changes upcoming:

“Well, it’s a unique time because we’re starting with a new television partner (NBC) coming obviously next year,” France said. “There’s been some weather issues, as you well know – in the last several years at Bristol as an example – and then some other things that we would naturally look at as we go along in the schedule. And now that the Chase format is changed, there’s additional interest to move from one place to another.

“So there will be a robust discussion that will be for those reasons a more comprehensive look at what the best schedule will look like. I don’t have any of the details today.

“We’ll be releasing that (the 2015 schedule) in September, but it’s fair to say that there’s a robust discussion within the stakeholders to come up with the best schedule that we can for 2015 and beyond.”

France was asked specifically about Dover International Speedway’s future on the Sprint Cup schedule. The only track in Sprint Cup with an all-concrete racing surface, Dover has struggled with attendance in recent years — not to mention its parent company (Dover Motorsports Inc.) has sold all other tracks it once owned (including Gateway, Nashville and Memphis) — leading to rumors that one of its two annual races may be taken away.

“Well, we don’t have a timetable on that, and we don’t like to think of it that way,” France said. “We like to think that historically important events work themselves out over time, and some of that is on us, too.  I mean, we’ve got to constantly figure out how to make our racing tighter, better. I mean, that’s why I spent so much time today telling you that we are zeroed in on that.

“I think we don’t put a timeline on that.  We’re working with our track operators, the ones that have more challenges than others, and we’ll just have to work through it and try to get a good outcome.”

Also, while the new Chase for the Sprint Cup format would lend itself to moving the final race of the season — the four-car championship-deciding season finale — around to different tracks, ala the Super Bowl, France said Homestead Miami Speedway will likely remain the host of the final race for at least the next five seasons.

Bolstering that was the recent contract extension entered into by NASCAR, International Speedway Corp. and Ford to sponsor the season-ending races in Sprint Cup, Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series through at least 2019. The current contract was due to expire at the end of this season.

“I know when you talk to the Ford people and you talk to people at ISC, at Homestead, they want to do whatever makes sense for that sponsorship,” France said. “While yes, it’s Ford obviously for the finale down at Homestead, they’re partners with us in every event.  There’s nothing to preclude a directional change down the road.

“But historically we’ve liked the fact that to do it in South Florida, the weather is great that time of year obviously, it’s a good market for us, and the track, and this is an important thing, is by any definition, the best mile-and-a-half track that the drivers believe that they have — that they can really race hard and compete hard, and that matters, too, right.  It’s a very important thing.

“When you factor all those things in, we’re going to be in Homestead for the foreseeable future.”

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UPDATE 2: INDYCAR Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama once again under red-flag race stoppage

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UPDATE No. 2: The INDYCAR Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama was closing in on restarting on Lap 23 or 24 before officials threw the second red flag race stoppage because of lingering puddles on the 2.3-mile Barber Motorsports Park, particularly on the front stretch. We’ll keep you updated as situations warrant.

UPDATE No. 1: The INDYCAR Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama is under a red-flag race stoppage after 19 laps due to rain and puddling on the racing surface at Barber Motorsports Park.

Cleaners and dryers are on the track to try and get some of the water off the racing surface. The low spots on the track, as well as the front stretch, have been particularly troublesome and led to several spinouts and at least two wrecks (Charlie Kimball and outside front pole sitter Will Power).

Power’s day is done after suffering irreparable damage to the left side of his car after hydroplaning on the front straight and running into the inside retaining wall.

ORIGINAL STORY FOLLOWS:

Although rain has been falling for nearly an hour and the Barber Motorsports Park 2.3-mile permanent road course is drenched, the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama is underway on NBCSN.

The start of the race was moved up from 3:38 p.m. ET to take the green flag at 3:08 p.m. ET.

Josef Newgarden is the defending winner of this race and also will start from the pole for today’s race.

While the race is scheduled for 90 laps, there’s a possibility that if the weather worsens or if lightning appears, it could potentially be shortened to just two hours.

As can be expected, all cars are on rain tires to maximize grip.

Catch the race live on NBCSN.