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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Michael Andretti looking forward to new Australian Supercars venture

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If it seems like Michael Andretti is out to conquer the world, he is – kind of.

The former IndyCar star turned prolific team owner has won three of the last four Indianapolis 500s and five overall, second only to Roger Penske’s 16 Indy 500 triumphs.

Along the way, in addition to expanding his own IndyCar and Indy Lights operation, the son of Mario Andretti and the primary shareholder of Andretti Autosport has also branched out into Global RallyCross and Formula E racing in recent years.

And now, Andretti has further expanded his brand internationally, following Penske to the world down under — as in the world of Australian V8 Supercars.

Andretti has teamed with Supercars team owner Ryan Walkinshaw, along with veteran motorsports marketer and executive director of McLaren Technology Group and United Autosports owner and chairman, Zak Brown.

Together, the three have formed Walkinshaw Andretti United, based in suburban Melbourne, Australia. The new team kicks off the new season with the Adelaide 500 from March 1-4.

“It’s just extending our brand and putting it out there,” Andretti told NBC Sports. “The Supercars are such a great series.

“It all started with Zach Brown calling me and said ‘You have to talk to Ryan Walkinshaw. He’s got something interesting to talk to you about.’

“We talked and literally in like a half-hour, we said, ‘Let’s figure out how we’re going to make this work.’ And then Zack was like, ‘Hey, what about me?’ And then Zack came in as a partner and it’s cool now that we have the Walkinshaw Andretti United team.

“I’m really excited about that program, the guys at the shop are excited about it, we’ve been doing a lot of things to try and help it because it’s such a cool series and the cars are so cool.

“I went down there to Bathurst, which was to me one of the coolest tracks in the world. I wish I could have driven it, I really do. It looks like a blast.

“It’s amazing how big that series is when you go down there. It’s one of the biggest sports in Australia. It was just a great opportunity for us to extend our portfolio.”

Admittedly, Andretti had some extra incentive to want to get involved in the Supercars world: Penske joined forces with legendary Dick Johnson Racing in September 2014.

The organization came together quickly and the rebranded DJR Team Penske went on to win the 2017 V8 Supercars championship.

“Roger was down there the last few years,” Andretti said, adding that fact as incentive to get his own organization into the series. “So it’s cool to go race head-to-head with Roger. That was also in the back of our minds.”

This is no start-up venture for Andretti. The roots of the new venture began in 1990 as the Holden Racing Team, which went on to become one of the most successful organizations in Australian V8 Supercar racing, having won the drivers’ championship six times and the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship’s top race, the Bathurst 1000 (essentially Australia’s version of the Indy 500), seven times.

Last season, Holden Racing team morphed into Triple Eight Race Engineering and was renamed Mobil 1 HSV Racing.

And now the company has been renamed once again for the 2018 campaign under the Walkinshaw Andretti United banner.

The team will be composed of two Holden ZB Commodores with drivers James Courtney and Scott Pye, as well as a Porsche 911 GT3-R in the Australian GT championship.

What’s next for Andretti’s motorsports portfolio? Right now, it’s pretty full, but you can bet running for championships from Australia (Supercars) to globally (GRC) to Indianapolis (Indy 500) to the U.S. (Verizon IndyCar Series) are at the top of this year’s list.