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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AJ Foyt Racing promotes Benjamin Pedersen from Indy Lights to IndyCar for 2023 season

Benjamin Pedersen AJ Foyt
AJ Foyt Racing
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Benjamin Pedersen is the first driver to land a promotion from Indy Lights into IndyCar for next season as AJ Foyt Racing confirmed Wednesday he’ll be part of its 2023 lineup.

Pedersen, a 23-year-old dual citizen of Denmark and the United States, spent last season running the full Indy Lights schedule for HMD Motorsports. Linus Lundqvist, his teammate, won the Lights title, and Pedersen finished fifth in the final standings. Pedersen earned his only win earlier this month when he led every lap from the pole at Portland.

Pedersen also ran four races for HMD in 2021 with back-to-back runner-up finishes in his debut. Pedersen landed on AJ Foyt Racing team president Larry Foyt’s radar through a “trusted colleague” and Pedersen spent most of last season shadowing the IndyCar team.

His promotion to IndyCar comes ahead of all four drivers who finished ahead of him in the Indy Lights standings, including champion Lundqvist.

“We are really looking forward to having Benjamin as part of the team,” Larry Foyt said. “His enthusiasm is infectious, and he is 100 percent committed to IndyCar, AJ Foyt Racing, and doing the best he can to win races.

“It’s been great to have him embedded with the team this past season, and everyone is excited to hit the ground running when testing begins. It is also great to have a multi-year program in place, which will help him and the team grow together.”

Foyt did not announce a car number for Pedersen. Kyle Kirkwood spent his rookie season driving AJ Foyt’s flagship No. 14 but Kirkwood is moving to Andretti Autosport. The team has not yet announced if Dalton Kellett will return for a fourth season, and a third car for Tatiana Calderon was pulled from competition after seven races because of sponsorship non-payment. Shutting down Calderon’s team removed the only semi-regular female driver from the IndyCar field.

Pedersen, however, was signed to an agreement Foyt said “spans multiple seasons as the team plans to develop the young rookie and is aligned to a longer-term plan for AJ Foyt Racing.”

Pedersen was born in Copenhagen but raised in Seattle and currently lives in Indianapolis. He said his time shadowing the IndyCar team has given him a jump on his rookie preparations.

“I’ve spent a lot of time this season with AJ Foyt Racing learning the ins and outs of making the jump to IndyCar and it’s been really nice to do that in conjunction with my Indy Lights season,” Pedersen said. “IndyCar has been my target goal since I started open wheel racing in 2016. The racing, atmosphere, fans, events, tracks, etc. are all awesome.”