Report: Comcast’s Xfinity, NASCAR closer to series sponsorship deal

According to Tripp Mickle of the SportsBusiness Journal, Comcast’s Xfinity and NASCAR have entered contract negotiations regarding title sponsorship of the racing league’s No. 2 national series.

Mickle’s report relays word from an unnamed source “familiar with the negotiations” that Xfinity – Comcast’s broadband, cable television, and phone service – is considering a five-to-six year deal valued at over $100 million to become the new backer of what’s been known as the NASCAR Nationwide Series since 2008.

Comcast would not comment for Mickle’s report, but NASCAR gave him the following statement: “We anticipate NASCAR will soon be aligned with an outstanding brand that will help take this series to new heights, but out of respect for our current partner and the process, we will not comment on speculation about any potential replacements until there actually is one.”

NASCAR is finishing out its current TV deal that features Fox Sports (who will stay on for the new TV deal) and the outgoing Turner Sports and ESPN; Turner aired its final NASCAR race last month at New Hampshire and ESPN will officially leave the sport at season’s end.

Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal Media and the NBC Sports Group. Last summer, the Group announced that it had struck a deal with NASCAR to broadcast 20 Sprint Cup and 19 Nationwide Series events annually from 2015 to 2024, with the bulk of those events to be shown on NBCSN.

Xfinity first emerged in June as a possible candidate to take over NASCAR’s No. 2 series sponsorship from Nationwide Insurance. In September of 2013, the insurance company said it would end that sponsorship and expand its role in the top-tier Sprint Cup Series.

To that end, Nationwide has since been confirmed as a primary sponsor for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet over the 2015, 2016, and 2017 Cup seasons.

Going back to Xfinity’s potential deal with NASCAR, Mickle reports that there are still some obstacles involved; one of them apparently involves Fox, which according to sources, wants assurances that Comcast would spend equally on advertising across both Fox and NBC, and not just the network it owns.

However, Mickle writes that should this and other “category issues” be settled, a deal may be officially announced in the coming weeks.

IndyCar’s revised schedule gives Tony Kanaan an extra race in 2020

INDYCAR Photo by Joe Skibinski
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Tony Kanaan got a bit of good news when the latest revised NTT IndyCar Series schedule was released Monday.

Kanaan’s “Ironman Streak” of 317 consecutive starts would have concluded with the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 15. That race was postponed, and the races that followed have been canceled or rescheduled later in the year. The season tentatively is scheduled to start June 6 at Texas Motor Speedway.

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is the reason for the tentative nature of this year’s 2020 NTT IndyCar Series schedule.

Kanaan, the 2004 IndyCar Series champion and 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner, started the season with a limited schedule for A.J. Foyt Racing in the No. 14 Chevrolet. That schedule included all five oval races, including the 104th Indianapolis 500.

A silver lining for Kanaan is that this year’s trip to Iowa Speedway will be a doubleheader, instead of a single oval contest. His schedule has grown from five to six races for 2020, should the season start on time with the June 6 contest at Texas Motor Speedway and the additional race at Iowa.

“I’m really happy that IndyCar has been very proactive about the schedule and keeping us posted with the plans,” Kanaan told NBCSports.com Tuesday afternoon from his home in Indianapolis. “I’m double happy that now with Iowa being a doubleheader, I’m doing six races instead of five.”

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Kanaan’s “Last Lap” is something that many fans and competitors in IndyCar want to celebrate. He has been a fierce foe on the track but also a valued friend outside the car to many of his fellow racers.

He also has been quite popular with fans and likely is the most popular Indianapolis 500 driver of his generation.

Scott Dixon was Kanaan’s teammate at Chip Ganassi Racing from 2013-17. At one time, they were foes but eventually became friends.

“I hope it’s not T.K.’s last 500,” Dixon told NBCSports.com. “I was hoping T.K. would get a full season. That has changed. His first race of what was going to his regular season was going to be the 500. Hopefully, that plays out.

“You have to look at T.K. for who he is, what he has accomplished and what he has done for the sport. He has been massive for the Indianapolis 500, for the city of Indianapolis to the whole culture of the sport. He is a legend of the sport.

“We had our differences early in our career and had problems in 2002 and 2003 and 2004 when we were battling for championships. We fought for race wins and championships in the 2000s. I’ve been on both sides, where he was fighting against me in a championship or where he was fighting with me to go for a championship. He is a hell of a competitor; a fantastic person.

“I hope it’s not his last, but if it is, I hope it’s an extremely successful one for him this season.”

Even before Kanaan joined Chip Ganassi Racing, Dixon admitted he couldn’t help but be drawn to Kanaan’s personality.

“T.K. is a very likable person,” Dixon said. “You just have to go to dinner with the guy once, and you understand why that is. The ups and downs were a competitive scenario where he was helping you for a win or helping someone else for a win. There was never a dislike or distrust. We always got along very well.

“We are very tight right now and really close. He is a funny-ass dude. He has always been a really good friend for me, that’s for sure.”

Back in 2003 when both had come to the old Indy Racing League after beginning their careers in CART, the two drivers were racing hard for the lead at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan on April 13, 2003. They were involved in a hard crash in Turn 2 that left Kanaan broken up with injuries. IRL officials penalized Dixon for “aggressive driving.” Dixon had to sit out the first three days of practice for the next race – the 2003 Indianapolis 500.

Kanaan recovered in time and did not miss any racing. He started second and finished third in that year’s Indy 500.

“We were racing hard and going for the win,” Dixon recalled of the Motegi race. “It was a crucial part of the season. Everybody has to be aggressive. I respect Tony for that. He was not letting up. That is what I always saw with Tony, how hard the guy will push. He will go to the absolute limit, and that is why he was inspiring and why he was a successful driver.

“Those moments are blips. You might not talk to the guy for a week, but then you are back on track. T.K. is very close with our family and we are with his.”

This season, because of highly unusual circumstances, T.K.’s IndyCar career will last for one more race than previously scheduled.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500