Entertainment NASCAR chases holiday TV audience with Easter dirt race
NASCAR and Hendrick to partner on 24 Hours of Le Mans entry
SEBRING, Fla. (AP) — NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports have partnered on an effort to enter the 24 Hours of Le Mans next year with a modified version of its new Next Gen car. The collaborative effort announced Thursday at Sebring International Raceway seeks the “Garage 56” entry, which was created in 2012 as a special single-entry class reserved for innovative cars. The Garage 56 entry allows for the testing of new technologies, creativity and innovation without claiming a spot on the traditional starting grid. “We’re not taking this lightly.
BRISTOL, Tenn. (AP) — Kevin Harvick was on his annual family beach vacation when he was forced to cut it short early by three days to return to work for the first time in his career on Easter Sunday.
NASCAR since its 1949 inaugural season deliberately used Easter as an off weekend — often the first natural break in a 38-race season — and industry personnel slotted that week for a rare vacation. Weather-related rescheduling actually led to 10 races on Easter Sunday over the years, most recently in 1989 when a snowstorm forced a scheduling change, but NASCAR never deliberately chose the date.
Keselowski confident he can recover from huge NASCAR penalty
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Brad Keselowski was optimistic he can overcome a knee-buckling penalty that potentially ended any championship chances a mere five races into his first season as a Cup team owner. NASCAR this week said an inspection at its North Carolina facility uncovered an illegal modification to the No. 6 Ford — a major infraction under tightened rules for the new Next Gen racecar. The Next Gen is primarily a spec car comprised of vendor-supplied parts and NASCAR will not permit any tinkering. Keselowski, now a co-owner of RFK Racing, was docked 100 points and plummeted from 16th in the current standings to 35th.
Until this year.
NASCAR executive Ben Kennedy, great-grandson of NASCAR's founder, worked with Fox to schedule the second Cup Series race on dirt-covered Bristol Motor Speedway for Sunday night under the lights in a bid to attract a larger television audience.
“When you think about all the other sports leagues with NFL on Thanksgiving, NBA on Christmas, this is our opportunity to run on Easter Sunday and drive a lot of momentum for our fans that are watching at home," Kennedy said when the race was announced. "We put a lot of consideration into family time. I think to that end, having it later in the day, and on primetime on Sunday, we want to make sure that for fans, families, team members, drivers, that they have the opportunity to celebrate earlier on in the day.
Column: NASCAR must reveal Keselowski's massive infraction
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — There is a problem with NASCAR and its sport-transforming new racecar. We know NASCAR found that RFK Racing had made an illegal modification to a vendor-supplied spec part for the car. NASCAR then buried Brad Keselowski and his team with season-crippling penalties to apparently make it crystal clear the series is serious about its Next Gen car. What we don't know: What the No. 6 team has been accused of doing or where it was trying to gain an advantage. NASCAR hasn’t publicized what it found during a “teardown” inspection last week at its North Carolina facility. Keselowski isn't talking, citing his ongoing appeal.
“Then for fans that may be tuning in at night or coming out to the track that evening, the ability to come out there and continue to be together and watch NASCAR racing we felt like was important.”
But as Harvick returned from the beach earlier than planned, he warned the decision to race Sunday night better have a monstrous payoff. In scheduling Bristol for Easter, NASCAR stripped the premier Cup Series of all but one off weekend spanning from February until November.
“The only way it’s successful is if the TV ratings are through the roof. That’s the only way that having it on Easter night is successful," Harvick said. "That’s the only reason it is where it is is for a TV rating, so if it doesn’t have a TV rating, you should never do it again.
"It’s an experiment, which I’m fine with experiments if it’s beneficial. If it’s beneficial for this sport and beneficial for TV ratings and beneficial for a number of things, then I’m all in. But that will be the real tell of success if that rating is way up compared to what it was.”
Too soon: Truex Jr. not ready to consider NASCAR future
Martin Truex Jr. left Richmond Raceway a winner in his last visit to the Virginia short track, a playofff victory last September that helped him get into NASCAR's championship round and showed the veteran has plenty left in his tank. He returns to Richmond six months later with his NASCAR future unclear. The 41-year-old Truex is in the final year of his contract with Joe Gibbs Racing and hasn't decided how long he wants to continue his career. There is no wait-and-see going on with Truex, who in his 17th full Cup Series season is grappling with NASCAR's new Next Gen car.
But not everyone is onboard as deliberately racing on Easter is unheard of in a sport that begins each event with an invocation and an optional Sunday pre-race church service. Bristol Motor Speedway has scheduled a live Easter Celebration Worship Service at the track to be held three hours before the green flag.
"Not a big fan of racing on Easter. I feel like that’s a very special day, a day that’s equally as big as Christmas, if not bigger, so I’m not crazy about it,” said defending race winner Joey Logano. “I also understand where it makes a lot of sense for a sport to do it. But it’s different than other sports. When other sports compete on holidays, it’s a couple teams here and a couple teams there. This is 40 teams.
“Maybe, it’s going to be fantastic. I’ll have my family with me so that’s good, but it’s going to be a lot different Easter than what we’re used to. Having a church service for industry, I think that that part is good.”
ODDS AND ENDS
Kyle Larson is theat 9-2. ... The conversion of Bristol to a dirt track last year was the first Cup race on dirt in 50 years. But NASCAR had early experience on the surface prior to the Modern Era with 501 races on dirt from 1949 to 1970. Jim Roper in a Lincoln won the first Cup Series race on dirt in 1948 on 0.75-mile Charlotte (Old) Speedway. ... NASCAR has had 77 different drivers win on dirt, led by Hall of Famer Lee Petty with 46 victories. .... Chris Tomlin, a Grammy Award-winning worship leader, and pastor Max Lucado will headline a live pre-race Easter celebration service. Rascal Flatts lead singer Gary LeVox will perform.
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Jenna Fryer, The Associated Press
Custer wins pole at dirt-covered Bristol through heat races .
BRISTOL, Tenn. (AP) — Cole Custer won the first pole of his career Saturday through a formula designed for qualifying via heat races at dirt-covered Bristol Motor Speedway. Custer put his No. 41 Ford at the front for NASCAR's rare Easter Sunday race that was specifically scheduled for Fox Sports to try to capitalize on a primetime holiday audience the way the NFL and NBA do on Thanksgiving and Christmas. The starting lineup was set over four 15-lap heats that were determined by a random draw. Drivers accumulated points for both finishing and passing and Custer started ninth in his heat and then won it — good enough for his first pole in 84 career Cup starts.