The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will head west this weekend for the mile-and-a-half track of Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the running of the Kobalt 400. This will be the first of three consecutive weekends of racing in what the governing body likes to call the western swing of the schedule.
NASCAR made the changes to the schedule a couple of years ago in an attempt to escape the unpredictable late winter, early spring weather of the southeast portion of the country. Following this week’s stop at Las Vegas, the series will move to Phoenix International Raceway followed by the third and final stop of the westward swing at Auto Club Speedway.
This will be the only stop of the year at both Las Vegas and Auto Club Speedway but it will be the first of two races this season at Phoenix as that track also hosts the last race before the series moves to Homestead-Miami for the final race of the season, where the championship is decided among four drivers.
All of that may change as soon as next season as the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority board of directors scheduled a special meeting last Wednesday to consider an annual $2.5 million sponsorship agreement with NASCAR for the addition of a fall race at the speedway. The Vegas track is one of eight tracks that are owned by Speedway Motorsports Inc. that includes Atlanta, Bristol, Charlotte, Kentucky, Texas, New Hampshire and Sonoma.
All of the tracks that presently host Monster Energy Cup races are in the second year of five-year sanctioning agreements with the governing body, but NASCAR does not prevent track companies from moving dates. SMI has a history of not only moving dates from track to track, in the past it has bought tracks just to get the Cup dates and then would move the dates to one of its other tracks.
Since there is no expansion set to take place with the schedule, the question becomes which one of SMI’s tracks may be in danger of having a date taken away. Atlanta, Kentucky and Sonoma just host one race a year and would appear to be safe from giving up their dates. Charlotte has its Coca- Cola 600, which is considered one of the crown jewels on the entire schedule and its fall date is one of the 10 races that make up the Chase round.
Bristol has a spring race that is so popular it has been sponsored by Food City for what will be the 25th consecutive year come April, and its August night race is considered by most fans as the one race that is at the top of their bucket list to see. Everything is bigger in Texas and that goes for that track’s two races, as it can boast of attracting some of the largest crowds on the schedule, plus its fall race is also in the Chase.
New Hampshire also hosts two races each season and it has had no problems filling its seats while other tracks have struggled to sell tickets. Both of its dates on the schedule are desirable as the first race is in July and the return trip to the track is the second race of the Chase in September.
It is New Hampshire’s Chase race that may be the date that is used to give Las Vegas its second race, as the Nevada track has more to offer race fans because of its location. Because of all that there is to do in Vegas, this week’s race has become one of the favorites on the entire schedule for both fans and all of those that travel with the circuit each week. Another race at the track during the Chase would not only be a boost for SMI but also for NASCAR, as Las Vegas is a state-of-the-art facility that plays well on TV with no empty seats.
NASCAR has to approve any move made by track owners, but this is one move that would benefit both parties and maybe more importantly be more attractive to its TV partners and would be sponsors.
Event: Kobalt 400
Track: Las Vegas Motor Speedway (1.5-mile oval with 20o of
banking in the turns)
Date: March 12, 3:30 p.m.
Defending Champion: Brad