When Lesa France Kennedy (R, talking with NASCAR president Mike Helton) asks for a Sprint Cup date, she probably won’t get a no from her brother Brian France and uncle Jim France (Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images for NASCAR)
By Mike Mulhern
Maybe it’s a case of ‘In your face, Bruton Smith,’ but the NASCAR France family Wednesday proposed adding a second Sprint Cup weekend to its Kansas Speedway…while Smith’s own bids for a second Cup event at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and a first-ever Cup event at his planned-to-be-purchased Kentucky Speedway both languish in somebody’s desk drawer.
Lesa France Kennedy, sister of NASCAR CEO Brian France and the daughter of the late Bill France Jr., says she will be asking NASCAR for a second Kansas race weekend, now that the International Speedway-owned facility in Kansas City has put together a proposal for a huge Hock Rock Hotel and Casino – with 3,000 slot machines and 140 gaming tables – at the planned new facility in the second turn of Kansas Speedway.
ISC and The Cordish Company plan the large gambling operation, which would cost about $700 million and which they say would generate $350 million a year.
Kennedy, as part of the bid, says she’ll ask for that second Cup weekend if the track gets the go-ahead for the gaming facility.
How quickly it might all come together? There are plans for a temporary casino, with 2,000 slots and 75 tables, which the proposal says could generate as much as $200 million a year.
The track currently provides about $250 million a year in economic benefit to the Kansas City area, according to the track.
ISC stock closed essentially unchanged at $38.97 on modest volume. It’s 52-week high was $52.41; the low, $35.45.
Kennedy, in a press conference to announce the plans, called Kansas Speedway, now seven years old, “a world-class motorsports facility that continues to provide a significant economic benefit to the community.
“Kansas Speedway not only attracts hundreds of thousands of fans throughout the year but also serves as a catalyst for new development.
“Many positive changes to the community have occurred since our arrival, and we believe our Hard Rock Hotel and Casino proposal will continue the momentum we started and benefit the taxpayers of Kansas.”
Brian France has rejected Smith’s call for a Cup date for Kentucky Speedway on the 2009 tour. And France has had little to say about Smith’s long-running bid for a second Cup weekend at Las Vegas.
And the reaction from Las Vegas Motor Speedway? Smith himself was on a plane and couldn’t be reached for comment, but track president Chris Powell said “If having a casino is a precursor to a second race, then we certainly see where we would justified in having a second Cup race.”
Las Vegas track boss Chris Powell (center, watching Texas president Eddie Gossage (L) talking with Bruton Smith) says if NASCAR considers a casino the key to a second Sprint Cup tour date, Vegas is solid for a second Cup date. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Meanwhile Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart continue their search for that first tour win, this week at Michigan International Speedway. They both came up short at Watkins Glen – perhaps a very big surprise, since they’re the two best road racers on the tour.
The Glen winner: Kyle Busch, who is dominating this season like nobody’s business. It was his eighth Cup tour win, and his 16th major NASCAR victory for the year, and Busch has already locked up the top spot in the championship chase, which begins next month at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
So Busch now feels comfortable about expanding his racing schedule again – next week he’ll be running all three NASCAR events at Bristol – 950 laps over four days.
However, with only four races – Michigan, Bristol, California and Richmond – before the championship playoff cut, tensions are rising among the men near the bottom of the top-12.
Stewart, with seconds the last two weeks, at least is having a better season than Gordon, whose year has been all-but woeful.
“I am a lot more comfortable with the momentum we have going right now,” Stewart says. “The last two weeks have shown how focused our team is at the job at hand.”
Stewart, who is leaving the Joe Gibbs camp at the end of the year, has a press conference scheduled for Friday at the Michigan track to announce more details of his new Cup team, including his new teammate, expected to be Ryan Newman.
New teammates: owner-driver Tony Stewart (L) and soon-to-be-teammate Ryan Newman should make it all official Friday at Michigan (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Making the cut may seem assured. Stewart has moved up to seventh in the standings, and he’s 138 points ahead of 13th-place Clint Bowyer, one of the men on the hot seat, on the outside looking in.
But Stewart is cautiously nevertheless: “You have to be cautiously aggressive.
“You still have to keep in mind that if you take a chance and don’t finish a race, you’ll lose a lot of points. You can’t afford to take too many unnecessary chances.”
So Stewart is points racing? “We’ve got a couple of weeks here where we can try things and have that flexibility,” he says.
“But the good thing is we’re not struggling.
“We have the ability to try new things if we want to, because of where we are in the points. We’re in a good spot. Our performance the last couple of weeks has shown that we’re finally hitting our marks.”
These guys have had their run-ins on the track over the years, but they should work well together as teammates…unless owner-driver Tony Stewart (L) gives Ryan Newman some ‘team orders’ (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images for Eldora Speedway)
If Stewart wants to win at Michigan, maybe he should take a page from the Dale Earnhardt Jr. notebook and focus on fuel mileage.
“I realize we won the last time out at Michigan, but we need to be racing better overall,” Earnhardt grumbled. “Yeah, we rolled the dice and gambled on fuel strategy. But a win is still a win, however you get it, and you’re no less proud.
“This has by far been my most consistent year; this has certainly my best season to date.
“But I really want to be racing for wins every week, not just being competitive.”
Winning on gas mileage is like kissing your sister. But Dale Earnhardt Jr., here with owner Rick Hendrick after winning Michigan in June, says he’ll take ‘em any way he can get ‘em. But it would be nice to see Junior kicking butt out on the track instead of just stroking to make the chase, and he agrees (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)
In this sport nobody is ever really satisfied, it would seem. But Tony Eury Jr., Earnhardt’s crew chief, certainly deserves a pat on the back for building this team into a championship contender – the hardest part of the chase sometimes is in the year’s first 26 races: “There is a lot more stress in making the chase than there is in the chase itself,” Eury says.
“Most of these tracks in the chase you have been to once already this season and have a baseline of what to expect. There are good tracks for us in the chase, like Lowe’s and Talladega.
“But there is a lot of stress right now for those guys on the bubble. It’s a dogfight from 11th to 14th. And they are getting more conservative, because they know that things are happening each week and one little miscue can send them away. You won’t see those guys take as many chances.
“Somebody who is a long-shot might take one, but most of the guys are going to be conservative, because they don’t want to lose any more than they’ve got. They want to wait on the other team to have that mistake. So it’s basically a game of who’s going to mess up first.”
Clint Bowyer has a lot on his mind, and his back is to the wall in the fight to make the championship chase, with four to go before the Richmond cut (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)
One man under particular pressure is Clint Bowyer, now 13th after finishing 23rd at the Glen when fuel mileage strategy went awry. Bowyer is chasing Matt Kenseth (22 points ahead of him), Kevin Harvick, and Greg Biffle.
Bowyer and Harvick are two of Richard Childress’ drivers, and the team’s third man, Jeff Burton, concedes the operation has hit too many potholes this summer.
“We haven’t run as well in the past two months as we would have liked,” Burton said of his own team. “We haven’t been terrible but we haven’t been great either.
“We feel good about where we are now, but there is a lot of racing left.
“We haven’t run well at Michigan as we would have liked to, but we have put a lot of effort in to finding a way to be better. There’s something about that track we don’t understand…and I’m obviously part of that equation. What I’m looking for in a car and what the car actually does is very hard to achieve.
Jeff Burton was hot, but now he’s not. Car owner Richard Childress gets kudos for kicking off The Childress Institute at Wake Forest’s Baptist Medical Center….but what’s happened to his NASCAR teams. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images )
“So we’re approaching Michigan with an open mind and a different thought process on how to get it done.
“Michigan has been our biggest challenge, as far as two-mile tracks are concerned.”
And the Childress group as a whole? “I think we’re behind a little bit,” Burton says. “I don’t think we’re grossly behind, but if you look at the speed Jimmie Johnson and his team produce, the speed Kyle Busch and his team produce, we haven’t been able to do that.
“We do really well in a lot of areas, but we’ve got to find a way to create some speed.
“Numbers don’t lie, and if you look at Jimmie and Chad Knaus, they have set a really high standard that’s hard to keep up with. We’re a little behind them. But I believe we can get there.”
Lesa France Kennedy (R) and Betty Jane France. When they put their heads together, the rest of the family listens. (Photo: Nick Laham/Getty Images for NASCAR)
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