More scheduling announcements for 2011, driver moves and contract signings, Jeff Gordon and wife have a baby, and Jack returns. As always, it's been an interesting week in the world of NASCAR. Let's take a few minutes to revisit the week and get caught up on all the NASCAR news.
Chicagoland announced on Monday that it would be hosting the opening race for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase to the Championship. Chicago is a fast track and will be the only new venue during the 2011 Chase. The Chicago race, historically held in July will open the Chase on September 18, 2011. This move by NASCAR regarding Chicagoland vacates the July date for Kentucky Speedway's foray into Cup Racing next year. The 400-mile night race on July 9, 2011 will be the second part of a double header weekend in Sparta, Kentucky after Nationwide racing on Friday night. In preparation of it's NASCAR Cup Series debut SMI's Bruton Smith has promised to expand seating in the Speedway from it's current 66,000 to 116,000. Looks like it will be a very busy off-season at Kentucky Speedway for construction.
Phoenix International Speedway announced on Thursday that it will again be host to two Cup Series events in 2011. The spring race at PIR will now be held in late February as the second race of the season. High daily temperatures in the area that time of the year hang around 70; this will be a boon to late winter local tourism and is a schedule change that makes sense due to weather limitations at other tracks. This February 27 racing date will have a Sunday afternoon 1 pm start. In addition to the February date, Phoenix also has their regular next-to-last season date in November. Moving Phoenix up in the schedule came at the expense of Fontana. Auto Club Speedway will be hosting just one race in 2011, held the last weekend in March. Fontana has never been one of my favorite tracks so I, for one am not unhappy about this particular schedule change.
The new schedule will improve many aspects of the 2011 season. Schedule changes have brought a new track for the first time since 2003 when Kansas and Chicagoland were added. Adding dates in the middle part of the country will enable more race fans to travel to venues outside of their home states. Changes also will make it easier on teams, media, and fans to travel without having to travel cross-country each week. Grouping some dates in the same part of the country like Phoenix and Las Vegas or Martinsville and Talladega will cut down on gas prices for teams regarding the car haulers. As teams struggle with finances in this economically trying time any improvement from the zig-zag travel patterns will be welcome.
In the much discussed matter of where Kahne and Martin will be for the 2011 season we finally got some answers this week. Kasey Kahne will be driving for Red Bull in 2011. This gives Kasey four manufacturers in four years; Kahne drove a Dodge in 2009, he's in a Ford this year. Next year Kasey will be behind the wheel of a Toyota and then settle into a Chevrolet with Hendrick Motorsports in 2012. Kahne being with Red Bull Racing on a one year contract allows Mark Martin to finish out his Hendrick contract in the number five car for 2011. Brian Vickers' return is still uncertain, he won't know until November if he can get back behind the wheel of a race car in the near future. Scott Speed, currently 27th in Series Points Standings, is not performing as well as Red Bull Racing would like. Due to this uncertainty between the current Red Bull drivers the Red Bull Racing Team is waiting until later in the year before announcing the final 2011 driver lineup.
In my opinion, the best news of the week came on Friday when Jack Roush returned to the track at Michigan. Jack was, as we all know, involved in a plane crash when landing at an air show in Wisconsin on July 27th. Jack went from a local hospital to the Mayo Clinic where it was only said that he was being treated for "facial injuries". The seriousness of Jack's injuries came out yesterday when Jack revealed that he was in a back brace due to a fracture in his back, suffered a broken left jaw, had packing still in his nose, and lost his left eye as a result of the accident. Jack is optimistic about his future with one eye, saying that he expects to fly again once his recovery is complete. He also stated that his corrected vision had been 20/15 before the crash and since his right eye is dominant he feels he will still see better than he should. Jack wore large, dark sunglasses at Michigan Speedway but it can be seen that both eyes are blackened and the left is still swollen shut. One thing we can be sure of is that Jack's return to the track gives us all a reason to be thankful. Welcome back, Jack - we missed you!
Sunday's Michigan Carfax 400 will be televised on ESPN, starting at 1 pm EST. MRN Radio will also broadcast beginning at Noon EST. Jeff Burton was on top of the leaderboard for practice number one Friday. Saturday's first practice found Greg Biffle on top with the fastest car on the two mile tri-oval. Final practice shows Jimmie Johnson fastest, followed by David Ragan, Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, and Greg Biffle finishing out the top five. Who can bring the speed tomorrow in the 200 lap race? Tune in to see who wins, who wrecks, and what feuds may be revisited or born.
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