Was it a power play? The setting was Vegas. A possible subject was California and the NASCAR calendar in 2011. The participants were O. Bruton Smith, whose Speedway Motorsports Inc. owns six race venues that host Sprint Cup Series races, and NASCAR president, Mike Helton. Their discussion took place in the garage at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last Sunday.
Smith and Helton — two of the biggest names in the sport — even team owner Rick Hendrick stopped in his tracks and recorded the meeting on his phone.
Smith would like to have seven Cup venues. He said Friday he is “very confident” that SMI’s Kentucky Speedway, which the company bought for $78.3 million in December, 2008, will be included on the 2011 Cup schedule.
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But the inclusion of Kentucky on the schedule means the removal of another venue’s date. Smith knows which one, but was not ready to say – at least not directly.
He also makes no secret of his belief that the enormous attendance, merchandising and profit success that his Vegas raceway has become means it is in the sport’s best interest to move the NASCAR season finale there from Homestead, Fla.
And the Homestead date? “You move Homestead to Las Vegas and take one of the California races to Homestead,” Smith said. “Then you would have a winner.”
“California” — better known as Auto Club Speedway — has two Cup dates, but has struggled with attendance issues since it expanded from one Cup race a year in 2004.
“I think whatever we do, we have to think about what is good for the sport,” Smith said. “Las Vegas needs a second event. “ Business and the economy are picking up, Smith said, but the health of the racing business will depend on where it stages its events.
“Some races at some speedways produce greater shows than others,” he said. “It just depends on where you’re running the races.”
Apart from venue changes, Smith has other improvements in mind. As he points out, former NASCAR chairman Bill France Jr. once asked him to “help me build.”
He wants the size of car fields reduced to weed out the numbers who park after only a handful of laps – “a damn disgrace,” Smith said.
He would rather have the drivers remaining racing for cash than points, even if that means losing the Chase for the Sprint Cup format. “I’m not interested in points racing,” Smith said. “That doesn’t mean crap to me. I want to see someone that want to run like hell and wants to win races. We have to get rid of the point racing crap. Let’s put the money out there and let them go racing.”
Smith advocated putting half of the points fund back into race prize money, then standing back and letting the drivers do what comes naturally.
“You got tens of thousands of drivers out there that just need seat time, that’s all it is,” Smith said.
“You need a lot of drivers with a pair, OK? That’s all it takes.
“We need rubbing. Someone that’s not afraid to stand on it, or do a little rubbin’ and bumpin’. You got some of them out there. You got Tony (Stewart). I know he’s good. You don’t need a bunch of goody two-shoes out there that’s being concerned about everything.
“The greatest thing in the world right now would be if on Sunday, if Jimmie Johnson got out of the car and slapped somebody. That would sell a lot of tickets.