SBD/August 27, 2014/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Darlington Heads Back To Traditional Labor Day Date For '15 NASCAR Schedule

Darlington hosted the Southern 500 on Labor Day weekend for more than 50 years
Darlington Speedway is returning "to its traditional Labor Day weekend," one of a "handful of changes" to the '15 NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule, according to Jim Utter of the CHARLOTTE OBSERVER. The Southern 500 was held on Labor Day weekend from '50-'03 before Darlington’s "lone Cup series date moved to Mother’s Day weekend." This season, the race "was held April 12." Atlanta Motor Speedway, which is hosting the Labor Day weekend race this year, "will move to the second race of the season." Additionally, the spring race weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway, which has "been beset by attendance problems," will move from the middle of March to the middle of April. The 10 Chase for the Sprint Cup races "remain the same." NBC will "kick off its return as a broadcast partner" with the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona Int'l Speedway on Sunday night, July 5. The race "traditionally is held on Saturday night," and DIS officials said that it "would return" in '16 (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 8/27). USA TODAY's Jeff Gluck notes the Atlanta change means Phoenix Int'l Raceway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway -- formerly the second and third races of the season -- "are now part of a Western tripleheader with Auto Club Speedway in Southern California." Kentucky Speedway's race weekend "moves from late June to July 11, bumping New Hampshire Motor Speedway one week later and eliminating the traditional July weekend off in favor of one in June." NASCAR also "added a third weekend off in late August before the final two races of the regular season, which could give drivers and teams a much-needed breather" before the Chase. It also could "give teams revving up for the title run extra time to prepare" (USA TODAY, 8/27).

SOUTHERN COMFORT
: In South Carolina, Lou Bezjak notes fans and drivers "have been clamoring for Darlington to get this date back since NASCAR moved it." The date change "works with Darlington’s marketing campaign to highlight its history going forward into next year’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 weekend." The move back to Labor Day weekend gives track President Chip Wile and his staff "more than a year to get ready for next year’s race." The "only obstacle of having the race move backed to Labor Day is having to compete with college football" (Florence MORNING NEWS, 8/27). ESPN.com's Ryan McGee wrote NASCAR, in a "rare about-face, is finally putting the right race back into its rightful place" on the schedule. It is the "lone bold move of a largely business-as-usual calendar rollout." McGee: "Race fans, you have been handed a second Southern 500 life." A chance to "prove that you actually are the stock car traditionalists that so many always claim to be." NASCAR admitting a "mistake by undoing an old, unpopular decision is an event that comes along ... well, never." If this "doesn't work, there won't be a third chance" (ESPN.com, 8/26).

FEELIN' KINDA SUNDAY: DIS President Joie Chitwood III said of the Coke Zero 400's move to Sunday night, "As the schedule shakes out, Fox hands the baton off to NBC and Daytona gets their first race, and we think that is significant. As part of that, NBC wants to find a little of their Sunday night magic that they use for their No. 1 program, which is ‘Football Night in America.’" Chitwood added, "NBC wanted their first NASCAR event to be something special, so understanding that, we felt this was the right thing to do for 2015" (Daytona Beach NEWS-JOURNAL, 8/27). More Chitwood: "You think about the 10-year absence NBC has had from our sport and they're coming back in, we're going to do it Daytona-style: Big and bold. When you think about all the great promotions and elements that NBC has done for their 'Sunday Night Football' program, we expect the same kind of atmosphere, attitude, promotions around this event" ("NASCAR America," NBCSN, 8/26).

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER: NASCAR Exec VP/Racing Development Steve O'Donnell talked about putting the schedule together as Fox and NBC begin the first year of their new rights package. He said, "When you look at the collaboration that went into this year's schedule -- a lot of cooperation with all the track partners, a lot of discussions with all of our stakeholders and then most importantly looking at what's in the best interest of the fans -- I think we've netted-out a terrific schedule." He noted the drivers are "certainly vocal" about their opinions on the schedule and "we've got to take their input, which we do." O'Donnell: "We certainly factor that in, but then it's our job as a sanctioning body to really balance that and listen to all the stakeholders in the sport." FS1's Steve Byrnes noted there had been rumors that with NBC taking over for ESPN in broadcasting the second-half of the Cup season, the net might seek "radical changes to the schedule." O'Donnell said, "One of the things that probably gets lost sometimes is really deviating even a week on a race schedule is huge for our sport. Unlike other sports, we don't have six to eight home games where a fan can pick and choose what game they may go to. Fans make vacation plans sometimes years in advance. So for us to even change a week out of a market is a huge impact on a racetrack and on our fans" ("NASCAR Race Hub," FS1, 8/26).
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