(Photo: NASCAR Media)

Fire on Fridays: 7 Tracks With Ownership Capable of Cup Dates

Pandora’s box has been opened!

NASCAR announced earlier this week it’s moving one of the NASCAR Cup Series dates from Dover International Speedway to Nashville Superspeedway in 2021. With Nashville’s resurgence after having been abandoned since 2011, it brings to light many other tracks which people have claimed could never host a Cup race.

What made this Nashville move possible is that Dover Motorsports, Inc. owns both tracks, allowing NASCAR to take a race from Dover while still giving the company two race dates. A similar move was made in 2018 when one of New Hampshire Motor Speedway’s two dates was moved to Las Vegas Motor Speedway, as both tracks are owned by Speedway Motorsports, Inc.

Many have expressed a desire to see a schedule shakeup in 2021 featuring some new tracks. But I have a hard time believing NASCAR will work with many new track ownership groups, and I expect Cup to not get away entirely from the track companies it has dealt with for the past several decades: SMI, DMI and MattCo Inc. Additionally, NASCAR now owns International Speedway Corporation, and Penske Entertainment Group now owns Indianapolis Motor Speedway, so expect NASCAR to continue relationships with those tracks.

Based on this, here are seven tracks that could be added to Cup by one of those five companies, and one track from another method. I’m not saying any of these will happen; in fact, some shouldn’t. But given that NASCAR just revived Nashville, which had been dead for nine years, truly anything is possible.

1. South Boston Speedway

This seems like the most logical choice and one that could actually work. South Boston is owned by MattCo, which also owns Pocono Raceway. Pocono is trying out a doubleheader this year to try to save it from losing one of its races. It won’t go over well, so when it doesn’t work, MattCo should move one of the dates to SoBo.

SoBo hosted the Cup Series from 1960-71, the NASCAR Xfinity Series from its inception to 2000 and the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series from 2001-03. It continues to be one of the premier weekly short track venues in the country.

Here’s where people usually chime in with, “South Boston doesn’t have the amenities to support Cup.” Neither did Bristol Motor Speedway, Martinsville Speedway or Richmond Raceway until owners put money into them and built them up. Sure, they’ll have to add SAFER barriers, renovate the suites and press box and add additional grandstands. But Nashville is about to have to make many of the same upgrades (it already has SAFER barriers, but it has just been sitting there for nine years and needs maintenance).

One of NASCAR’s biggest problems of the past two decades was it got too big for its britches. A return to SoBo would be a throwback to the series’ roots. Plus, fans have been begging for more short tracks for years, but there hasn’t been one added to the schedule since 1971 (no, Phoenix Raceway is not a short track). If NASCAR wants to try out midweek races again next year, I can’t imagine a better track. It’s just under three hours from Charlotte, and it would likely sell out its 10,000 seats (plus whatever additional seating is added), just like Nashville will likely do with its 25,000-plus.

When NASCAR added Nashville, it opened the floodgate for tracks like this, and SoBo has the ownership to make it happen. At the very least Xfinity or Trucks should race there instead of Pocono.

2. North Wilkesboro Speedway

SMI has put tons of effort recently into getting a Cup race at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway, a track it doesn’t even own. And every attempt seems to be met with pushback, be it the government, local citizens, etc. Racing there seems to be a pipe dream at this point, and some would also cite a return to North Wilkesboro as one as well. But SMI actually owns North Wilkesboro, so it’s free to do almost whatever it wants with it. The Nashville move makes this one seem much more possible.

A return to Wilkes County, N.C., seems much more feasible than going to the Fairgrounds. The only thing really holding it back is money, but would it cost as much of an astronomical price of the recent renovations to Phoenix and Richmond that did very little to the actual track (granted, both of those tracks are owned by ISC, not SMI)? Plus, the property is just sitting there not earning SMI one cent. What good is that doing the company except for maybe some tax breaks?

North Wilkesboro has had a bit of a revival this year, with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and a team cleaning up the track for iRacing to scan it. If this recent boost doesn’t lead to the track’s resurrection, it will never happen.

Bringing this track back would also give fans a strongly desired new short track. The track was selling out its 60,000 seats when Cup  left. NASCAR would love a crowd like that these days. NASCAR would gain back a lot of favor with fans by moving one of the Vegas or Texas Motor Speedway dates to one of its original tracks.

3. Iowa Speedway

Are you noticing a common short track theme yet? It’s almost like the Cup Series hasn’t added a short track since 1971. Oh, wait.

Iowa is a fun track that has produced some great racing in Xfinity and Trucks. The biggest problem the track has is that the attendance has been terrible, which is why I put it lower than SoBo and North Wilkesboro. But it might provide the kind of entertainment to get Cup TV ratings up, which is more important than attendance. Plus, a Cup race is always going to draw more of a crowd than Xfinity or Trucks, and the track only has a 30,000-person capacity.

Iowa is owned by NASCAR, and now that NASCAR owns ISC, I imagine a swap between that and an ISC-owned track would be easier. I don’t see Michigan International Speedway keeping two dates, so one should move to Iowa.

4. Detroit or Chicago Street Course

NASCAR has been entertaining the idea of having a street course for a few years now, and Roger Penske’s group has put on an IndyCar doubleheader at the Belle Isle Park street course in Detroit for several years. With NASCAR once again having a relationship with Penske as a track owner in addition to a team owner, the pair could collaborate to put on a street race.

Since Penske has experience organizing a street course in Detroit, doing a street course there would make sense. Plus, working with Penske on a Detroit course could also give NASCAR a fair swap if it finally gives up on Indianapolis. Wouldn’t a street race in Motor City be awesome?

The Detroit race is pure speculation, but there have actually been rumblings that NASCAR could try out a street course in Chicago. That could be a good alternative if NASCAR pulls the plug on Chicagoland Speedway, which it now owns. It’d also be smart to try to enlist Penske’s people for that course as well.

I hate street course racing, as there’s very little passing. But NASCAR and some fans seem to want it, and it would be fun to see how they would look doing it at least once.

5/6. Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta & Sebring International Raceway

In addition to more short tracks, fans also plea for more road courses. Xfinity races at Road America and Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, but those tracks aren’t owned by any of Cup’s current track owners, so it’s hard to imagine a switch to them. However, NASCAR owns Road Atlanta and Sebring through IMSA, so it wouldn’t be as difficult to swap around dates with current ISC tracks.

The odds of either of these happening seem slim, especially for Road Atlanta, as the city of Atlanta already has one track with a Cup date. But if you had asked me last week what the odds were of Nashville hosting a 2021 Cup date, I would’ve also said they were slim. A race at either track has a lot of potential.

7. Lucas Oil Raceway

The last track on this list is the least likely to get a Cup date, as it is the only one that NASCAR or one of its current partners doesn’t own. And as long as there is a Cup race at IMS, the odds for this are significantly lower.

But the city of Indianapolis consistently ranks in the top five in NASCAR’s highest TV ratings. If there’s any area outside of the Southeast that should get a second Cup venue, this is it. Or NASCAR could just give the IMS date to LOR since the former does not produce great racing or high attendance.

LOR, formerly known as Indianapolis Raceway Park, was a mainstay on the Xfinity and Truck schedules from both series’ inception until 2011, when once again, NASCAR got too big and moved Xfinity to IMS. We just witnessed one former Xfinity and Truck track rise from the ashes of 2011 to host a Cup race, something it had never done previously. Why couldn’t lightning strike twice?

NHRA currently owns LOR, and maybe it could work out a NASCAR/NHRA doubleheader that would be beneficial to both parties. For example, NASCAR could take a bigger cut of the TV money than it does at most tracks, and in exchange, NHRA would get a higher attendance for the weekend and more national exposure than it regularly gets. Both parties would benefit, but the fans would be the biggest winners, getting another great short track on the schedule.

Michael Finley contributed research to this article. 

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter
I agree to have my personal information transfered to AWeber ( more information )
A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

Michael Massie is a writer for Frontstretch. Massie, a Richmond, Va. native, has been a NASCAR superfan since childhood, when he frequented races at Richmond International Raceway. Massie is a lover of short track racing and travels around to the ones in his region. Outside of motorsports, the Virginia Tech grad can be seen cheering on his beloved Hokies.

Support Frontstretch on Patreon

Check Also

Xfinity Breakdown: Chase Briscoe Takes Exciting 2020 Pennzoil 150 Win At Indianapolis

From 2012 to 2019, the NASCAR Xfinity Series has turned over 600 laps on the …

Did You Notice?: Jimmie Johnson, NASCAR Brickyard 400 Can’t Run From COVID-19… Or Politics

Did You Notice?… Jimmie Johnson became the first NASCAR Cup Series driver to test positive for …

12 comments

  1. Avatar

    Some of these don’t fly for Cup….if that word was replaced with “NASCAR” – ie. Cup/Xfinity/Truck – the possibilities become much greater.

    No mention of COTA – SMI has to accept that they don’t own NASCAR in Texas, but the real question is what is given up, and by which group with dates currently, to go to ANY new track.

    Iowa – yes, Cup could race there – Kansas was originally one date – ISC>NASCAR control

    SoBo – could be interesting, but regionally we already have the 2 true short tracks in the same area of the country.

    North Wilkes – a money pit if it was to ever be brought back to contemporary “state of the art”. Same is true for Nashville Fairgrounds, in reality, but the weeds just aren’t allowed to grow there.

    Atlanta or Sebring road courses – certainly better than a street race, don’t know that support & infrastructure is up to NASCAR standards. Track access to RA is a 2-lane highway off of I-85.

    Chicago street course – could be a winner, not sure the lakefront folks would appreciate the noise or blue-collar presence, and they wouldn’t want to upset the inmates at the Lincoln Park Zoo.

    For a street course, how about giving Long Beach a try before doing something somewhere else?

    Thinking outside the box here – there is a track that for sale that could become “Bristol West” – Kern Co Raceway in Bakersfield CA. 1/2 mile banked asphalt, plenty of room to grow, right on Interstate 5. Start with Trucks and work toward Cup in 3 to 5 years.

    LOR – if the Indy Cup date was to go on the chopping block, I can only imagine what the Penske group might try to do with it…..so many possibilities. For now, the best thing that could happen would be to resurrect the previous format for NASCAR at Indy – IMS for Cup, and LOR/IRP for Xfinity/Truck…..ARCA has raced there, too.

    Further outside the box – Laguna Seca (Xfinity) and expand trucks on dirt to the mile tracks in Springfield & DuQuoin, which ARCA currently races on annually.

    Final thoughts – I don’t think very much of this is possible with the rigid nature of the schedule, tracks with 2 race dates, weather, competition from other seasonal sports, unknown attendance response (beyond 1st year excitement) and a host of other considerations for accomodation of at-track attendance. At the very least, the addition of “new” venues could mean that 2-date tracks would need to go into a rotational pool where they get their 2 races every other year, or in some cases, every third year, but would be guaranteed to always have one race per year. If the “All Star” race was to go on the road, a track that “loses” it’s 2nd date by way of rotation could recover that date via having the A-S race come to town…..

    Big stretch – Milwaukee Mile, Road America (would make more sense for Cup to go here than Road Atlanta)

    • Avatar

      About Road Atlanta, it is closer to I-85, that is true, but it’s only 10 minutes from I-985 and most of that route is four lanes. There’s also a hospital nearby and numerous hotels in nearby cities. As for the facility itself, NASCAR (IMSA) owns the track so improvements are up to them.

      • Avatar

        good points, but a Cup race can generate a lot more traffic than other series, or at least it used to, so that last little bit of 2-lane will still pack in – does IMSA own or control any other tracks (I wasn’t aware IMSA owned any)? Daytona (via ISC>NASCAR) is obvious, not aware of any others.

        • Avatar

          Old info – 2014 article, may not be/probably is not 100% accurate

          “Humphrey, 46, will oversee the day-to-day operation of the three IMSA Properties: Road Atlanta in Braselton, Ga., Sebring International Raceway in Sebring, Fla. and the Chateau Elan Hotel & Conference Center, also in Sebring.” (and that last is obviously wrong, since Chateau Elan is adjacent to Road Atlanta)

  2. Avatar

    I would sure like Mr. Massie to provide a link to “the rumblings” he claims for a street race in Chicago. If he knew anything about this city he would realize that Unicorns will be wandering the Lakefront before any race will ever happen! Chicagoland Speedway is selling off a portion of unused land for industrial park development. The way things are going the rest of the track property may not be far behind.
    Milwaukee: NOT a chance, which is too bad it is a great track.
    If a nickel was handed out for every North Wilkesboro “if only” story, there would be enough money to actually do it. But in reality, NOT a chance….

    • Avatar

      LOL… I think he is guilty of only having half an article and realized he had to make a few up to fill it out. I’ll give him the first 3 as highly unlikely but feasible since the premise for any track to get a race is to already have one to move. But those last 4 might as well just be included as one entry named “Fantasy Land”.

  3. Avatar

    A South Boston for Pocono swap makes perfect sense. Street courses used concurrently with other events (Long Beach, St. Pete, Detroit) could make sense. The amount of time it takes to set up and tear down is a huge inconvenience to any city. It almost killed the Indy Car race in Detroit. Almost all of the 1.5 mile or greater tracks have road courses in them. The cost to make the Roval Nascar ready was small (in relative terms). Conspicuous by its absence was Rockingham. I’m not sure who owns it, whether its already a parking lot, etc., but it produced great racing. It, like Wilkesboro, couldn’t attract enough people to keep the gate open. In the final analysis, more variety is good, but only as good as the TV contract and the gate receipts permit. We got into this situation because you could only put so many seats around a little race track. Now the crowd is just icing on the cake and TV will call the shots. Its not ‘all about the fans’, at the track anymore.

  4. Avatar

    South Boston and North Wilkesboro aren’t happening. SMI isn’t pumping tens of millions into NWB to run a Cup race in the “middle of nowhere” so close to Bristol. The Fairgrounds at least is in the middle of one of the fastest growing metro areas in the country. I also seriously doubt the Mattiolis have the capital on hand to upgrade South Boston. The road courses and/or street circuits seem the most likely. I strongly think Michigan is losing a race to either Road America or Mid-Ohio next year, and it seems NASCAR really wants to try a street circuit. Iowa should be considered for 2021. While attendance at Truck/Xfinity races hasn’t been good recently, I’m pretty sure a Cup race would sell out. One track that’s not on here I hope gets consideration is Gateway. The owners have done a ton of upgrades there and the Truck/IndyCar races have done well. The owners are also willing to run mid-week.

  5. Avatar

    This kind of speculation, while perhaps an interesting diversion, is completely pie-in-the-sky given the well-established pattern of moving NASCAR race dates around. Going back to the days when Bruton was building TMS it has been a consistent pattern that if you wanted to build a new track and get a NASCAR date for it, you needed to buy the date from someone who already owned that date. Hence North Wilkes was bought jointly by NHMS and Bruton and one of the two dates at North Wilkes went the TMS and the other to Loudon. If I remember correctly the second NASCAR date at TMS came from the purchase of half of the Rockingham pair of dates. I’ve lost track but I believe that the Pikes Peak NASCAR date was sold to Montreal and subsequently went to Mid-Ohio. The recent date change to Nashville Superspeedway came by the transfer of one of the Dover dates to a track that Dover also owned; hence the was no possibility of the date going to Nashville Fairgroudns without a lot of money changing hands (to Dover from the owner of the Fairgrounds track).
    So, unless one or more of the track owners referenced in this piece can get the current owners of race dates — and NASCAR — to agree to sell their date to one of the hopefuls, it will not happen in my lifetime.

  6. Avatar

    NA$CAR has been paper shuffling for years and can’t stop themselves.

    • Avatar

      You got em thinking. All of these are better racing than Vegas, Homestead. Chicagoland, St Louis, Indy, Pocono, etc.

      • Avatar

        Do some history on Pocono. It was, and can still be a great track. Pocono use to have 50 lead changes a race. The only thing that changed is the cars. Make the cars not be so aero dependent and racing might return. Pocono and Michigan would return to their glory days. Just look up how competitive the tracks were in the 80’s. The tracks are the same the cars got changed to where they can’t race around another car. The cars are wind tunnelled to run alone but someone forgot that Nascar races with 40 cars. Not Alone.