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Schedule squeezes two more tracks in


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 9, 2000

The Winston Cup schedule just got a little more crowded.

NASCAR announced Monday it will expand the schedule by two points races to 36 next year, with events at new tracks in Joliet, Ill., and Kansas City, Kan.

The 38-week season, which includes the Bud Shootout and The Winston, both non-points events, will be the longest of NASCAR's modern era, which began in 1972.

Chicagoland Speedway, about 30 miles from Chicago, will hold its Winston Cup event July15, 2001. There also will be a July14 Busch Series race and an Indy Racing series event Sept. 2.

The Kansas track, about 10 miles from downtown Kansas City, Mo., will hold its Winston Cup race Sept. 30. There will be a Busch race Sept. 29. The track will open July8 with an Indy Racing event.

Both tracks will be 11/2-mile ovals and seat about 75,000.

Tracks in Las Vegas, Texas, California and Homestead have been clamoring for second Winston Cup dates. But Mike Helton, NASCAR's chief operating officer, said that is not in their plans.

"Our strategy is to capitalize on other opportunities in new areas," Helton said. "What's worthwhile is going to new market areas. That's where the car sponsors and teams say they want to go instead of going back to a facility where we've already been."

It had been expected NASCAR would take away races from one or more of the 12 tracks that have two dates, but Helton gave no indication that would happen before next season.

The date given to Joliet was open. Kansas' date is occupied by Martinsville's fall race weekend, which will be rescheduled. Helton said the schedule could be released in July.

The Kansas track is owned by International Speedway Corp., which is directed by the family of the late Bill France Sr., NASCAR's founder. At Joliet, ISC is a partner with Indy Racing founder Tony George.

The expansion also comes just six months after NASCAR signed a $2.4-billion, six-year television package with Fox and NBC/Turner.

Chicago is the nation's third-largest television market. Kansas City is 31st.

"So much of professional sports has become big business, so big markets are a key part of that," Winston Cup driver Jeremy Mayfield said. "The schedule is going to be busier, but the trade-off for our fans and for our sponsors is going to be worth it."

BODINE'S RETURN: Geoffrey Bodine couldn't make it to the end of Saturday's Winston Cup Pontiac Excitement 400 at Richmond. But his first race since sustaining serious injuries in a horrific crash during a February truck race at Daytona was a success.

Bodine, who qualified fourth, drove until Lap 183, when fatigue forced him to give the car to brother, Todd, who had been knocked out of the race on Lap 42.

Todd drove the No. 60 Chevrolet to 13th, its best finish of the season.

"I just thank God I was here," Geoffrey said.

"I just couldn't let him down," Todd said. "He had a good car and he knew it in practice. ... It's a shame we got two laps down. We could have been racing them for the win."

TIRE TROUBLE: How delicately balanced are auto racing tires? Ask Formula One driver Jacques Villeneuve, who started Sunday's Spanish Grand Prix with left and right tires which had been inadvertently switched.

"Jacques' car was impossible to drive," said Jock Clear, engineer for British American Racing. "It's our fault. We put his tires on backwards. The car's top speed and equilibrium were affected right away."

Villeneuve was sixth when he retired with engine trouble after coming out of his first pit stop on Lap 21.

ODDS AND ENDS: Thomas Ferrel Harris, who raced on the ARCA circuit in four decades and won the 1983 ARCA 200 at Daytona, died Sunday of a heart attack. He was 59. ... NASCAR Truck series team owner Jim Smith has formed a partnership with Winston Cup owner Jim Mattei to form Ultra Mattei Motorsports. Mattei's No. 7 team will retain driver Michael Waltrip and crew chief Bobby Kennedy. Smith's truck team, with driver Mike Wallace, has two wins and five top-five finishes this season.

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