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Loudon dates intact

NASCAR back for two in 2012

By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / September 29, 2011

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NASCAR officials released the 2012 Sprint Cup schedule yesterday - via Twitter - but Jerry Gappens, executive vice president and general manager of New Hampshire Motor Speedway, let the cat out of the bag during prerace ceremonies for Sunday’s Sylvania 300 at Loudon, N.H.

Gappens drew a loud ovation from the estimated crowd of 95,000 when he told them NHMS would again host a pair of Sprint Cup races next season.

“I said when NASCAR releases its schedule, you’re going to see two Sprint Cup series races over the same two weekends in 2012,’’ Gappens said. “I said it was a tribute to the fans for supporting NASCAR here in New England, and they erupted in applause.’’

Was it a louder ovation than the one Dale Earnhardt Jr. got during driver introductions?

“It might have been close to that,’’ Gappens said. “New Englanders take these dates pretty serious, and so they were happy about it.’’

But there were a few alterations to the 2012 schedule.

The Daytona 500 will kick off the season Feb. 26 - one week later than its traditional spot - to avoid a conflict with the Super Bowl. Daytona also swapped its second date with Kentucky Speedway (June 30) and will host a midsummer race July 7, one week before the Lenox Industrial Tools 301 July 15 at NHMS.

While Talladega (Oct. 7) and Kansas (Oct. 21) swapped Chase dates, NHMS’s Chase race, the Sylvania 300, remained second in the lineup of 10 Chase dates Sept. 23.

“We tried to create a playoff atmosphere and make that [Chase] event a little bigger, and I think we did that,’’ Gappens said. “I’m proud of our team and I think we’re very worthy of being one of those 10 tracks that are part of the Chase.’’

NHMS had served as the launching point of the Chase since NASCAR implemented the playoff format in 2004 until this year, when it ceded the leadoff spot to Chicagoland Speedway.

“I didn’t see any negative from it,’’ Gappens said. “The ticket sales were right there where they were last year and the fans seemed to respond well. I think it was kind of a neutral effect.’’

While NHMS’s Cup dates for 2012 are set in stone, the same cannot be said for the IndyCar Series, whose Aug. 14 event, the MoveThatBlock.com Indy 225, drew a little more than 30,000 and resulted in the track absorbing a huge financial loss.

Gappens said Bruton Smith, chairman and CEO of Speedway Motorsports Inc., parent company of NHMS, was planning to meet with IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard tomorrow in Indianapolis to discuss IndyCar’s future in Loudon.

“We got a lot of positive feedback from the fans who attended - the problem was we didn’t hit our expectation on the attendance,’’ said Gappens, who was hoping to draw 40,000-45,000 for IndyCar’s return to NHMS after a 13-year hiatus. “We took a pretty big financial loss hosting the event and you can’t continue to do that.

“Bruton said we had to change the financial template of this if it was going to come back. It had to be with a different arrangement with the IndyCar Series, whether it’s a reduction in purse or sanction.

“As I said, I have nothing negative to say about the event, other than the fact we didn’t sell enough tickets.’’

Michael Vega can be reached at vega@globe.com.


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