A Tale Of Two Schedules

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CHICAGO -- Two series, two very different schedules.

One series has a schedule busting out all over, the other series is happy to give its schedule a growth spurt.

In 2001, the NASCAR Winston Cup Series schedule will increase to 36 dates. Although still in the works, the Indy Racing Northern Light Series could expand from nine to as many as 11 or 12 races, if organizers had their way.

While appearing at Navy Pier in Chicago, drivers from the NASCAR Series and IRNLS founder Tony George were upbeat, discussing the addition of dates at Chicagoland Speedway and Kansas Speedway. Most of their comments, for the most part, had a Midwest flavor.

Indiana native Tony Stewart explained the proximity of Chicagoland Speedway to the Hoosier State gives him the chance to catch up with friends and family. Quite often, the only time he finds time to spend with them is when he travels to Indianapolis for the Brickyard 400.

Stewart has a competitive spirit, so the extra dates don’t bother him in the least.

"It’s another race, and that’s why I joined the series -- because I could run 34 races a year, and now I can run 36 next year," Stewart indicated. "I want to race all the time anyway, so I’m really excited about having two more races.

"To have new places coming up, it shows how strong NASCAR Winston Cup racing and Busch Grand National racing are."

While growing up in Cambridge, Wis., Matt Kenseth wanted the chance to see a NASCAR race, but there were no tracks within driving distance.

"When I was younger, I was hoping there would have been a NASCAR race closer to home, and the closest place we could probably go to was Michigan. So, it’s exciting to get a race here in the Midwest pretty close to my hometown or only a few hours away," Kenseth said.

Even though the schedule is busy, the Roush Racing rookie feels that the more he races, the more he learns. Since Kansas Speedway and Chicagoland Speedway are new, Kenseth thinks all competitors will start on the same page in regards to learning the track’s nuances.

"A lot of these places I go to now, people have years and years of notes and experience on, and it’s a little harder for us to get caught up to that. When you come to a new venue like this, we’re all starting from scratch," he said. "None of us have notebooks on it or any notes to fall back on, so we’re not at quite at the same disadvantage."

In many respects, team owner and driver Kyle Petty takes a business-like approach when he considers the new tracks.

To Petty, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is on a completely different level compared to any other track located in the Midwest.

"All the history and everything that they have at the Motor Speedway there is an incredible place but to come here and be able to open up a new venue, in a new city and have Winston Cup cars run there the first year is phenomenal for our sponsors and for our series itself," Petty said.

"I think the important is the city of Chicago itself, it’s a huge market. I know you guys (the media) are going to get tired of hearing that, but basically, that’s what Winston Cup racing is all about to a large degree is marketing."

The third-generation driver, whose grandfather, Lee, competed at Soldier Field in Chicago, realizes he’ll have to take a serious look at the workload of the team at Petty Enterprises.

"As a driver, yeah, I’m looking forward to racing more, I’d race every weekend. As a team owner and as a team crew member, it gets a little tougher. You know team-owner wise it costs a little more, crew-member wise it’s another week away from your family," Petty said.

"You know, we may have to start evaluating the way we race as far as how we set teams and how we do things and maybe we give some guys two weeks on and one week off. Kind of like a fireman-type schedule, 48 (hours) on, 24 off, something like that."

George, clearly keeping in touch with his Midwest roots, feels that the addition of venues and dates to the open wheel IRNLS can only lead to success

"I think we’ve really lacked Midwest venues for the first five years of the Indy Racing League and this really is a great time for us. Hopefully, we’re going to announce the balance of our schedule later this month or early June, and it will include more Midwest venues," George explained.

"Obviously, having more races where there is a nucleus of open-wheel fans is important. We’re working very hard to add as many as we can. I think available to us, potentially, 3 or 4 more Midwest venues. It’s premature to talk about those until they’re a little closer to being finalized, and we hope to have 14 or so races on the schedule next year."

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2000

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