NASCAR shuffles its 2011 schedule

NASCAR will open the 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup title at Chicagoland Speedway, shifting the start of its 10-race playoff format to the second largest media market the series serves.
“I can’t think of a better market than Chicago and the Chicago-land area to kick off NASCAR’s version of the playoffs,” track president Craig Rust said in an announcement made Monday in Chicago with NASCAR official.
It was the first major change officially confirmed in what’s expected to be several significant shifts to the 2011 Sprint Cup schedule.
Kansas Speedway and Kentucky Speedway have called news conferences for today to announce their 2011 schedules. Kansas will announce the addition of a second race date, while Kentucky will announce its inaugural Cup date.
Based on the tentative 2011 schedule for the second-tier Nationwide Series sent to race teams by NASCAR last week, the added Kansas race date will likely be June 5 and Kentucky’s debut Cup race will be July 9.
NASCAR has a “TBD” for June 4 on the Nationwide schedule, while July 8 has a Nationwide race at Kentucky.

Prime spot for Chi-Town
Chicago, meanwhile, trades its traditional July night race for a prime spot on the NASCAR schedule. Rust acknowledged that a Sunday afternoon race in September will require significant marketing to compete against the NFL’s Chicago Bears, as well as potential baseball pennant races.
“You can’t run from it,” Rust said. “You have to get out there and compete, and we think by opening the Chase, this makes us a stronger event.”
Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s senior vice president of racing operations, said Chicago will be the only new market added to the 10-race Chase. It will replace Auto Club Speedway in California, which will lose its fall race to Kansas.
Auto Club Speedway, in Fontana, Calif., serves the largest media market of all NASCAR tracks, but has struggled selling tickets and has long been seen as a candidate to lose one of its Cup dates.
California’s lone race in 2011 is expected to be the fourth event, on March 27. The track drew well when it ran just a spring race, but struggled to fill seats when it expanded to two races and took over the second spot on the schedule.

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JENNA FRYER / The Associated Press