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Food City -Bristol partnership roots run deep
RELATED: Bristol quick facts " Full weekend schedule BRISTOL, Tenn. – It began with a promotion to help former series sponsor RJ Reynolds sell product. Today, 25 years later, the Food City sponsorship of Bristol Motor Speedway 's spring NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event is as strong as ever. It is the second-longest race entitlement in NASCAR – trailing only the Coca-Cola sponsorship of the 600-mile May race at Charlotte Motor Speedway . "We started in 1992, followed up the Valleydale 500 ," Steve Smith , Food City President and CEO, said Thursday at BMS. "That was back when it was still Winston Cup. We worked with RJ Reynolds on a promotion ... that was the whole genesis of us getting involved in racing." Initially, it wasn't a long-term deal, but by the time the next season had arrived, officials with the grocery chain were ready and willing to return. "We signed the (initial) agreement and we had a great first race," Smith said. "Alan Kulwicki actually won our first race in 1992; I remember that well. We were off and running." Kulwicki, an owner/driver, went on to win the series title that season. Tragically, the following year he was killed in a plane crash while en route to BMS to defend his Food City 500 title. Smith said his company, founded by his father Jack, became involved at the right time in the sport, when the fan base was on the upswing, TV coverage was gaining traction and sponsorship dollars were flowing. "What happened with Bristol was really indicative of what was happening with NASCAR, it was just growing and growing," he said. "Five years later Bruton (Smith, Speedway Motorsports Inc. founder) bought the track and things just really started to escalate here with the amenities and the things that they did for the race fans. ... Folks love coming here, they love the racing environment, and they love, I think, the southern hospitality. "We try, as a sponsor, to do a lot of things to get them in here a little bit early, whether it's Food City Race Night or other events to really make it a full week of fun for the race fan." In addition to the Sprint Cup race sponsorship, the company also sponsors the August NASCAR XFINITY Series event at Bristol. While there have been times that spending money on race entitlement rights might have been questionable, Smith said "I don't think there's ever been a time when we really thought about dropping the race. "Now, we've negotiated pretty tough with Speedway Motorsports because obviously the fan base dropped a little bit, the viewership dropped a little bit, but when you've got folks like (former BMS General Manager) Jeff Byrd and (current GM) Jerry Caldwell that you know are going to do everything they can to give the race fan, our customers, that experience, it makes it pretty easy to continue to spend the dollars and continue to keep our associates that work in our stores involved in racing, and that's a big part of it, too." The return for Food City , he said, comes in many forms. No. 1 is name recognition. "We're a relatively small regional company -- we're in four states, 135 stores, 16,000 associates," Smith said. "It sounds like a lot but in the scheme of things compared to some of our competition, it's not. But it's a sense of pride for our associates, our customers who know we sponsor racing. "NASCAR fans are very loyal, they're loyal to the brands that are involved whether it's Food City or other consumer products sponsors. We think it helps us sell more products and bring more people in to our stores." In February of 2014, Food City and BMS officials announced a five-year extension for the naming rights of the track's spring Sprint Cup race. "At the end of the day, it's hard to put a financial statement together that proves that it's a great spend, but we've been doing good ever since we been sponsoring racing so we don't want to stop there," Smith said.
Gordon's love for Charlotte lasting, 22 years after first win
Photo credit: Charlotte Motor Speedway CONCORD, N.C. – With its close proximity to race shops, Charlotte Motor Speedway is known as the home track for most of the NASCAR community. But Tuesday's gathering at the 1.5-mile speedway had more of a tourist feel, as fans hailed from places near and far. There was the man from Bakersfield, California, – "Harvick country," he states proudly – the fan from Switzerland, the Canadian couple and everyone in between. They wore different numbers on their shirts and spoke with different accents, but they were all there to see one man. Mr. Jeff Gordon . The FOX Sports analyst and four-time NASCAR champion helped celebrate the 10 Days of NASCAR Thunder leading up to Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 (6 p.m. ET, FOX, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) by taking photos with 100 Charlotte ticketholders. Despite Gordon's retirement following his championship run last season, the fandom was as feverous as ever, as each visitor itched to exchange a few words with the former No. 24 driver. "It's slightly different (now) because many of them say a lot of the same things, 'I wish you were out there,' (or) 'I miss you being out there,'" Gordon said of the fans. "But I'm getting a lot of great comments about being up in the booth, so it's nice. I'm enjoying myself, so I think it comes across in the broadcast and interacting with the fans, I get to hear that from them as well." Gordon stood on the roof of Champion's Pavilion with the fans, giving the group a birds-eye view of the quad oval. The track is impressive; a feeling Gordon reciprocates, as he recalls the first time he laid eyes on it. "I think it doesn't mean the same to everybody," Gordon said, "but for me, the very first time I ever came to North Carolina … when I drove by this facility, I was blown away. I'd seen Indianapolis Motor Speedway , but beyond that, I'd never seen anything that looked like this. Just the appearance of it put me in awe." Gordon found success at Charlotte early in his career, earning a runner-up result in his first race at the North Carolina track in 1993. And on Sunday, he'll broadcast his first Coca-Cola 600 ; 22 years after he earned his first-ever win in the Cup Series in the '94 running of the 600-mile event. RELATED: See all the winners of the longest race in NASCAR But Gordon's love affair with Charlotte began before the Victory Lane celebration. "When I drove a stock car here for the first time, I just fell in love with it," Gordon said. "I love the way the track flows, the banking, the grip level, bumps and everything that comes along with it. And of course, winning my first race, having it happen in the 600." The longest race on the Cup circuit, the Coca-Cola 600 has long been revered as one of NASCAR's biggest races – one of the sport's "Majors," as Gordon says. "Daytona, here, Brickyard, maybe a Southern 500 , some would also say Talladega." Gordon said, rattling off a list of stock car racing's biggest events. "But this is a big, big deal to win this race. To me, it's probably second or third ranking in our series as far as most prestigious events." Winning the coveted Coca-Cola 600 trophy is no easy feat – the man who has won three of those races can tell you that. With the cars being more advanced today and eliminating some of the physical aspect, Gordon emphasizes the continued need for mental toughness. "You're talking about a minimum of four hours being in the car," Gordon said. "Pit crews, crew chiefs, everyone's on edge, not just the drivers … (They're) pushing the limits every single lap, which is not the way it used to be. You used to pace yourself and be able to manage the tires and your car and you could still be competitive at the end of the day – if you were in one piece. "That's not the case anymore – it's just all out. So, that mentally drains you by pushing that hard for that period of time." RELATED: Gordon embraces new career with 'contagious' energy The task of taming a 600-mile monster is daunting, especially for younger drivers. Gordon's No. 24 replacement Chase Elliott prepares to make his second Coca-Cola 600 start. Elliott, now in his rookie season, started 28th and finished 18th in the 2015 Coca-Cola 600 , then driving the No. 25 for Hendrick Motorsports . As for any advice from the former boss of the No. 24? Gordon said his 20-year-old successor doesn't need it. "I haven't had to give him much advice on the race track," Gordon said. "He's a natural … He gets better every weekend. "I'm excited for that 24 team. I had to defend a lot with fans being upset about them keeping the No. 24 and I said, 'Just wait, just wait, I think you're going to be proud of the results.' And now, I'm starting to see everybody's now saying, 'What a great replacement for the 24!' " Gordon's statement was validated by fans sporting Elliott-themed shirts earlier, with one young boy – who will likely grow up knowing Elliott, rather than Gordon, as the No. 24 driver -- wearing a blue NAPA hat. Gordon loves it. "Listen, I love seeing the sport grow," he said. "I'm still heavily involved in the sport, not just from the FOX side, but from Hendrick Motorsports . And I think the sport is amazing right now. The racing is as good as it's ever been. We have some great young talents. Not to mention veterans that are doing great things … I'm all for bringing new fans and seeing fans get excited about it, people like Chase or Ryan Blaney or Kyle Larson . "I support it 100 percent."
NASCAR to honor fallen troops with 600 Miles of Remembrance
DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. (May 23, 2016) -- Continuing the sport's long-standing tradition of honoring the United States Armed Forces, all 40 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers will bear the name of a fallen service member on their race car windshields during Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway (6 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), NASCAR announced today. For the second consecutive year, "600 Miles of Remembrance" will pay tribute this Memorial Day Weekend to those who bravely served and died defending our country. Windshield headers normally reserved for drivers' last names will read "SGT HARVEY," "LCPL RAMIREZ," and "SPC BEAUDOIN," among other names of the fallen. The special tribute will commemorate the launch of NASCAR: An American Salute ™, the industry's collective expression of respect and gratitude for members of the U.S. Armed Forces, past and present. Fans can follow the conversation on social media using #NASCARsalutes. "Each of the names proudly displayed on these race cars tells a story of honor and sacrifice," said Brent Dewar, NASCAR chief operating officer. "As the NASCAR industry reflects on Memorial Day Weekend, we’re proud to honor these and all fallen service members in a way that helps ensure their stories and lives are never forgotten." Many of the service members whose names will be displayed on the race cars were chosen by the teams, and some have unique connections to the fallen. Navy SEAL Denis Miranda, who was killed in a helicopter crash in Kabul, Afghanistan in 2010, trained in BUD/S alongside Graham Molatch, jackman for the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing team. Miranda’s name will appear on Kyle Larson 's car during the Coca-Cola 600 . Lance Corporal Scott Lynch served in the United States Marine Corps with Mark Singleton, tire changer for Chip Ganassi Racing , and will be honored on Jamie McMurray 's No. 1 car. Furniture Row Racing employee John Parks served in the Marines with Jeffrey Bohr, Jr., a gunnery sergeant who was killed during Operation Iraqi Freedom and whose name will be carried on Martin Truex Jr . 's No. 78 car. Toyota will also honor the names of fallen service members on its pace cars and grand marshal cars for the Coca-Cola 600 as part of 600 Miles of Remembrance. Many of the families of the service members being recognized will be in attendance at Charlotte Motor Speedway . The track will host more than 6,000 active military members at the Coca-Cola 600 in honor of Memorial Day. Throughout the week, NASCAR: An American Salute will feature various activities demonstrating the industry's support for the military, including: · During Saturday’s Hisense 4K TV 300 , NASCAR XFINITY Series drivers will display red, white and blue XFINITY windshield decals on their race cars. · Goodyear will replace the "Eagle" sidewall design with "Support Our Troops" messaging on all tires used during the Memorial Day Weekend races. · NASCAR, Coca-Cola and Mars, through the annual military support program, DeCA, will offer a sweepstakes to shoppers at more than 180 commissaries who will have a chance to win a trip for two to NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion’s Week in Las Vegas. The kickoff event will take place at Fort Bragg on May 25 and feature No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin . The 2016 DAYTONA 500 winner will tour the Warrior Transition Battalion Unit and visit with families at the South Commissary. · In partnership with Operation Gratitude, Mars will invite race fans to help assemble care packages for the troops in the midway at Charlotte Motor Speedway . The care packages will include Mars candy and be shipped following the Coca-Cola 600 to deployed military members. · NASCAR and Honor and Remember, Inc. will display specially prepared Honor and Remember flags representing those who lost their life in service to our country from each of the 50 United States throughout the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series garage at Charlotte Motor Speedway . During the Coca Cola 600 pre-race broadcast (5:30 p.m. ET, FOX), FOX Sports will recognize all service members who have lost their lives in the past year by displaying their names and branch of service on a graphic scroll. This Sunday, NASCAR drivers will discuss 600 Miles of Remembrance on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (channel 90) during a special military tribute show airing at 1 p.m. ET. The Dialed In Salute to the Troops special, hosted by Claire B. Lang, will feature interviews with several drivers as well as service men and service women from different branches of the military. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ Coca-Cola 600 will be broadcast live from Charlotte Motor Speedway at 6 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. Additional live coverage can be found on NASCAR.com . To view an online gallery of the service members honored as part of 600 Miles of Remembrance, visit www.NASCAR.com/salute .
Hall of Fame preview: Mark Martin amongst contenders
RELATED: Meet 2017's nominees Mark Martin will be one of 20 people considered for induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame when the Voting Panel convenes in Charlotte on Wednesday to determine the 2017 class. Three of those on the ballot are former premier series champions -- Red Byron, NASCAR's first Strictly Stock champion in 1949; Benny Parsons, the 1973 winner who went on to enjoy a successful second career in the broadcast booth; and Alan Kulwicki, killed in a plane crash just four-and-a-half months after capturing the 1992 crown. There was no championship trophy for Martin, who retired from competition at the end of the 2013 season. But that doesn't diminish the accomplishments the Batesville, Arkansas, native garnered during a career that spanned more than three decades. Martin, 57, won 40 times in the premier series, with victories coming at 21 different tracks. He finished 10th or better 453 times, in more than half of his 882 career starts. He also won 56 poles. RELATED: Live stream, 5 p.m. ET, Wednesday In the battle for the championship, Martin placed second five times, a mark he shares with current Hall of Fame member Bobby Allison, and he scored 17 top-10 points finishes during his career. "It makes me proud I was able to be as successful as I was and grateful for the opportunities I had," Martin told Little Rock, Arkansas, radio station KABZ-FM recently. "To be real honest I didn't enjoy a … significant part of my career because I was trying so hard to get that championship because I wanted it, and even more than that, the people who supported me wanted it for me so badly. I saw time running out. "I spent too much of my time focused on that and not enjoying the opportunities I had. Today, when I look back on it I wish I hadn't done that." Martin lost the 1990 title by 26 points to Dale Earnhardt and finished second to the Richard Childress Racing driver again four years later. Other runner-up finishes through the years came against Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson . "My life would not be different one bit had I won one of those or not," Martin said. "I had a great career. … I don't think it would have changed a thing in my life had I won one of those trophies. I was very close. I got beat by only four of the greatest of all time in NASCAR in my opinion. … "I'm not embarrassed." Earnhardt was one of five members inducted into the Hall’s inaugural class in 2010. Gordon, a four-time series champion with 93 career victories, retired from driving at the end of 2015 and won't be eligible for Hall of Fame consideration until 2018 and possible induction until '19. Stewart, winner of three premier series titles and co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing , will cease to compete full time in the series following the 2016 season. Johnson is a six-time champion and boasts 77 career wins, including two thus far this season. In addition to his premier series exploits, Martin held the XFINITY Series record for career wins for 14 years and is also a seven-time winner in the Camping World Truck Series. It is his second consecutive appearance on the Hall of Fame ballot. First-year nominees for the 2017 ballot are former Camping World Truck Series champion Ron Hornaday Jr ., team co-owner Jack Roush, driver Ricky Rudd, noted crew chief and engine builder Waddell Wilson and broadcaster Ken Squier. Rounding out the list of nominees are Buddy Baker, Richard Childress, Ray Evernham, Ray Fox, Rick Hendrick, Harry Hyde, Hershel McGriff, Raymond Parks, Larry Phillips, Mike Stefanik and Robert Yates. Also to be determined by the Voting Panel is the 2017 recipient of the Landmark Award, which recognizes outstanding contributions to NASCAR. The five nominees are Martinsville Speedway track founder H. Clay Earles, driver Janet Guthrie, team owner Raymond Parks, former RJ Reynolds executive Ralph Seagraves and Squier. The Voting Panel is scheduled to begin the selection process Wednesday at 12:30 p.m. ET at the Charlotte Convention Center. The announcement of those chosen will take place in the NASCAR Hall of Fame's Great Hall (5 p.m. ET, NBCSN). NASCAR.com will also live stream the event: You can watch it live here.
Best in-car audio from the Food City 500
From start to finish, the Food City 500 was filled with drama. Catch some of the best radio chatter as teams battle Bristol.
Whelen to sponsor Newman's Coca-Cola 600 car
WELCOME, N.C. (May 23, 2016) - Richard Childress Racing announced today that Whelen Engineering Co., the "Official Warning Lights of NASCAR", will serve as the primary sponsor on Ryan Newman 's No. 31 Chevrolet SS for the 57th running of the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 29, 2016. "Whelen Engineering, the Official Warning Lights of NASCAR, is pleased to be the primary sponsor of the Whelen No. 31 Chevrolet for the Coca-Cola 600 ," said Phil Kurze, vice president of motorsports. "Ryan (Newman) is a familiar name to us since he has been in Victory Lane a number of times in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour events at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Bristol Motor Speedway . It is fitting to have a graduate engineer driving a race car sponsored by an engineering company. The familiar red and white Sam Bass paint scheme will be displayed on the car and we look forward to the excitement of the longest race on the Sprint Cup schedule." The red and white colors of the No. 31 Whelen Chevrolet will hit the track for the annual Memorial Day weekend event, in which Newman has three top-five and six top-10 finishes, in addition to five pole awards. "Whelen's commitment to motorsports is comprehensive, and we are proud to partner with them for the Coca-Cola 600 ," said Torrey Galida, president of Richard Childress Racing . "Their dedication to innovation and safety is in line with the philosophy here at RCR, and we look forward to seeing the No. 31 Whelen Chevrolet on the track this Memorial Day weekend." A company that now employs over 1,400 workers, Whelen began in 1952 when George W. Whelen invented the first rotating aircraft "anti-collision" beacon in his garage in Deep River, Connecticut. Over the years, Whelen grew out of the garage and into the mainstream, working with police, public works, and fire departments across the country. Today, Whelen has two manufacturing facilities totaling over 1,000,000 square feet, employs the largest staff of design engineers in the industry, and has partnered with OEMs on new vehicle design and product integration. While this is RCR's first partnership with Whelen in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Whelen has an extensive history and presence in motorsports. As the "Official Warning Lights of NASCAR", Whelen provides all of the caution lights, pit road entrance, and pit road exit lights, "hot pit/garage area" warning lights, as well as all of the warning lights used on pace cars and safety vehicles across all three NASCAR national touring series. Whelen also serves as the title sponsor of the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series, the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour, and the NASCAR Whelen Euro-Series. This commitment to motorsports extends beyond NASCAR as well. Whelen is the primary sponsor on the Action Express No. 31 DP Corvette in the IMSA Weather Tech Championship Series. For additional information on today's announcement, and all that's happening at RCR, please visit rcrracing.com .
NASCAR nominated for league, executive of the year, more awards
The NASCAR industry is nominated in multiple categories at this year's Sports Business Awards, taking place Wednesday, May 18, at the Marriott Marquis in New York City's Time Square. Among the nominations, NASCAR is up for League of the Year and NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France is up for Executive of the Year. Launched in 2008 by SportsBusiness Journal, the awards recognize leaders who personify excellence in the business of sports. The nominees are judged by their respective accomplishments from March 1, 2015-Feb. 29, 2016. Among the other NASCAR nominees up for hardware on Wednesday are Daytona International Speedway (Facility of the Year), Darlington's Bojangles' Southern 500 (Event of the Year) and Dale Earnhardt Jr . (Social Media in Sports). France spoke to Bloomberg TV about the nominations. &amp;amp;amp;amp;nbsp; NASCAR's 2015 campaign included the activation of 10-year partnerships with FOX, NBC, IMG and Comcast; a record number of fans on digital and social media; and continued efforts to widen its appeal through youth and diversity, highlighted by Mexico's Daniel Suárez, a NASCAR Drive for Diversity graduate who captured the Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award in the NASCAR XFINITY Series. But, the cornerstone reasoning behind the nomination for both NASCAR and France may lie in the landmark Charter agreement the sanctioning body reached with 36 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams at the start of the 2016 season. After 18 months of negotiation, NASCAR and its race teams announced the nine-year agreement in early February, ensuring a future of increased stability and the ability to build long-term enterprise value for the first time in the sport's history. Also nominated for Sports League of the Year are the American Athletic Conference, Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, the National Basketball Association and the PGA Tour. Stan Kroenke (Kroenke Sports and Entertainment owner), Joe Lacob (Golden State Warriors owner), Rob Manfred (MLB commissioner) and Mark Parker (Nike CEO) join France as nominees in the Sports Executive of the Year category. Daytona International Speedway earned the Sports Facility of the Year nomination after unveiling Daytona Rising, the $400 million renovation project that transformed DIS into the world's first motorsports stadium. The project attracted a sellout crowd for the 2016 Daytona 500 , won by Denny Hamlin in the closest finish in the race's history. Joining Daytona in the facility category is Avaya Stadium (home of the MLS' San Jose Earthquakes), Bill Snyder Family Stadium (home of Kansas State football), Kyle Field (home of Texas A&M University football) and Petco Park (home of MLB's San Diego Padres). Earnhardt was late to the social media game, but proved to be a natural at the medium. Sprinkling in humor and a behind-the-curtain look at his sport, Earnhardt regularly engages with his nearly 1.5 million followers. In the 'Best in Sports Social Media' category, Earnhardt is pitted against the Chicago Blackhawks, Clemson University, the National Basketball Association and the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team. Darlington Raceway hosted the most unique event on the 2015 NASCAR schedule with its Bojangles' Southern 500 . Billed as a 'throwback weekend,' Darlington celebrated its storied history with a 1970s-themed event that included 32 retro paint schemes, 14 NASCAR Hall of Famers and a variety of food and entertainment from the bygone era. Joining the Southern 500 in the 'Sports Event of the Year' category is the 2015 Belmont Stakes, the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup Final, the Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao boxing match and Super Bowl 50. Also nominated are NASCAR Official Partners Toyota and XFINITY (Sports Sponsor of the Year). FedEx and Anheuser-Busch In Bev, which both sponsor NASCAR race teams, are also nominated in the Sports Sponsor of the Year category. FOX Sports and NBC Sports Group, both of which broadcast NASCAR races, are each nominated in the 'Best in Sports Media' category. FOX Sports continues its broadcast of the first portion of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season during this Saturday's NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race (7 p.m. ET on FS1).
Daytona wins Facility of the Year at Sports Business Awards
RELATED: Daytona through the years Daytona International Speedway won Facility of the Year at the 2016 SportsBusiness Journal Sports Business Awards, held Wednesday night at the Marriott Marquis in New York City's Time Square. The win came as a result of its $400-million Daytona Rising project. The world's first motorsports stadium was unveiled at the 2016 Daytona 500 as the sell-out crowd witnessed Denny Hamlin win by the closest margin of victory in the race's history. Daytona International Speedway beat out the San Jose Earthquakes' Avaya Stadium, Kansas State's Bill Snyder Stadium, Texas A&M's Kyle Field and the San Diego Padres' Petco Park for the accolade. "The incredible transformation of our flagship facility would not have been possible without the hard work and support of our employees, fans, partners, and the entire NASCAR industry," said International Speedway Corporation Chief Executive Officer Lesa France Kennedy. "I'm so proud of Joie Chitwood and the Daytona International Speedway and ISC team. They truly earned this prestigious award." It is beautiful! pic.twitter.com/jcfFJ0rnic — Lesa Kennedy (@LesaISC) May 19, 2016 The evening saw many members of the NASCAR industry nominated, including: NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France (Executive of the Year), NASCAR (League of the Year), Darlington's Bojangles' Southern 500 (Event of the Year) and Dale Earnhardt Jr . (Social Media in Sports) Daytona Rising, which broke ground in 2013, produced five expanded and redesigned fan entrances called "injectors," three new concourse levels for fans that span the frontstretch of the track, 40 new escalators, 17 elevators and 60 new trackside suites. The project also created 11 football field-sized social "neighborhoods" filled with video screens, widened 101, 500 stadium seats, doubled the number of restrooms and tripled concessions and merchandise points of sale to deliver a more convenient fan experience. The impact of the upgraded facility transcends sports. Daytona Rising's economic impact provides 6,300 new jobs, $300 million in labor income and more than $85 million in new tax revenue. A plethora of companies have agreed to naming rights deals with Daytona International Speedway , including Toyota, Florida Hospital, Chevrolet, Sunoco and Axalta. Remarkably, the facility remained open for business throughout the almost three-year period it took to rebuild its nearly mile-long fronstretch. During this time, the facility held two NASCAR events, the 2016 Rolex 24, 2015 Bike Week and hundreds of civic and social gatherings. Launched in 2008 by SportsBusiness Journal and SportsBusiness Daily, the Sports Business Awards recognize leaders and visionaries who personify excellence in the business of sports. The nominees were judged by their achievements from March 1, 2015 through Feb. 29, 2016.
Darlington most talked about event since Daytona 500
RELATED: Complete Darlington schedule " Darlington's throwback schemes Officials with Darlington Raceway and International Speedway Corp., which owns the South Carolina facility, should be congratulated for their efforts leading into this weekend's Bojangles' Southern 500 .The retro-themed weekend has been the talk of NASCAR in recent months, garnering more attention than any event outside of the season-opening Daytona 500 back in February. Copious amounts of content -- print, Internet and broadcast -- have been devoted to this weekend's race. And rightfully so. The fact that the program coincides with the return of the historic event to the Labor Day weekend is icing on the cake. When the seed for the throwback plan was planted, there was no indication that this year's race would be return to its long-held September date -- the 2015 schedule wasn't officially announced until August of '14, and track officials weren't privy to potential changes much earlier than that. After a one-year dalliance with a November stop in 2004, the 500 had a nine-year run on Mother's Day weekend in May where it did well. Last year's race was held in April in yet another schedule shuffle. But the Southern 500 in April or May is not the Southern 500 on Labor Day weekend. "Having the extra time from last April until Labor Day this year has been really helpful because truly it's just a small group of people that have put this together," Chip Wile, President of Darlington Raceway , said recently. "And it's been a learning process but it's been really fun." The platform is the kickoff of what Wile describes as a five-year plan to revitalize the track’s lone NASCAR race weekend, which includes Saturday's XFINITY Series race as well as Sunday's Sprint Cup event. For decades, the Southern 500 was considered one of the most difficult races on the series' circuit. The track's unusual shape -- a 1.336-mile layout with distinct differences between Turns 1-2 and 3-4 -- favors no particular driving style. Winners are often determined by a combination of skill and good fortune. The oppressive heat and humidity that hung over the track nearly every September race weekend took its toll as well -- the list of drivers that required relief at some point is a lengthy one. That difficulty, combined with the fact that the track is the oldest paved speedway to host NASCAR events (it opened in 1950), earned Darlington a lofty position in NASCAR's early years. The race is still considered one of NASCAR's crown jewel events -- along with the Daytona 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 . But the praise for this weekend's program shouldn't stop with track officials. Teams have bought into the idea wholeheartedly, developing amazing throwback paint schemes, many of which honor some of the sport's legendary drivers and organizations. Sponsors and various stakeholders, such as Goodyear, have gotten on board. Broadcast teams will incorporate the throwback platform into their programming. It's been a win-win situation for everyone involved. It also couldn't have come at a better time. Wile and his group wanted to make his track's lone Sprint Cup race stand out above the crowd, and it certainly seems as if that has been accomplished. Darlington isn't the only track that's been able to develop an idea that resonates with those in the sport as well as those in the stands. Not as large in scope but certainly just as entertaining, the annual night race at Bristol Motor Speedway in August generates interest not only for the competition on the track, but its pre-race show is perhaps the most popular on the schedule. Anchoring the program are drivers entering the track to music they have chosen and the Motor Racing Outreach effort that has children of drivers and other personnel singing the National Anthem (an idea generated by former track president Jeff Byrd ). The product on the track remains of primary importance, and fortunately that's been a constant at Darlington -- the racing there rarely fails to excite and entertain. And if there's a bit of a history lesson included, so much the better. "I really love the history and the heritage of the sport," former championship-winning crew chief Ray Evernham said. "I think it's really important if we're going to bring new fans, younger fans, that demographic, they've got to understand why. When you start telling some of the history and the tradition, and showing that, I think it gets people really interested. "Now they understand why people are so passionate about it or why somebody will come sit in the same seat for 50 years or why we work so hard on these cars. I think it's really important that we go back and show the steps that it took to get here in order to engage new fans." And there's no better place or time than Darlington Raceway . On Labor Day weekend.
Larson: 'I had to do what I had to do' in Showdown
RELATED: Results from Segment 3 CONCORD, N.C. -- Kyle Larson shoehorned his way into the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race by whatever means necessary, making a full-contact lean on Chase Elliott 's fenders on the last lap of Saturday's Sprint Showdown preliminary. Did the contact cross the line of sportsmanship? Maybe not, with both drivers deeming it a compulsory evil with the checkered flag in sight and a chance at a $1 million payday in the Sprint All-Star Race up for grabs. In the end, both drivers won out by transferring into Saturday night's main event, but through different methods. Larson snatched one of three transfer spots available to segment winners, joining Roush Fenway Racing 's Trevor Bayne (first segment) and Greg Biffle (second segment) in the non-points invitational. Elliott claimed his berth by winning the Sprint Fan Vote. Danica Patrick finished runner-up in the fan vote to fill the 20-car field. Larson's method of securing his eligibility ranked as the most dramatic of the five. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver recovered from an opening-segment wall scrape to work his way back to first place by the start of the final 10-lap dash to the finish. He led all the way, but Elliott gained tremendous ground on fresher tires, pulling alongside Larson through Turns 3 and 4 for the final time. Larson's No. 42 and Elliott's No. 24 Chevrolets locked fenders and scraped side- by -side all the way to the checkers, with Larson prevailing by just .015 seconds to qualify for his first All-Star Race. "I would hate to be raced like that, like I raced him," Larson said. "But I knew he was going to win the fan vote, so I knew he was going to be in the All-Star Race either way and I wasn't if I didn't win. I had to do what I had to do to get the win. Hate racing like that, obviously, but I felt that's what I had to do to make it in." Larson was on the receiving end of a similar shove in 2014, when Ryan Newman slammed him aside on the final corner of the final lap at Phoenix to land the final spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship race. Back then, Larson said he understood the circumstances. Saturday, Larson indicated that he knew Elliott was justifiably upset with him. Based on his sometimes choppy responses in post-race interviews, Elliott was, but he also said he understood Larson's aggressive move considering the stakes. "He did what he had to do to beat us back to the line, that's all there is to it," Elliott said. "Part of it." Elliott found himself on the short end of an even closer finish in the first 20-lap leg, edged by .005 seconds by Bayne, who split the middle on a bold, three-wide move shortly after the segment's final restart. That restart also proved to be the undoing of rookie Ryan Blaney , who was black-flagged for jumping the green flag and could only recover for a third-place finish overall. RELATED: Watch the Segment 1 finish unfold The nifty maneuver, though, launched Bayne into his first All-Star Race since 2012. "You don't hesitate when you can see the front any time, and especially when it's like this -- not a points race," said Bayne, who scored his only Sprint Cup win in the 2011 Daytona 500 . "If it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out. You've got to win. It was pretty cool. Maybe if you're battling to get in the Chase on points, you don't make that move for third or fourth, but when it's for a win even in a points race, you've got to do it every time." Biffle, his Roush Fenway teammate, had a slightly easier time of it, slipping past Austin Dillon six laps into the second 20-lap segment to clinch his 13th consecutive All-Star start. Biffle advanced into the main event as a Showdown segment winner last year as well. His transfer inspired some lively banter with crew chief Brian Pattie. "Hope no one had dinner reservations," Pattie said over the team radio on the segment's cool-down lap. "Nope, I was planning on being here all night," Biffle replied, later noting the seven-figure incentive for the All-Star Race winner. RELATED: Biffle ecstatic after finish Patrick advanced through fan balloting for the third time in four years. "I definitely thought if there were two spots, I had a lot better shot," Patrick said. "My fans voted well."