TMS introduces twin night races in 2011

DALLAS -- Texas Motor Speedway's 2011 race schedule will feature big events under the lights.

The track will be the first to host two IZOD IndyCar Series events on the same day when drivers compete in the Firestone Twin 275s -- two shorter races formerly run as one 550k -- on Saturday, June 11.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup race, the Samsung Mobile 500, will move from Sunday afternoon to Saturday night at 7 p.m. CT, April 9.

Both changes were announced at an event at House of Blues in Dallas.

"These are both things our fans have talked about and wanted," TMS president Eddie Gossage said Tuesday. "Fans dig racing under the lights. We're excited that we were able to get both of these things done in one season."

The back-to-back IRL races hasn't been done in open-wheel racing in the U.S. since 1981, when CART ran twin races at Atlanta Motor Speedway. There were a total of 17 twin races from 1967-1981 as part of USAC and CART.

"We wanted something to create excitement and that goes back to our roots a little bit and this does that," IRL CEO Randy Bernard said. "We'll talk with the teams and track officials and figure out exactly how to do it. But we believe it's a great idea that fans will enjoy."

The races will each be 171 miles (114 laps each on the 1.5-mile TMS track) and count for ½ the normal amount of points and ½ the usual purses. But each winner earns a victory for the season. The first race starts at 8 p.m. Central time.

"There are no half-wins," Gossage said. "So combined, it's like one big points race. We're working on how we'll handle the break between races."

Gossage suggested that might be about an hour between races, giving drivers and crews time to regroup and discuss strategy for the next race. He isn't sure how the field may be set for the second race. That could be based on how cars finish in the first race.

"Or maybe we'll draw ping pong balls or something," Gossage said. "You never know."

The event could make for some interesting decisions as to how drivers and teams handle the races, knowing they have two of them back-to-back.

"You may have two completely different finishes, because some drivers might be cautious in that first race to make sure they can run in the second race," Gossage said. "Then it's likely all-out in the final race. That should be fun for fans. You don't have time to just go driving around. You are racing hard from the time the green flag drops."

The two-race format will create buzz while also altering driver strategies, said IndyCar Series driver Helio Castroneves, a three-time Indianapolis 500 champion.

"It's going to be a sprint the whole way and that's fun for spectators," he said. "Now that it's out there, we have to go about working on a plan to race successfully."

The IndyCar Series races will also be paired with a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race on Friday night and IndyCar qualifying. That weekend is two weeks after the Indianapolis 500 with an off-week in between.

The evening Sprint Cup race will be the first night event on the 2011 Sprint Cup schedule. That could make for chilly conditions depending on the Fort Worth weather.

"It will start in daylight and go into the night and the teams will have to adjust to temperature changes," Gossage said. "But racing is so much fun under the lights and it also gives us a built-in rain day on Sunday. It's going to be fun to see."

The date allows the track to avoid racing the same day as the final round of the Masters.

The Nationwide Series' O'Reilly 300 race, run on Saturday afternoon since the track opened in 1997, was moved to Friday night along with qualifying for the Sprint Cup race.

NASCAR will return to TMS on Nov. 6 for the AAA Texas 500, the eighth event in the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup. The green flag will drop just after 2 p.m. on ESPN.

Richard Durrett covers the motor sports for ESPNDallas.com. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.