Las Vegas to host 2 NASCAR Cup races in 2018 after realignment

Las Vegas Motor Speedway will have a second NASCAR Cup race in 2018, getting the September date from New Hampshire Motor Speedway in a realignment initiated by Speedway Motorsports Inc., which owns both facilities.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority approved a $2.5 million incentive package Wednesday afternoon for the 1.5-mile Las Vegas track to add a second Cup date.

NASCAR has approved the move, and according to its sanction agreements with track operators that runs through 2020, it has an April 1 deadline to set the schedule for the following year. The contract between the Las Vegas tourism board and SMI requires the race dates to "normally" be in March and September.

New Hampshire, which keeps its July race weekend, currently has the second race in the NASCAR playoffs, but NASCAR has not yet determined if Las Vegas will fill that slot or move a week earlier or later in the playoff schedule.

"There's some great things about New Hampshire Motor Speedway and we are going to continue to race there in the summertime and it will be a great race, and we think that race will actually draw more attention and more fans," SMI CEO Marcus Smith said.

"Over the last 20 years, Las Vegas Motor Speedway has been very successful having one major NASCAR racing weekend. ... There's certainly nothing unusual about going to a speedway one time a year, and we believe that it's a net positive bringing the sport to the entertainment capital of the world in the fall for the second time in a season.

SMI bought New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2007 for $340 million, valuing its two Cup dates at $300 million and the facility at $40 million. Two years ago, SMI admitted it overpaid and devalued the two Cup dates by $96.53 million. SMI stated that the 1.058-mile flat oval -- which seats 89,000, with just 38 corporate suites -- had ongoing lower-than-anticipated revenues for its events and that its chance to recoup those revenues were limited, "similar to challenges faced by many major sports" of increased entertainment options and more people preferring to watch the events at home.

Located near Loudon, about 80 miles north of Boston, New Hampshire Motor Speedway did not have sponsorship for one of its two Cup races last year. It has not announced sponsorship for its two 2017 Cup races.

New Hampshire Motor Speedway General Manager David McGrath said the attendance and sponsorship challenges at his track matched those of other tracks, and he didn't feel were the reason for the decision to end 20 years of history of two Cup races a year at the facility.

"We are not pulling up the tent stakes and leaving the Northeast, leaving New Hampshire and leaving New England," McGrath said. "We still have one race weekend that is absolutely going to be the best. ... Decisions like this can be gut-wrenching and be tough. But it's a business decision and it's one that makes sense to me and it makes sense to certainly our company.

"I want to let the fans know that I don't want them to not want to attend a race at New Hampshire [over this]. We'll do all that we can to win every one of them and keep every one of them coming back for years."

Las Vegas, which has an Xfinity race as part of its March weekend and had a stand-alone NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race in September, will have two tripleheader weekends, as it will get the truck race from New Hampshire that was part of that track's September weekend and the September stand-alone Xfinity race from Kentucky.

Las Vegas track president Chris Powell said the current plan is to have the truck race Friday, the Xfinity race Saturday and the Cup race Sunday.

The 1.5-mile banked Las Vegas track has seating for 104,000 -- with 102 suites (compared to 38 at New Hampshire); a massive fan zone with walkways above the garages for fans to get closer to the action than at New Hampshire; and a spa and other amenities. While Las Vegas races haven't been immune to the attendance declines that have saddled the sport, the Las Vegas visitors bureau estimated that the March 2016 race there attracted 96,400 out-of-town visitors for an economic impact of $139.2 million.

Smith would not say what the financial impact would be on moving the race from New Hampshire to Las Vegas.

"We did this for the fans," Smith said. "It's going to be great for NASCAR fans. It's going to be great for NASCAR. ... In talking with networks and race teams and NASCAR, everybody sees some great logic in this."

As part of a seven-year deal from 2018 to 2024 that includes a three-year option, Las Vegas Motor Speedway will get $1 million for each Cup race and $500,000 to go toward marketing the events from the tourism authority. Las Vegas can still sell naming rights to races, but "Las Vegas" must be in the name and logo of the events. The tourism authority gets 82 percent of its revenues from a hotel tax and another 16 percent from use of facilities.

"If there's any race track in this country that deserves and should have a second Cup date, it's Las Vegas Motor Speedway," said NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Brendan Gaughan, whose family owns the South Point Hotel, Casino & Spa in the city. "We can sell out every race.

"Vegas will make sure we do a great job with it."

SMI last moved a race in 2011, when it took a race from Atlanta and gave it to Kentucky, which SMI had purchased in 2008.

Atlanta, Kentucky, Sonoma and New Hampshire are the SMI tracks that will continue with one Cup date, while Texas, Bristol, Charlotte and Las Vegas will have two.

McGrath is exploring having a race weekend in September that includes regional racing divisions, possibly in conjunction with a music festival. Current local ordinances forbid NHMS from having a stand-alone music festival and also forbid racing after 7:30 p.m., which has kept the track from adding lights, something that could make the July race more attractive.

"New Hampshire Motor Speedway remains a key player in our state's tourism industry not only for drawing race fans and automotive enthusiasts from around the world, but as a premier event venue for our state," New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu said in a statement. "We look forward to welcoming race fans to Loudon in July and partnering with NH Motor Speedway to identify new events that could call New Hampshire home."

The move adds a 1.5-mile track to the NASCAR 10-race playoff. There were already five 1.5-mile tracks in the playoffs, but Charlotte Motor Speedway is lobbying for NASCAR to use the recently upgraded CMS road course for its playoff race.

NASCAR holds its annual awards ceremony in Las Vegas in December, and 2017 is the final year of its deal with the tourism authority. NASCAR has not determined whether it will continue having it in Vegas in 2018. While SMI founder Bruton Smith has lobbied for the season finale to be in Vegas and then have the banquet follow the next day, the contract signed Wednesday specifically sets the Las Vegas race dates in September.