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Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Updated: December 16, 1:30 PM ET
With casino plans on hold at Kansas, Cup schedule shouldn't change -- yet

By Terry Blount
ESPN.com

Any track official who was worried about losing a Sprint Cup date to Kansas Speedway in 2010 can rest easy for the moment.

Things are on hold at the track in Kansas City, Kan., having changed from a de facto green light by NASCAR chairman Brian France to a no-go in only three days last week.

Plans for an on-site hotel and casino -- the caveat to get a second annual Cup race -- were halted Friday. The $700 million needed for the project just isn't available in the timetable agreed upon with the Kansas Gaming Commission. The bad economy strikes again.

International Speedway Corp. (Kansas Speedway's parent company) and The Cordish Co. (ISC's partner in the project) withdrew their application for the deal hours before it was set to take effect.

That's understandable in the current economic climate, but here's where it gets a little strange. Three days earlier in New York, France had said Kansas was likely to get another Cup date in 2010 and ranked ahead of Kentucky Speedway in Kentucky's quest for one Cup event.

Lesa Kennedy, France's sister, is the president of ISC. The siblings work in the same building in Daytona Beach, Fla. Wouldn't France know the ISC development plan for Kansas was in jeopardy three days before it went down?

Brian France
Brian France declared Kansas Speedway was in line for a second Cup date in 2010 ... three days before the ISC pulled the plug temporarily on a $700 million expansion project.

NASCAR and ISC officials often say the two organizations are completely separate, wanting to avoid any hint of a monopolistic situation. Last week's odd scenario certainly adds credence to their position.

The facility that probably feels like Christmas came early is Martinsville Speedway. The old Virginia short track often has been mentioned as the place that might lose a Cup date in the Kansas expansion plan.

Whether it's Martinsville or one of the other 11 ISC tracks that have Cup events, this is only a temporary reprieve. Kansas Speedway will resubmit its gaming license request when the credit crunch improves.

That process can take up to two years, but this should be a fast-track approval since all the necessary requirements already have been cleared. Kansas still will get a second Cup race, but now it won't happen until at least 2011.

As for Kentucky Speedway, that's another matter. France made it clear again last week that Kentucky won't receive a Cup date until the pending lawsuit by the former track owners is withdrawn or settled.

It isn't good news for Speedway Motorsports Inc. chairman Bruton Smith, who bought the Kentucky track in 2007. He wants a Cup date for the 1.5-mile oval, but the legal entanglements have him hamstrung.

The lawsuit involves how Cup dates are awarded. Obviously, no Cup race is coming until this litigation disappears.

If and when that happens, Smith still will have only two options for a Cup date in Kentucky: move a Cup race from one of SMI's seven other tracks (Atlanta maybe?), or buy a speedway (Pocono or Dover) and take one of those Cup races away.

With 36 races (plus two All-Star races), the Cup schedule already has too many events. The only way to get a Cup race, even if a new facility is built in Denver or Seattle, is to take one from another track.

Kansas and Kentucky, two tracks on the short list for Cup dates, both have issues for now. So expect the status quo on the Cup schedule for the next couple of seasons.

Danica Patrick

Patrick

Danica has clout
Danica Patrick taped two TV commercials last week in Los Angeles for GoDaddy.com. The spots will air during the first half of the Super Bowl on Feb. 1.

"They are both fun and edgy," Patrick said. "But I can't ruin the surprise. You're going to have to watch the Super Bowl to see them."

Some NASCAR fans have asked why any NASCAR team owner would have an interest in Patrick when she has only one victory in Indy-car racing and hasn't been a serious contender for a championship.

Patrick's popularity transcends racing. The Internet helps explain it. Patrick was the most searched athlete in the world in 2008, topping Tiger Woods, according to AOL's annual report.

Mention that to a potential sponsor, and watch his eyes light up as he writes you a check. If Patrick were to win the Indy 500 or seriously compete for the IndyCar title, NASCAR team owners would line up to sign her.

It isn't just what you can do in the race car; it's what you can put on the hood. Dario Franchitti, Patrick Carpentier and Jacques Villeneuve are open-wheelers who couldn't get sponsorships in NASCAR.

Patrick can bring in the cash, but whether she can drive a Cup car competitively is a major question mark.

One other racer made AOL's top 10 in terms of the most searched athlete. Tony Stewart ranked ninth. It tells you why Stewart was able to bring in three major sponsors -- Old Spice, Office Depot and the Army -- as a new Cup team owner.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.