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NASCAR "closer than it's ever been" to international Cup race

NASCAR has seen explosive growth in its international presence and interest in recent years but still lacks one vital element to sustained success – but perhaps not for long.

Justin Allgaier checkerd flag

Justin Allgaier checkerd flag

LAT Photographic

NASCAR now has regular competing series in Canada, Europe, Mexico and most recently added one in Brazil. It has seen a growing number of international drivers compete in its American-based national series, both as regular competitors and part-time ventures.

Never before in the modern era of NASCAR has it held a points-paying race of the premier Cup series outside the continental United States, but that day seems to be drawing ever-closer.

NASCAR vice president and chief international officer Chad Seigler told Autosport: “For years we said we want to go outside the US and race, and you’ve seen us move from the messaging of it’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when.

“I would tell you that we’re leaning even closer now to, ‘Yes, we are going.’ I feel confident we’re going to be there sooner than later.”

Past international events

NASCAR has held races outside the US borders before. The Truck Series has held races in Canada in the past and what is now the Xfinity Series has run points-paying races in both Montreal and Mexico City.

The Cup series’ only recent international experience, however, was a series of non-points exhibitions run in Japan between 1996 and 1998, as well as one in Australia in 1988.

Two points-paying races were held in the Cup Series in Canada in the 1950s; one in 1952 at Samford Park in Ontario and one in 1958 at Canadian Exposition Stadium in Toronto.

There are even more reasons for NASCAR’s optimism the timing is right to hold a Cup race outside the U.S. as part of its regular schedule of events.

NASCAR’s Garage 56 entry in last year’s Le Mans 24 Hours well-received by fans, its NASCAR Whelen Euro Series events are commanding large crowds, and it gained a big spotlight when three-time Supercars champion Shane van Gisbergen won last year’s inaugural Chicago street race on his debut.

#24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 of Jimmie Johnson, Mike Rockenfeller, Jenson Button

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

#24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 of Jimmie Johnson, Mike Rockenfeller, Jenson Button

“When you go to a place in Europe, when you go to a place like Brands Hatch [for a NASCAR Euro race weekend] and you see that we had 43,000 people in the stands, that tells you that there’s a passion for our style of racing,” Seigler said.

“We are actively engaged with multiple markets right now. We’ve been close and we feel like we’re close for the very near future.

“What makes us feel good is that these are not one-way discussions, it’s any market we’ve spoken to, there has been excitement on both sides.

“Sometimes there are things out of your control like logistics and the calendar, but that’s what’s been most exciting.”

There is no shortage of potential locations for an international Cup race – familiar ones but the door has also been opened to even more possibilities.

NASCAR national series have already raced at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal, Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City and Mosport in Canada. The Cup series’ recent versatility in scheduling presents numerous other possibilities.

“I think what we’ve seen particularly in the last four to five years in the Cup series is that we don’t have to go race in a purpose-built race track,” Seigler said.

“We can race in a stadium – which opens an entirely new potential avenue for racing outside the United States – we can race on a street course; we can race on dirt; and obviously an oval or a traditional road course.

EuroNASCAR track action

Photo by: Gary Hawkins

EuroNASCAR track action

“A lot of our exercises in the last few years have allowed us to open us and look at additional markets outside the country.”

NASCAR takes another important step forward with its international efforts this week when its Mexico Series will run an invitational, non-points race on Sunday as part of the Clash race weekend at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

For NASCAR, it’s just as important to engage its current fans with the importance of its international efforts as it is to successfully gain and retain new ones.

“I think any move that we make, you’re going to want to make sure it aligns with your bigger goals,” Seigler said.

“What we’re not looking to do, is to take a race into a market and be there for one weekend and leave and just say, ‘We’ll see you next year.’

“That’s why we like places like Canada and Mexico and even places like Brazil, where we have a newer existing series, and they are so important.

“So, that after a national series comes and leaves, the fans there still have NASCAR racing throughout the year.”

An important milestone

Seigler – whose international group at NASCAR has grown from 1.5 positions to 8 to 10 in about seven years – sees an international Cup race as another important milestone in NASCAR’s continued success.

Bubba Wallace, 23XI Racing, DoorDash Toyota and Martin Truex Jr., Joe Gibbs Racing, Bass Pro Shops Toyota

Photo by: Nigel Kinrade / NKP / Motorsport Images

Bubba Wallace, 23XI Racing, DoorDash Toyota and Martin Truex Jr., Joe Gibbs Racing, Bass Pro Shops Toyota

“Not only is it closer than it’s ever been, but the excitement of the fact that international is a strategic part of the growth plan for NASCAR, I feel better about that than I ever have,” he said.

“It just seems like there is such a forward-thinking approach these days of ‘Let’s try something we’ve never tried. Let’s try to do something we’ve never done.’

“The narrative inside (NASCAR) right now is not why we can’t do something, it’s more of, ‘Let’s go figure it out how.’”

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