Texas bill could help lure NASCAR All-Star race to TMS

State lawmakers will give Texas Motor Speedway a major boost if the Fort Worth track decides to pursue the NASCAR All-Star race and season-ending championship event.

Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M’s Toyota, pits during the Monster Energy NASCAR All Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 20, 2017 in Charlotte, N.C. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

The Texas Legislature approved a bill Thursday that makes those two races eligible for the state’s Major Events Reimbursement Program. That is the same fund Circuit of the Americas tapped into to bring Formula One’s United States Grand Prix to Austin.

The MERP also has been used to help lure the Super Bowl and NCAA Tournament Final Four to Texas.

NASCAR’s All-Star race traditionally is held on the third Saturday night in May in Charlotte, N.C. It serves as a lead-in to the Cup’s longest race, the Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend in Charlotte, the home base for most NASCAR teams.

Some drivers and officials have suggested it makes more sense to move the All-Star race around.

“I think you look at other sports, and their all-star game venues switch all the time,” driver Kyle Larson told reporters. “I don’t know if race tracks could bid on the All-Star race or bid on the final race of the season, but I think that would be really cool.”

Major League Baseball, the NBA and NHL each take their all-star events to a different city every year.

The Miami-Homestead track holds the final race of the NASCAR playoffs in November.

“They want to be able to go after those races, just like we try to court a Super Bowl or any other major sporting event,” Rep. Tan Parker, whose district includes Texas Motor Speedway, told the Associated Press. “They will immediately go after them as best they can, and this gives them a tool in their box to be aggressive when competing with other venues.”

Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage declined comment to AP.

Circuit of the Americas chairman Bobby Epstein has told the American-Statesman he is interested in bringing NASCAR to the 3.4-mile Austin road course, but there are numerous roadblocks, with TMS’ strong objection near the top of the list.

Gov. Greg Abbott, whose office oversees the MERP fund, still must sign the bill into law, and he needs to consider that NASCAR has been in steady decline in attendance and TV ratings for years. NASCAR officials point out they still are easily considered the most popular motorsports racing in America.

Texas Motor Speedway already hosts two NASCAR Cup events, one in April and the other in November. This year the second date is Sunday, Nov. 5, the eighth in the 10-race playoff.

NASCAR’s 2018 schedule already is set, so the earliest TMS could go after the All-Star event is 2019. Charlotte retained next year’s All-Star race May 19. Texas Motor Speedway’s two races are April 8 and Nov. 4.

The MERP fund provides a significant financial weapon. According to state records online, the 2017 Super Bowl at NRG Stadium in Houston was eligible for $25 million, and the 2016 F1 U.S. Grand Prix was eligible for $26 million.

Austin team driver Fergus wins IMSA Porsche race at COTA

Corey Fergus of Austin race shop Moorespeed, shown in a file photo, scored a victory at Circuit of the Americas on Saturday. CREDIT: Pirelli World Challenge

Whatever home-track advantage exists at Circuit of the Americas, drivers with local connections worked it this weekend during the IMSA Advance Auto Parts Sportscar Showdown.

Corey Fergus, who drives for Austin-based Moorespeed, simply could not be denied in Saturday’s Porsche GT3 Cup, powering his No. 00 US LED/Byers/Moorespeed machine to victory in a 21-car field.

Austin driver Jeff Mosing batted 1.000 — 3 for 3 — this weekend, winning the Masters class of the same race, as he did in Friday night’s first Porsche GT3 event. Mosing also won the ST class of the Continental Tire Challenge earlier Friday.

Fergus’ win came in a tense, back-and-forth battle with 17-year-old San Antonio driver Trenton Estep, who held off Fergus for the victory Friday night. Fergus’ margin Saturday was a scant 0.97 seconds.

“That’s the most exciting, hardest race I’ve had in my 16 years,” said Fergus, a 28-year-old Porsche salesman in Columbus, Ohio, and self-described “Buckeye fan for life.”

Fergus and Estep took turns passing each other four times — just in the first half lap. Fergus regained the edge and held it until Estep made one more pass, but the Moorespeed driver returned the favor with some daring maneuvers with five laps to go.

“He sent me out wide in turn 19, but he was losing grip and got defensive going into the last corner,” Fergus said. “I set him up with a little over/under move out of turn 20, and he took me to the wall. That’s definitely not the preferred place to be, but I made it stick and we got it.”

Fergus credited the win to “the way our team set up the car and, let’s just call it, a unique tire strategy.”

David Moore, owner of the large Moorespeed shop located only 10 minutes from COTA, said, “yeah, let’s keep those details quiet” to not tip off competitors.

“It’s great winning a race on our home track,” said Moore, a Round Rock High and University of Texas alum. “We consider ourselves contenders everywhere, but you especially want to shine at home. That’s Corey’s first win for us, but he’s won championships in other series. He got passed a few times but took it back.

“This was redemption for us after what happened to Will (Hardeman) last night.”

Hardeman, an Austinite who’s won at COTA before, qualified third for Friday’s race and was in contention when he was smashed from behind by a driver who lost the wing of his car. Hardeman was checked out and released from the medical center, but his could not be repaired for Saturday.

“Will spent the race spotting and advising,” Moore said. “He pushes his teammate. They have two different styles. If you could morph these guys into one, they’d be unbeatable. But they do rub off on each other.”

Although Fergus is an Ohioan, he had ample support here with co-workers from his dealership and sponsors from US LED.

He also said the victory was meaningful because he wanted to give an emotional lift to his boss Moore, who recently lost his dog.

“I told David I would win one for Ranger,” Fergus said.

Mosing, driving the No. 01 Mosing Motorcars Porsche, couldn’t have enjoyed his weekend more.

“Sometimes, you take this track for granted because it’s so close,” Mosing said. “But you can’t beat living just 30 minutes away, eating at home, sleeping in your own bed and then winning the races before friends and family.”

C.J. Wilson, the former Texas Rangers pitcher who owns an Austin race shop and was making his COTA driving debut, finished 16th overall after an eighth-place showing Friday.

Austin driver Fred Kaimer took second in the Gold Cup class and 13th overall, equaling his Friday finish. Another Austinite, Alan Metni, went out after two laps after a 14th place in the first race.