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NASCAR-Rights Talks Near Finish Line

12/02/2005 8:24 AM Eastern

The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing is nearing the checkered flag on its latest round of TV-rights negotiations.

ABC/ESPN and Turner Sports have already secured places on victory lane, while Fox is in the home stretch of a finalizing an eight-year deal, according to network officials familiar with the negotiations.

The new eight-year rights package, which will go into effect following the 2006 season, could be announced as early as this week. Currently, Fox and NBC/Turner pay a combined $2.4 billion for a six-year deal.

When everything’s in gear, Fox is expected to retain the bulk of the first half of the top-level Nextel Cup series races, including the sport’s centerpiece, the Daytona 500. However, it would lose access to the second-level Busch series, all of which is headed to ESPN/ESPN2. The new contract would take sister cable service FX -- which televised a number of Nextel and Busch races in the first half of the year -- out of the NASCAR garage.

Some of the support races around Daytona are expected to instead park at Fox-owned Speed Channel, which will also pick up the Nextel All-Star Challenge. Speed will also gain a two-year extension to the rights to a trio of NASCAR-related shows that it currently holds through 2012, putting that contract in synch with the rest of the new TV deals to 2014.

And Speed is in line to retain national exclusivity for the Craftsman Truck Series, according to executives familiar with the negotiations.

A Fox spokesman said, “We are still negotiating. We don’t have an agreement at this time.”

Turner -- which saw its partner, NBC, pull out of the NASCAR negotiations in October -- will see its package reduced to six Nextel races, bridging the first and second halves of the seasons in June and July, for a reported $80 million-$85 million, highlighted by the Pepsi 400 in primetime on Fourth of July weekend. Turner officials declined comment.

As for ABC/ESPN -- which is said to be allocating some $270 million annually under the new pact -- they will team up on 17 Nextel Cup events in the second half of the year, including the 10-race season-ending Chase for the Nextel Cup races. Most of the 35 Busch series races are slated to air on ESPN2. ESPN officials declined to comment.

Upon conclusion of the TV-rights deals, NASCAR is also expected to wrap up a renewal with Turner in which the programmer will continue to manage and sell ads for NASCAR.com (www.nascar.com).

NASCAR executives didn’t return phone calls by press time.

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