NASCAR surprised more than a few people last Friday by announcing the 2005 Nextel Cup schedule, and most of the Busch schedule, with the only thing holding up the latter being the open negotiations regarding a Busch race at Mexico City's Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.

NASCAR is rumoured to also be considering a Canadian race for the Craftsman Truck Series, perhaps on the road course at Mont Tremblant in Ontario.

New to the 2005 schedule are second races for three race tracks - California Speedway the week after the Daytona 500, Phoenix International Raceway on the night of 23 April and Texas Motor Speedway on 6 November, making it part of the 'Chase for the Nextel Cup' - one of the last ten races of the season. NASCAR chairman Brian France said the second Texas race was as a result of the ongoing lawsuit filed by SMI shareholder Francis Ferko for a second NASCAR race date as promised by ISC. TMS is owned by Speedway Motorsports Inc, which will buy North Carolina Speedway at Rockingham from ISC for $100.4million. ISC also bought the other half of Martinsville Speedway from ISC, for $192million.

Details of the TMS settlement were filed at the district court in Sherman, Texas on Friday. France said, basically, that a solution to the lawsuit made sense in terms of realignment for the good of the whole industry, so that "was a moment that we just frankly thought was worth putting forward as opposed to the distraction in a lawsuit". While refusing to go into details, France did say "NASCAR is not making a payment to Speedway Motorsports." He further said "that's behind us now" referring to the lawsuit.

Rockingham will fall off the 2005 schedule - having suffered declining attendances despite remodelling - as will a second race at Darlington Raceway, and no races will be held at Nazareth Speedway, which said Friday it would "discontinue all spectator motorsports events at the Speedway following the 2004 season". This season it will have a NASCAR Busch Series weekend and an IRL IndyCar weekend. ISC president Craig Rust said that the corporation would "realign the two events". Both are or will be at SMI tracks.

What this means to IRL is yet unknown. John Griffin, who used to handle PR for NASCAR and now works for IRL in a similar capacity, said "we've had discussions with ISC, with Phoenix, with Teas, about their schedules. We're going to have further talks with them about it".

NASCAR is clearly moving its focus to the highly desirable - and underserved, according to France - Western/Southwestern markets, as part of its ongoing 'Realignment 2004 And Beyond' programme. France wouldn't comment on Seattle as a place NASCAR is considering, and reiterated that all NASCAR race track contracts run year to year. He also said that NASCAR was never going to forget where it started, in the Southeast.

North Carolina, which is home to a large majority of NASCAR teams, will only have one track on the 2005 Nextel Cup schedule - Lowes Motor Speedway. It will hold two Cup races in addition to the All-Star race, which will remain at Lowes at least for one more year. Another change on the intensive schedule will be a Nextel Cup race on Mother's Day weekend, long considered off-limits.

On the subject of 'foreign' events, Jim Hunter, NASCAR's vice-president of communications, said that NASCAR has been overseas before - citing exhibition races in Japan and Australia - but claimed that the cost, time and logistics make it difficult at best. But NASCAR is considering nearby out of country races - in North America, both north and south of the border.

Serious negotiations are underway with OCESA to conduct a Busch race at the 2.786-mile street/road course right in Mexico City. It could be in March, right after round two for all three top tier NASCAR series - all of which race at Daytona and California Speedway.

"The Mexico City race could be a huge event," Hunter said, "There are 25million people in Mexico City. We're working with folks there to develop something would guarantee a year-round presence or a seasonal presence with trucks or some other kind of tour. That's very promising."

Mexico City is perhaps the only race track which has hosted Formula One, CART and is considering NASCAR.

Jeff Gordon recently attended the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona, and was asked to compare the NASCAR fans and the F1 fans. He said he saw people in the grandstands wearing suits and one would never see that in NASCAR.

When I was in Mexico City in January of this year, I attended a meeting at the Autodromo, where Enrique Contreras, brother of Carlos Contreras, was explaining to a group of race officials the plans for NASCAR-type racing in Mexico. At the time of the meeting, the talk was of a Truck series in Mexico. Later, I learned plans changed from trucks to stock cars.

Carlos Contreras raced NASCAR Craftsman Trucks from 1999-2002. He finished sixteenth in the 2002 season, racing for Bobby Hamilton Jr on the Dodge team. In 2001, the 34-year old Mexican racer drove for Richard Petty, again in a Dodge, finishing fourteenth overall for the season. His best finish was eighth on the road course at Watkins Glen International where he led two laps, and he was runner-up in the 2001 rookie standings. In Mexico, Contreras was two-time champion of the Mustang Series and also raced in the Mexican F3 series.

The Mexicans take their racing seriously, and the Champ Car races in Mexico have been highly successful. Open-wheel racing in Mexico came about, in part, due to the efforts of Mexican driver Adrian Fernandez, who championed the races. CART, which became Champ Car, has raced in Fundidora Park in Monterrey, Mexico for the past three years, and twice at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City. They all have been extremely well-attended events.

Ironically, Fernandez, who has raced in all the Mexican CART/Champ Car races, left Champ Car just before the 2004 season began, and is now racing in the rival IndyCar Series and will not race in his own country this year.

The recent change from GRAND to OCESA as Champ Car promoter came after the Champ Car media guide was published.