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Richmond International Raceway removes backstretch grandstands

Federated Auto Parts 400

RICHMOND, VA - SEPTEMBER 06: A general view of cars racing the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway on September 6, 2014 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

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Richmond International Raceway will remove its backstretch grandstands, subtracting about 9,000 seats from the 0.75-mile oval that plays host to two Sprint Cup races annually.

The reduction will bring the track’s capacity to about 60,000, its smallest since holding 59,368 seats in the March 1992 race, which began a streak of 33 consecutive sellouts. During that stretch, RIR’s capacity steadily grew to a peak of 112,029 in 2008.

There hasn’t been a sellout in 13 races since the streak ended with the September 2008 race. The track’s grandstands slowly have contracted, and the current reduction of seats is part of a project that began two years ago, removing seats to erect entertainment and hospitality areas for fans, including a VIP motorcoach row. Aimee Turner, RIR director of communications, said the backstretch seats consistently received the highest dissatisfaction ratings from fans, and demand waned as seats in the turns and frontstretch became available.

The track hasn’t finalized its plan to fill the void left by the backstretch seats. Turner said RIR started an analysis with outside firms last year to determine the best uses for the facility, which sits on a sprawling 1,000-acre property that once housed the State Fair of Virginia and still holds many other events and festivals. International Speedway Corp. bought the Richmond Raceway Complex in December 1999.

Richmond is one of several ISC tracks that have contracted in recent years. With this year’s completion of the $400 million Daytona Rising stadium-style renovation, Daytona International Speedway will reopen with 101,500 seats, down from a peak of 160,000 a decade ago.

Richmond will open its 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup season with a race on April 26, which will mark the first scheduled Sunday afternoon race in nearly two decades at the track. RIR had hosted two annual Saturday night races since 1998 before requesting a switch to Sunday for its April 2016 race.