With 36-point race dates, and 3 other non-point dates, it’s amazing that NASCAR could even talk about adding additional events. But that’s exactly what’s being talked about as the executives begin draft a schedule for the 2004 campaign.
Drivers already feel the season is too long as it is. Some have suggested having dual point race weekends where tracks that want additional races get dates on Saturday and Sunday of the same weekend. That idea seems ideal in theory for the drivers, but from a business standpoint, it’ll never fly.
Part of the luster that makes a NASCAR date so attractive to tracks across the country is the build-up. Two races on the weekend would take something away from each race, which would reflect in gate receipts and most importantly television ratings.
The likely scenario will be dates being pulled from tracks such as Rockingham, Atlanta, or Pocono, sites that have issues with selling tickets. Those dates could be shifted west to California, Texas, or Las Vegas in NASCAR’s continuous quest to grow the market.
California appears dialed in for a
second race and has already begun plans to install lights for a night event next season at the request of someone from NASCAR who essentially owns California Speedway through their subsidiary, International Speedway Corporation. Las Vegas and Texas are neck and neck for the next slot, if available. Both are comparable in ratings. Texas has the edge in seating, but Vegas has more mass appeal as a destination.
Las Vegas Motor Speedway did not publicly campaign for an additional race until two weeks ago and that was only because track GM/VP Chris Powell saw two ISC properties, Phoenix and Kansas, send out press releases on how they’re lobbying for a second event. Phoenix? Kansas? Are they serious? Why not though, NASCAR owns them and as we’ve seen time and again, they always dictate policy that benefits them.
Revved for Winston
This Saturday’s race, The Winston, is a non-points event at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Charlotte created by track president Humpy Wheeler in 1985 to put together NASCAR’s version of an All-Star game.
The formats have changed a bit, but one constant since 1987 has been that it has always been in Charlotte. Last year, NASCAR started talking about moving the race to different tracks around the circuit like baseball and basketball does with their mid-season classic. That idea, though highly beneficial to NASCAR/ISC since they own most of the other tracks, is vehemently opposed by tobacco giant RJ Reynolds, the race sponsor, and Wheeler.
The format consists of three segmented races -- 40 laps on the first segment, 30 in the second, and 20 dash in the finale. This year only 20 of the 24 drivers will make the second stage and just 14 will advance to the final stage. There is a 10-minute break between each event.
For handicapping purposes, the fan voting aspect should be considered a huge advantage for some drivers, particularly 4-1 favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. Should the sport’s top superstar make the final stage, he will be inverted into a favorable position by NASCAR fans.
Last season, Jimmie Johnson might have had the best car on the track, but got inverted to the back of the field because of the fans voting for Junior. It came down to a battle for the win between Ryan Newman (10-1) and Junior. Newman held on for the win, but only because Junior didn’t tap him out of the way.
The scenario could be the same again this year with Junior not winning, but there is so much more of an advantage that he has over everyone else because of the positioning in the final stage. Little E’ is also a past champion of the race, winning as a rookie in 2000.
Though it is a non-points race, it’s far from a non-cash race. The winner collects $1 million, the largest purse in the event’s history and second only to the Daytona 500.
From a wagering standpoint, examining the drivers’ recent past performances at Charlotte and this year’s races at Charlotte’s sister track of Atlanta and Texas is key. It will also help the following week for the Coca-Cola 600, also at Charlotte. Atlanta is a notch above Texas in handicapping consideration because it is almost identical to Charlotte.
Jeff Gordon (7-1): At Charlotte and Atlanta, Gordon has combined for seven wins. This year, he finished second in Atlanta and third in Texas. A win makes Gordon the all-time winner of "The Winston" with four, surpassing the late Dale Earnhardt.
Tony Stewart (10-1): This might be the driver who has eased the decibel level of boo’s for Gordon. In eight Charlotte point races, he has finished in the top 5 five times. He won in Atlanta last year then followed it up with a 4th and 5th in successive races.
Bobby Labonte (7-1): He’ll be one of the drivers that doesn’t factor into much decision making by the fans. This year he won for the sixth time in Atlanta and sat on the pole in Texas. He has two career wins at Charlotte.
Kurt Busch (6-1): The fans seem to like his brashness and some have put him in the throwback class as a kid who just likes to racecars. The combination of his excellence over the last two seasons and Roush technology at Charlotte make him tough.
Top 5 at The Winston
1) #8 Dale Earnhardt Jr 4-1
2) #97 Kurt Busch 6-1
3) #18 Bobby Labonte 7-1
4) #24 Jeff Gordon 7-1
5) #20 Tony Stewart 10-1