Just as we’ve speculated for the past year, it finally became official last week when NASCAR announced that Texas and Phoenix would each be getting additional dates for the 2005 Nextel Cup season.
This is another sign of prosperity for the fastest growing sports in the world. By adding two new dates to next year’s schedule, that means that two dates have to be taken away.
Darlington Raceway, forever a staple in NASCAR history, will only be left with one date. For Rockingham, this is the second consecutive year the North Carolina track had a date taken from them. They’re out completely.
Just two years ago, Darlington, Rockingham, and Charlotte (all within 100 miles of each other) had seven Cup races a season if you include the All-Star race in mid-May. Las Vegas didn’t get the additional date we all wanted, but Nevada’s largest annual sports weekend does have a new date.
Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s NASCAR Weekend is scheduled for March 11-13, 2005, a week later than in recent years. Again in 2005, the UAW-Daimler Chrysler 400 will be the third stop on the NASCAR Nextel Cup tour. The 2005 event will mark the eighth visit of NASCAR’s top series to Las Vegas.
We are very excited about this new date," said Chris Powell, LVMS general manager. "Even though we are just a few months removed from this past year’s event, we already are in the process of renewing tickets for the 2005 event, and the renewals are coming in at a record pace."
So when will Vegas get a race? It’s looking increasingly bleak for the near future, especially considering NASCAR and ISC just bought Martinsville Speedway, the oldest track on the NASCAR circuit. Chances are NASCAR will take one of the dates away from Martinsville for the 2006 season and hand it to Chicago or Kansas. Seating at Martinsville has always been published at 91,000, but the real number is just over 63,000 — the smallest track in the Cup series.
Former track owner Clay Campbell had to see the writing on the wall and knew he would eventually lose the battle concerning two events at Martinsville. It was a smart sell for him.
"It’s never really ”˜hung over me,’ but it’s always been in the back of my mind," Campbell said. "Obviously, with the way things are going now, with the newer tracks popping up all over the country, it’s a concern now. But you can go back to the ”˜70s and it was a concern then too. It’s a continuing deal.
"It’s always been in the back of our mind, being realigned. But I’ll go to my grave fighting for the two dates. And from my standpoint I don’t see any problem with the two. We’re doing everything right, everything we should be doing. We’ve sold out both races each year for 10 years in a row. Now if we weren’t doing that, I think we’d be on the hot seat."
It’s bittersweet right now the way things are going in NASCAR. It’s tremendous we’re seeing NASCAR respond to the demand of it’s huge fan base out West, but it’s sad to see such wonderful tracks that are full of so many memories that endeared us all to the sport. It would be much easier to accept all the changes if the tracks that were getting additional dates had some character to them instead of being all the same.
Why keep building these wide flat cookie cutter ovals? What’s wrong with duplicating a Bristol, Martinsville, Rockingham, or Darlington? In many aspects, the trend we’re seeing resembles what baseball did in the late 1960s with the baseball parks. It took them 30 years to realize that the fans liked the cozy confines of a quaint ballpark. Hopefully it won’t take NASCAR that long.
NASCAR’s version of the all-star game is this Saturday at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Charlotte. The race consists of all the past winners from this season and last season. Another two drivers will come from the 30 lap qualifying race.
One of the two qualifiers from the "Nextel Open" that will advance to the all-star race will be the race winner and the other driver will be voted in by the fans on line.
While the 90-lap/135-mile overall distance in the all star race is again divided into 40-, 30- and 20-lap segments, no longer will each segment result in some drivers being eliminated. This will ensure a full field of cars racing for the winner’s purse of approximately $1 million.
"It’s an all-star event and all the stars should participate," said Lowe’s Motor Speedway President H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler. "That’s what the fans come to see — their favorite drivers."
Wheeler has correctly chosen the winner of the all-star event seven 7 of the last 11 years. Look for the announcement of his selection Thursday.
What we’ll look for this week is the drivers who did well in Atlanta and Texas earlier this season. Charlotte is almost identical to the two tracks and all the set-up notes for the previous two races will still be valid. If they did well then, they’ll do well this week.
Five drivers finished in the top 10 at both Atlanta and Texas, with two in the top 4 in each race. They are the favorites this week.
Dale Earnhardt Jr (7-2) won in Atlanta and finished fourth in Texas. Kasey Kahne (4-1) finished third in Atlanta and second in Texas. Kahne is the perfect candidate because of the format. On short runs, he’ll be tough to catch and fits the profile of recent past winners. Jeff Gordon, Junior, Ryan Newman, and Jimmie Johnson were all attempting to break through before they won this race.
Brian Vickers (18-1) is a long shot to watch. Vickers has been fast on these tracks for periods. Last week he performed well throughout at Richmond and that should keep his confidence level high.