Winners: 2011 NASCAR Champions

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series: Austin Dillon
NASCAR Nationwide Series: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Tony Stewart

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Report: Atlanta to Lose Cup Race

According to sources, Atlanta Motor Speedway will only have one Sprint Cup race as of 2011 -- its Labor Day race that serves as the second-to-last race before the Chase. Word has it that Bruton Smith, who owns Atlanta as part of his Speedway Motorsports, Inc. company, plans to take one of Atlanta's dates and give it to the recently-purchased Kentucky Speedway.

Nothing is official, and NASCAR isn't expected to release the 2011 schedule until next month, but the report isn't entirely unexpected; Smith made it clear the moment he bought Kentucky that he wanted to bring a Cup race to the track, and Atlanta has suffered attendance woes for years -- even before the recession hit.

Rows upon rows of seats near the start-finish line have been empty for several years at Atlanta. It's one thing for a track to not sell seats in Turn 3 or Turn 4, but on the frontstretch, near the start-finish line?

That looks good for no one.

Expect some NASCAR traditionalists to criticize the move and decry the sport further distancing itself from its southern roots, but the truth is more complicated. Much like the decision to leave Rockingham and take away Darlington's fall date, the move to take a race away from Atlanta amounts to ticket sales. Atlanta has struggled to sell seats for years -- like Rockingham and Darlington before it -- and the move was needed.

Attendance is down almost everywhere, that's true. But Atlanta's troubles pre-date the recession, much like Fontana's. Expect an announcement soon that Auto Club Speedway will lose one of its dates, likely going to Kansas Speedway -- a track that does not have horrible attendance problems.

Atlanta is a great track, one that has a lot of history in NASCAR. It's also considered the sport's fastest, and the racing is often pretty solid. But the ample number of empty seats proved to be the track's undoing, and in Kentucky, the Cup Series is getting a track that enjoys a good amount of support; fans have welcomed the Camping World Truck Series, the Nationwide Series and the IndyCar Series to Kentucky with open arms.

So why wouldn't they do the same for a Cup race?

Darlington had rebounded nicely since being reduced to only having one race a season. Ticket sales have been up, the Southern 500 returned and that stop on the schedule has become a crown jewel again. Other tracks have thrived on the Cup Series schedule with just one date, so there's no reason Atlanta can't do the same -- especially since it will likely keep its Labor Day slot.

But the fact remains: had Atlanta's attendance been better the past decade, it wouldn't be losing a race.

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