By Joe Dunn
It really came as no surprise to anyone that follows NASCAR Thursday, when Atlanta Motor Speedway President Ed Clark announced that the track would cut back to a single NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race for 2011.
Ever since Speedway Motorsports Inc. signed the deal to buy Kentucky Speedway in 2009, everyone anticipated a Cup date moving to Cincinnati area track. There was a lot of speculation about just where that date would come from. The guessing grew more varied after O. Bruton Smith and SMI later purchased New Hampshire International Speedway. But if you were among the media, or the few fans that were present at the spring Atlanta race, the handwriting was on the wall.
I spoke with Smith last year at Kentucky and although he would not commit to the source, he made it clear that an SMI race would move to Kentucky Motor Speedway in 2010 or 2011. When the track didn’t get a race date in 2010, due to the unsettled litigation with the former owners, Smith began talking about changes coming to KMS. In June of this year Smith was at the track for the NASCAR Nationwide Series race and he talked openly about leveling the infield and rebuilding it to mirror the new infield at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
When Smith spoke openly about his displeasure with the security cost at his newly acquired New Hampshire Motor Speedway, many fans felt it was a signal that NHMS would indeed be losing a date to KMS, but that was never considered a serious by most of the media. Remember folks, NHMS does have a ‘Chase’ date and Smith has again been very vocal about wanting a second Cup date for Las Vegas, and also his desire to make that the final race on the schedule. So, if we do see a second date at LVMS soon, it probably will come via NHMS.
On the NASCAR Nationwide Series schedule, the folks at Indianapolis Motor Speedway went public last month suggesting that they were actively pursuing the NNS race date now held by O’Reilly Raceway Park. Never mind that ORP has hosted that race for 28 years and it is an extremely popular race weekend that also includes a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race, and a night of USAC open wheel cars, it is a fan favorite weekend.
This comment by IMS CEO Jeff Belskus was not accepted well by the folks over at the NHRA (owners of ORP) and they quickly pounced on NASCAR to keep the date safe. The IMS move came about as the track has seen their attendance figures plummeting over the past few years. Going from about 300,000 fans a few years ago for the Brickyard 400 to a reported 140,000 this year, says a lot about the track itself and the racing that it provides. Although all NASCAR tracks have suffered attendance problems for 2009 and 2010, none have seen the drastic cut that IMS has. All the while, just down the road at ORP, they are still selling out on the same weekend.
Hats off to NASCAR for not letting this one drag out as only three days after the IMS announcement, they contacted NHRA to assure them that the NNS date will indeed stay at ORP. In other news, SPEEDTV reports that Chicagoland Speedway will host the first Chase race in 2011 while New Hampshire motor Speedway will move one week to the second Chase race.