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Just where can NASCAR hit a Labor Day weekend home run? Maybe Atlanta? | NASCAR Racing Breaking News: Trackside Live, Every Week, Every Sprint Cup Race - MikeMulhern.net


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Just where can NASCAR hit a Labor Day weekend home run? Maybe Atlanta?

  Will Atlanta Motor Speedway be a good luck charm for NASCAR's Labor Day weekend saga? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   So what can promoter Ed Clark do with Labor Day weekend?
   This used to be Southern 500 weekend, at Darlington Raceway, about four hours east of here.
   But NASCAR moved that Cup weekend to Los Angeles, where it floundered.
   So after five years of scorching Southern California weather – and less-than-thrilling crowds – NASCAR has moved its Labor Day Cup tour race here to Atlanta Motor Speedway….where crowds over the years have been less than thrilling even with great weather.
   With fellow promoter Jeff Byrd doing a heck of a job filling the stands at Bristol, the last NASCAR tour stop, there's a lot of pressure on Clark to make something big happen here this weekend too, in Sunday night's Atlanta 500.
   Sunday night?
   A 7:30 p.m. start (well, who knows when TV will actually throw the green) for an event where the track record is still over three hours, and that last year took nearly four hours to complete?
   Are some of these NASCAR events simply too darned long?
   For some of the sports' purists, probably not. But for mainstream America, blocking off four hours to watch guys run in circles, well, that may be an issue.

   Tony Stewart had a boat load of problems at Bristol, and wound up 33rd, his worst finish of the season, in what he called a Twilight Zone race (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


    Atlanta hasn't had a NASCAR sellout in years. And the spring race here, even though it was run in great weather, on one of the tour's best tracks, in the heart of the south, was only sparsely attended.
    Will this 500 be better? Will this fall's NASCAR tour host more fans and get better TV ratings?
   Is the problem the U.S. economy…or the NASCAR show itself?
   "Everyone wants to do their part to make it better…and I'm not sure we know exactly what that answer is," tour leader Tony Stewart says. 
    "But our intentions are to do what we can to help make it a better experience for the fans every week. 
    "It's one thing for the economy to be bad, but we're competing in a time where everything is on the internet and there are so many things for people to do. 
    "We're in the entertainment industry, and we're competing against everybody else: whether it's high school football on Friday night or whatever. 
    "We're trying to figure out how we get these people to come watch us do what we love to do. 
    "That's the challenge for track owners and sanctioning bodies: 'How do you make it better?'"
    The simplest answer would be to improve the product on the track. Goodyear is doing its part. ESPN is doing its part.
    However for much of the season it has seemed almost a certainty that one of Rick Hendrick's drivers would win each race. At one point Hendrick men had won 12 of 17 races.
   But maybe the tide has turned. Maybe at midnight Sunday it won't be a Hendrick Chevy guy celebrating: after all, Toyota men – Denny Hamlin, Brian Vickers and Kyle Busch – have won three of the last four Sprint Cup tour events.
   Maybe something is afoot.


  The comeback kid? After last fall's collapse in the playoffs, maybe Kyle Busch can rebound in this fall's chase.....if he can make the cut by Richmond (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

  But the bigger issue is this: there is the possibility, maybe even the probability, that NASCAR's two biggest winners this season, Kyle Busch and Mark Martin, won't make the championship playoffs. That should give pause for consideration.
   And four of the top-12 in the Sprint Cup standings heading into Sunday's Atlanta 500 are still winless, and it's September. Any one of those four could win the NASCAR title…without winning a single race.
   In fact Busch and Martin, even if they don't make the chase, could easily win most of the chase races….which might be embarrassing.
   Is it time to rethink this chase thing, and the way points are doled out, and the fact that this sport has become more about points-racing than about winning?
   First, racing should be about winning. Not stroking. Not points-racing.
   Second, this race to the chase the past few months has been more about points-racing than going for the win. That needs to change. The summer NASCAR season is a hard-enough sell without all the stroking.
   Kyle Busch says his math shows that at least eight, maybe nine drivers are still in the running for those last six chase spots. And he knows he's got to race his way into the playoffs. But how will those others play the game here and next weekend at Richmond? Maybe a 100-point bonus for winning might liven things up….
   Stewart on the other hand is already locked in…..though it's looking that sizeable 222-point lead he's accumulated since February will vanish in nine days, after the Richmond cut.
   Isn't that unfair, to work that hard to get a good points lead, and then have it all taken away? In fact, Stewart might not even go into the playoffs with the lead at all, since others have more wins.
   "No, not at all," Stewart insists. "Everybody understands the system. 
   "We know if the chase were to start tomorrow, we'd start behind. 
    "We've just got to keep doing what we've been doing.  That's what got us here.  It may not start us there, but for 12 weeks in a row now, we've been leading this thing because we've been consistent and upfront up every week."
   Of course Stewart would be leading the standings, with just about any scoring system:

   The top-12, under Formula One scoring:
   Tony Stewart 99
   Jeff Gordon 82
   Jimmie Johnson 74
   Mark Martin 70
   Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin 56
   Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards 44
   Kurt Busch 43
   Ryan Newman 40
   Kasey Kahne 33
   Brian Vickers 31
   The top-12, under best-average-finish
   Tony Stewart 8.708
   Jeff Gordon 11.375
   Jimmie Johnson 11.833
   Carl Edwards 12.958
   Denny Hamlin   13.083
   Juan Pablo Montoya 14.042
   Ryan Newman 14.417
   Kasey Kahne   14.542
   Greg Biffle 14.750
   Matt Kenseth  15.208
   Brian Vickers 15.542
   Clint Bowyer 16.042

  Not much of a crowd here for the spring Atlanta race, despite great weather, and great racing (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



What This Dixie 500 Needs

It needs at least 40 lead changes, preferably more. It needs the teams that have struggled all season to break out and whip or at least fight head-on the Hendrick, Roush, Gibbs, and Penske guys - and on occassion Atlanta has seen this, notably in 1997 when the underdog Pontiacs of Gibbs, Petty, Davis, Chuck Rider, and Richard Jackson humiliated the other brands and all but monopolized the top 13. It needs the drivers - all of them - to ignore points altogether and focus exclusively on winning the race. It also needs to switch to daylight after this season - night racing simply has bombed in ratings and has never proven to be worth anything in person.

you are dead on STP43Fan

you are dead on STP43Fan absolutly Dead on

Hey Mike, what's the buzz in

Hey Mike, what's the buzz in the garage area about the two drivers who have won the most races potentially missing the Chase (Martin and Busch), while a driver with no wins has almost clinched (Edwards)? How sad would that be?

Re what this dixie 500 needs

DEAD On STP43 fan DEAD freakin on

Time constraints

I'm glad you brought up the issue of the length of the races. Personally, I could watch 6 hours of racing 8 days a week. However, the general TV-watching public won't watch more than 3 hours at most. Years ago, the NFL made the effort to get all their games done in 3 hours. For TV's sake, NASCAR needs to do the same. I'm not saying put in hard time limits. All races should go the advertized distance, but those distances should be trimmed to fit in a three-hour time block from green flag to checkers. I also would make exceptions for key events such as the Daytona 500, Brickyard races and a couple others.

The NFL also standarized start times: Sundays Noon & 3:00 PM CT. I really wish NASCAR would go back to Sunday Noon start times - again with a few special exceptions.

Length Of Race

I think the big problem regarding the length of the race has a great deal to do with the less than stellar television broadcasts. It used to be that when the race was to start at 1pm that was when you tuned in. What did you see? You saw an invocation, followed by the National Anthem the drivers were ordered to start their engines and the field was rolling. I seem to recall tuning in at 1pm on a Sunday afternoon to catch the green flag waving. This is a big contrast to what happens now. Everyone tunes it at 1pm to find a bunch of people that are so proud of themselves and their opinions about what is about to happen at the track. Then we have a bunch of stories that are so boring that it is nearly impossible to stay tuned. I have noticed that most of these stories are designed to make viewers change their minds about a particular driver by showing how he really is just a nice guy and it is just unfair the way fans perceive them.(yes most of them lately are about Kyle Busch). We are subjected to a race review from the week before that is covered like a Presidential Debate. Finally about 2:30pm the green flag drops. I imagine by this time many viewers will be well into the 2nd quarter of football, just finishing up the popcorn to enjoy while watching the rest of Men in Black on TBS or just asleep in the easy chair. I personally have found myself out in the garage figuring that without racing on I may as well get something done. What makes it so laughable to me is that DW has copyrighted "boogity, boogity, boogity". To me that is a symbol of why people are not watching.
Try watching this weekend for a good shot of those empty stands on the television. They are nearly impossible to see as the broadcast does all it can to not show them. I have not been to race in several years since it is way out of my budget.

Atlanta musings

I live in ATL and have gone to many races. I won't be going this weekend, I just don't have the cash to spare. Bummer for me, the weather looks great and I enjoy the race here.

Atlanta can be a tough market for sports. While its a big town, its also diverse. Not everyone is a racing fan and most of the locals I know are not interested in NASCAR. Yes, it is the South, and in most Southern towns, college football is king. Georgia plays OK State today, and that is getting a lot of attention from sports fans. NASCAR struggles to compete against football this time every year, 2009 will not be an exception.

In years past when AMS sold out, the racing was a lot more compelling. The old car and the older tire allowed for more side by side racing. Since the COT has hit the track, AMS is pretty much follow the leader racing now. I was in the pits right at the finish line when Carl Edwards edged out Jimmie Johnson for his first win. That was the last exciting race at AMS. If NASCAR and AMS want to energize fans, they need to make racing more exciting, and nose to tail is not the answer.

Finally, I think NASCAR and especially the racing media needs to get over their obsession with sell out's. The current media groupthink is if an event is not completely sold out, something is wrong and needs fixing immediately. A non-sell out is not a reason for more columns, interviews, and op ed pieces. Most of the MLB games this year were not sell out's, but you do not hear Bud Selig responding to media demands that he make changes. Not every NFL game will be a sell out, but you won't hear the TV commentators whine endlessly about it. I do not understand the ongoing media fixation of event attendance. Almost no sporting venue anywhere is being sold out, short of a major event. It is time for the NASCAR media to move on to another topic.

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