Race Weekend Central

What’s Vexing Vito: Why the Hell is There Only 1 NASCAR Race in the ATL?

There a few things in this world that I detest more than wrong doings and injustices, in racing and beyond. Take my insurance company for instance. I was informed yesterday that my healthy living discount is in jeopardy of expiring because I am – ahem – Obese.

This came as a bit of a shock to me, since being able to regularly hoof out a six-minute mile and put up 300 pounds while sliding comfortably into a pair of 34s, I thought I was doing a pretty decent job. I am in effect paying the price for working out and eating right – but not being that tall. I mean come on, I’m Italian… we make art, food, Ferraris and love – but not lay-ups.

The same thing can be said for Atlanta Motor Speedway. After being the site of some of the best speedway action in recent memory, it is being reduced to one, single date. It is things like this that continue to baffle and amaze. For every three or four things NASCAR nails and hits out of the park, there is these Bill Buckner moments at first watching the ball rolling between the legs of the leadership in Daytona Beach.

For 2011, Atlanta is surrendering a date to Kentucky Speedway, a mildly-banked 1.5-mile track that is the quintessential “cookie-cutter” track that so many have reviled and rejected in recent years. Atlanta’s combination of unique layout, aged pavement, and an extra few hundred yards of turf on the frontstretch has been the site of some of the most memorable finishes in modern NASCAR history; Dale Earnhardt and Bobby Labonte in 2000, Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon in 2001, Carl Edwards vs. Jimmie Johnson in 2005 – and those are just the ones that required a second look at the tape to verify who won.

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The Cool-Down Lap: Great Racing, Bad Crowd? The Curious Case of Atlanta Motor Speedway

Virtually every other contest there comes down to late-race jockeying, and on what other track today can you see cars sideways, slideways, crabbing and yawed-out like they were for 500 miles Sunday night (Sept. 5)?

I am not alone in my thinking; even owner Bruton Smith wishes that Atlanta would keep its second date.

“Absolutely,” Bruton Smith said before Sunday’s race. “But not in March. We tried that and tried it awfully hard over the years. I remember coming here four times before they actually ran the race one year. Rain, rain, rain. March is not the time to run a race here.”

For those that watched NASCAR long before the advent of Digger or Lucky Dogs, the 1994 event was postponed due to a blizzard that dumped over a foot of snow on the track. For 2011, Atlanta will return to the Sprint Cup schedule over Labor Day weekend – a date that for over 50 years was the domain of Darlington, another iconic track that has suffered the loss of a race and is left with one lone event per year.

While Smith would surely welcome a second race in Atlanta, his primary focus remains on setting up Las Vegas with another race date – albeit one a bit closer to Thanksgiving.

“If you’re going to do a championship, you’ve got to do it at the proper place and I don’t think North Cuba is the proper place,” Smith said. His comments may strike some as insensitive or insulting – along the same lines as Ray Dunlap’s comment a few years ago about Hispanics not attending the races at Homestead-Miami Speedway – just working there, or ESPN college football commentator Bob Greise’s stupid Juan Pablo Montoya taco-joke.

Smith dismissed any such notion saying, “I was just speaking the truth – I thought it was a compliment based on location.”

What is frustrating about this entire discussion between Las Vegas, Homestead and Kentucky, is that while the later is heralded as the next greatest track since Talladega, and the two former are in a David Lee Roth/Sammy Hagar slap-fight over who should be the headliner, Atlanta is whittled done to one race a year and more memorable moments and oval racing done to perfection is taking another hard hit.

Yeah the attendance might suck for how many seats are there, but it turns out that it gets kind of cold in Georgia in early March sometimes. If there is a time to go to Homestead, it might just be March come to think of it. Atlanta for many years was the final race of the season and if you can find me a better scenario and race than the one from 1992, I’d like to see it.

Yeah, I know – we pretty much saw the equal of it in 2004 in Homestead. Plus it’s warm there.

I guess what I’m really getting at is Las Vegas doesn’t need two dates and Kentucky is equally as boring of a racetrack. That and I better not get jobbed out of my health insurance discount for doing things right, just like Atlanta is taking one for the team after hosting a great race and now kow-towing to Kentucky Speedway. Sure they might get 70,000 people to show up to see Joey Logano smoke everybody in a Nationwide race, but Chicago and California brought people in the first few years too – uncompetitive racing however not only has a negative affect on the fans in the stands – but those on the couch as well.

While it may not be the best place to sit in March or November, you’d be hard pressed to find a better speedway race ran this year as the one this past Sunday in Atlanta. Hopefully we’ll come back again for two someday – and hopefully that day will be in April or May.

About the author

Vito is one of the longest-tenured writers at Frontstretch, joining the staff in 2007. With his column Voice of Vito (monthly, Fridays) he’s a contributor to several other outlets, including Athlon Sports and Popular Speed in addition to making radio appearances. He forever has a soft-spot in his heart for old Mopars and presumably oil-soaked cardboard in his garage.

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