The talk in the garage today focused on the news of Atlanta Motor Speedway losing one of its two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races starting in the 2011 season. Drivers reactions were mixed as news came from Atlanta that one of its two Cup Series bids would possibly be moved to the Cincinnati area’s Kentucky Speedway.
Jeff Gordon was disappointed to see Atlanta have one race removed, but also was excited to have an opportunity to experience new horizons. “I’m a big fan of Atlanta. I love going to Atlanta. You hate to see a race go, but you also have to understand the business of the sport. When we go to Atlanta and they’re having a hard time selling it out, and there’s an opportunity to go somewhere and grow our fan base, and take the series somewhere they’ve never been before, which is potentially what’s going to happen, I think that’s exciting and a good move.”
Sprint Cup Series points leader Kevin Harvick was also enthused to experience a new track, and referencing NASCAR’s expansion in 2001 to Chicagoland Speedway and Kansas Speedway. “The biggest boom we have ever seen in this sport came in 2001 when we went to new venues in Chicago; we went to new venues in Kansas and you had all this movement with the schedule and you created all these new fans. Sometimes things become stale. It is a constantly evolving sport… This sport is too popular to not go to new venues that are not sold out. If its not sold out, you need to be held accountable as a race track.”
17-year NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Veteran, Jeff Burton was also on board for the change of venues. “I’m not a big believer that change is good, I’m a believer that good change is good. We’ve seen in Atlanta some good racing, but we haven’t really seen the crowds there… If race tracks aren’t supported by the fans then we’re going to see those tracks moved somewhere else where the fans are going to support it… If there’s another venue where more people can come in and more people can enjoy it then that’s where you can expect the show to be going.”
On the contrary, many drivers in the garage are upset that one race at Atlanta Motor Speedway is being removed from the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Schedule. Carl Edwards talked of the sadness associated with losing a race at the track where he tallied his first two Cup Series wins. “I think Atlanta is one of, if not the greatest oval that we go to. I think that track has all of the things that make racing fun. It has history and a surface that is really fun to race on. The fans there are very knowledgeable about racing and it is a very grueling race. It is fast and exciting, so to lose a race there to me is a little sad. I love that place and every time I come through the gates reminds me of my weekend that I won my first to races in this series.”
Also displeased with the removal of one race weekend at Atlanta was Clint Bowyer. “I don’t mind a schedule change. I think it is probably time. Some races make sense; some of them don’t in my opinion. Losing Atlanta is a disappointment to me. I think there are a couple of other tracks that have two races that I would have my rather of, if it was my pick, of going once… I think its going to be sad to lose Atlanta, I think that is one of every driver’s favorite race tracks and if we do lose it, its going to be a bummer.”
We have to look back at what drives this sport or ANY sport for that matter. The single most important element that keeps these drivers in the cockpits of these Stock Cars is the fans. Without the fans this sport will eventually flounder. NASCAR has the opportunity to expand its horizons and reach out to new fan bases.
In another sense, is it time to reward other tracks that pack fans in the grandstands year in and year out? Take for instance our fans north of the border. They have been enthusiastically attending the NASCAR Nationwide Series races at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve for 3 years now and will likewise be sold-out again later this month. Is it time NASCAR truly rewarded tracks with Sprint Cup Series races that year-after-year sell out the grandstands?