Should NASCAR relocate its championship weekend?

Season-ending race needs tight Chase, not a new venue

November 20, 2009|By Tania Ganguli On auto racing

The crowd of reporters grew around Speedway Motorsports Inc. owner and CEO Bruton Smith in March at Atlanta Motor Speedway as he opined about what's wrong with NASCAR's championship weekend.

What's wrong, he said, was that it shouldn't be at "Home-instead" in a "Godforsaken area that is north of Cuba." Smith suggested NASCAR bring it back to Atlanta, or perhaps take it to Las Vegas, both tracks owned by his company rather than rival International Speedway Corporation.

"I don't take Bruton too serious on some of the things he says," said Curtis Gray, president of Homestead-Miami Speedway. "He has a certain way of communicating through the media an agenda he has in mind. He says things off the cuff that don't always make sense."

To Gray, the biggest reason Homestead is the right place for NASCAR's season finale is the entertainment potential that goes with it. South Florida is glamorous. That's why it has hosted the Super Bowl - the most glamorous traveling sports show around - nine times and will again in February.

And Gray is right. Smith's comments in March made little sense.

For starters, the NASCAR finale doesn't always mean much. This year's championship is all but decided. Jimmie Johnson takes a 108-point lead over Mark Martin into the finale, and even if Martin wins and leads the most laps, Johnson needs to finish only 25th or better to guarantee his unprecedented fourth consecutive Sprint Cup title.

It wouldn't matter if the season finale was held in Homestead, Atlanta or Las Vegas. Interest would be diminished.

That's why Homestead's ticket sales spiked after Johnson crashed on Lap 3 at Texas Motor Speedway two races ago. Johnson finished 38th, and his points lead shrank to 73.

Smith said Las Vegas or Atlanta would appreciate hosting the championship. But what's the measure of appreciation? Before last season's race, Homestead sold out six straight years.

Moving the race wouldn't suddenly make it rife with meaning. It would only provide a change of venue.

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