Wednesday, October 14, 2009

No more excuses for Auto Club Speedway, it’s time for some changes NASCAR.

Where were the fans at Auto Club Speedway in California for the NASCAR Cup Series Pepsi 500 race?

Let’s state the obvious, NASCAR needs to be racing in Southern California, it is a huge market for them. However when it comes to putting on an event such as show, concert or in this case a doubleheader race weekend, it takes two thing to get fans to buy a ticket besides weather (and hot temps don’t help), a good product and a reasonable priced ticket or for some, a package deal.

When it comes to a good product, some racetracks have it, while others just don’t. For me, short track racing and intermediate tracks for the most part have a good product as well as superspeedways in some fans eyes.

When it comes to California Speedway (Auto Club Speedway in Southern California), the product for some fans including me aren’t there anymore. This is due to a few thing, one is the size of the speedway, a 2-mile D-Shaped Oval and the other one is the new COT car in the Cup Series and I will give you an example.

This past weekend had a double header on television. In watching some of the Nationwide Series race and the entire Cup Series race, the Nationwide Series race for this racetrack was a good race. However the Cup series, while there was passing, it wasn’t a bad race, but not a good race neither. One fan told me it was a boring race. Others didn’t even bother watching either race at all.

For the Nationwide Series race, that one was interesting, I don’t know why NASCAR didn’t black flag or penalize Greg Biffle, that was rough driving plain and simple. But hats off to Joey Logano for coming back from being put into the outside wall early on by Biffle and battle his way back up past Carl Edwards to win the race…again.

Now all eyes were on the Auto Club Speedway on Sunday for the Pepsi 500. I can’t tell you how many press releases I received in my email box from the speedway itself tell me about each and every promotion, deal and news to come out of the speedway. Sunday was that day that was supposed to be huge, good weather and a chase race in Southern California.

The Speedway promoted several packages from a $35 ticket in rows 1-5, a $55 ticket that included a reserved ticket to the Pay-Per-View event “TNA Bound For Glory”, to a $148 ticket called the Jimmie Johnson Foundation package that Includes Pepsi 500 Ticket, Pre-Race Pit Pass, access to Q&A session w/ Johnson, limited edition #48 souvenir, $48 donation to the Jimmie Johnson Foundation and more.

The Speedway also appearances from Rock group Foreigner, Four-time Emmy Award winner and Pepsi 500 Grand Marshal Kelsey Grammer, Christian Slater drove the pacecar, Recording artist Jesse McCartney performs the national anthem, Audrina Patridge waved the green flag, and more.

According to via, during the race, they interviewed the president of the speedway Gillian Zucker. According to the article, she brushed off the attendance; she thought it was going to be “pretty flat” compared to a Labor Day date. The media estimated the crowds at 45,000 to 60,000 while NASCAR’s estimate where at 70,000. In reading the article, it bothered me a little bit, they really didn’t have the attendance that I thought they would and while I agreed with her that banking the track even more would be a bad idea due to safety, I disagree that this speedway deserves two cup dates.

The speedway did better with one cup series date, but I wonder if the Auto Club Speedway could even sellout with one Cup Series date.

Originally I wrote “Should the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana be converted into a high-banked, restrictor-plate track?” was a good idea, however some NASCAR drivers said it wouldn’t work, the speeds would be too fast and safety is number one in NASCAR. The truth is, other than making the track smaller, something like a unique track…Darlington or Phoenix or a Road Course, I don’t really know what configuration California Speedway should turned into from the 2-mile D-Shaped oval. Personally I like racetracks like Phoenix, Richmond, Darlington and especially Bristol. Why no track developers are creating another Bristol or Richmond is beyond me, short track racing puts on some of the best racing out there.

But Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pepsi 500 race was a different story. It seems like this is a year of just surviving races to finish in the top 10, let along the top 5 or winning the race. These drivers are driving all out just about every lap. They are up on the wheel. During the race, you couldn’t help but notice Dale Earnhardt Jr. having another good run, however like so many others, he was caught up in a late race “Big One”, but I don't know how it started because there was no real good view. One fan said Juniors tire went flat.

All four RPM cars were in the wreck. Afterwards, Kasey Kahne said something that got to me, he said it was a phantom caution or a NASCAR caution as some put it for the fans.Wow, I’m 3000 miles away in Massachusetts and I caused a caution, really? The debris was show on television and that’s exactly what fans want to see.

In the end, it was the man Jimmie Johnson who picked another victory this season over his teammate Jeff Gordon. I will say one thing, Juan Montoya is still in this chase which is a big surprise to me, but EGR and Montoya are doing it and he’s right, they don’t have much to lose. This chase is really down to the top 5 driver’s period.

After the race, I read a report that said the Auto Club Speedway wanted to move their Feb. date to mid-April, being the Phoenix date. No, no, no, you can’t take a good date from a racetrack that puts on an amazing product, a good race and move to it to a bad race period.

Bottom line, the product just wasn’t there and now changes need to be made in three areas. First in the speedway by removing one Cup Series date and either leave it as an open weekend or give it to Iowa Speedway or another track that doesn’t have one that is in a good market like California.

Two would be reconfiguration, but who knows how. And three, NASCAR needs to take some advice from Dale Jarrett, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and several other drivers, crew chiefs, crew members, owners and more on how to improve this COT car, otherwise you’re not going to have the best product at every racetrack.

The COT is safety, that’s a good starting point, what about fuel injection and going back to a rear spoiler? A better front splitter? Look at the new Nationwide Series COT. What do you think?

(Photo Credit: Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)