Vegas Track A Good Bet For Another NASCAR Date, Awards Banquet

Charlotte, NC – Everyone knows Las Vegas is candy land for adults. It also happens to be home to the best fan experience in NASCAR.

When it comes to fun, Vegas is king. A ride down ?the Strip? is unlike anything on the planet. The lights, themed hotels and casinos, and the people make it seem like you are starring in your personal Federico Fellini movie.

Las Vegas Motor Speedway has borrowed the best of Vegas and turned itself into an amazing fan experience. Everything about the track ? perhaps with the exception with the traffic in and out of the facility ? is among the best in motorsports.

Thanks to O. Bruton Smith and his Speedway Motorsports, Inc. empire, LVMS has undergone a near complete change in recent years. A new track layout with higher banking in the corners has turned a flat, dull raceway into one of the most competitive on the circuit. Additional improvements, like moving pit road closer to the main grandstand, has given fans a better view of the action.

The real pearl in the recent renovations, however, has been the addition of the ?Neon Garage.? The huge infield expanse (right) is unlike anything in racing, a mix of music, carnival and speed. Designed in a diamond pattern with elevated, first- and second-story garage and tech area viewing, fans can get closer to the action at Vegas than at any other track on the circuit. The complex also includes Victory Lane, where thousands of fans can join the winner?s celebration.

This week, Smith again indicated he?d like the track to have a second NASCAR Sprint Cup event each season. He also again made a pitch to have the NASCAR Sprint Cup awards banquet move from New York to ?Sin City.?

Frankly, it?s hard to argue with him on either count.

Another race at Vegas would not only allow more fans to experience the magnificent speedway, but it would also create an opportunity to replace any number of snoozers held at a number of other tracks on the tour. California is the first to come to mind, outdated Martinsville is another.

Smith could also look at moving a date from two tracks he owns – Atlanta and New Hampshire. Rumors of extremely soft ticket sales for this weekend?s Atlanta (a dog sports town if there ever was one) race make the scenario of pirating a date from there the most plausible.

New Hampshire, in our estimation, would be a less desirable choice thanks to its capacity crowds at almost all events and the track?s proximity to the Boston and Northeastern USA media markets. Of course, any race date or venue change would have to have NASCAR?s blessing. Ditto for the banquet move, which has grown stale and incredibly expensive in New York.

It doesn?t make sense to only have one race date in a town that everyone loves to go to and has the most unique fan experience in the sport. Smith and NASCAR need to get together and somehow make a second race date at Las Vegas Motor Speedway a reality.

More Tire Woes

It was a ?tiresome? weekend for the NASCAR crowd at Las Vegas this weekend. Then again, it?s been that way for some time. Blown tires – especially right fronts ? ruled the weekend as car after car pounded the Las Vegas Motor Speedway retaining walls.

In Sunday?s Sprint Cup race, an event record 11 cautions ruled the day, six of them coming because drivers popped right-front tires. Saturday?s Nationwide Series event wasn?t much better as 13 yellow flag periods chewed up 55 of the 202 laps contested. Again, tire woes proved to be the culprit in several of the incidents.

While there is no official statistic for crashes due to tire failures, it?s safe to say that a huge number of crashes in recent years have been due to the malady. Just about every part of the current NASCAR racer has become bulletproof. Engines run wide open for 500 miles, chassis and suspension components absorb incredible loads and stresses without failure.

So why can?t the tires? While it?s a simple question to what is surely a complex problem, it is one that needs to be answered.

Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company engineers do their best to bring a quality product to the racetrack each week. Despite their best efforts and constant testing, both in the lab and at the track, tires continue to be the biggest problem in NASCAR competition.

Recent generations of Goodyear racing tires are hard as rocks and don?t provide a lot of grip. They slip, slide and ride on the track, not in it. In front of the cameras, drivers extol the virtues of the tires saying how great they are. Privately, drivers say ? well, you can?t repeat what they say about them here.

Tony Stewart might have said something about how bad the tires were Sunday, but he was still too groggy after his right-front tire failed sending him into the wall at 175 miles per hour. Only advanced safety initiatives in both the car and the track saved Stewart from serious injury.

Goodyear?s exclusive contract with NASCAR means they are the only show in town. It also means they can bring to the track whatever they want and charge whatever they want ? in this case, $1,800 for a set of four tires. In case you missed it, NASCAR limited teams to 14 sets of tires this weekend. Quick math tells you that rounds out to just over $25,000 in tire bills for teams that used the full allotment.

That?s perverse.

This isn?t about money, however. It?s about safety and competition. While it seems improbable that Goodyear ? or anybody else for that matter ? can make a tire that will grip like heck, be impervious to puncture or never wear out, there has to be a better tire available than the one NASCAR racers have been suffering with in recent seasons.

Simply stated, Goodyear needs to deliver a more reliable product to the track each week than the one they are currently supplying. If they can’t do that, then perhaps it’s time to entertain bids from someone else who can.

Safer Barriers

If there was ever an example as to why every inch of both the inside and outside retaining walls should be protected with safer barriers or energy absorbing materials, it was Jeff Gordon?s crash late in Sunday?s Sprint Cup race.

Gordon blasted the back straight inside retaining wall so hard his car briefly got airborne. Only sheer luck and the angle of impact prevented Gordon from injury in what he later described as the hardest crash of his career.

Fortunately, a track owner like Smith will hear Gordon?s pleas for safer barriers everywhere and make changes before NASCAR again visits the track. It seems only right, however, that all tracks take yet another look at their retaining wall safety after Gordon?s crash.

Week after week, we see today?s modern race cars crashing everywhere on the track – not just in the outside walls of the turns. The only bigger tragedy than a serious driver injury or fatality would be if the technology and materials to make things safer were not in place at the time of the incident.


It?s off to Atlanta this weekend for a NASCAR tripleheader. The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series opens the festivities with a Friday night event followed by a Nationwide race Saturday. Sunday?s Kobalt Tools 500 Cup event rolls off at 2 p.m. Eastern Time.

Two items of interest this weekend will be how the ?tapered spacer? effects the competition in the Truck Series and the head count at the three events.

The carburetor/manifold spacer (another term for a restrictor plate), along with a mandated gear rule, has knocked 70-80 horsepower out of the trucks. At the test in January, driver?s who could hold their truck wide open around the 1.54-mile Atlanta oval posted the fastest times. It will be interesting to see how that works in side-by-side competition this weekend in Atlanta.

Meanwhile, rumors of extremely soft ticket sales for the Atlanta event have been circulating the garage area since Daytona. In a town that didn?t sell out Atlanta Braves playoff games when the team was in its heyday some years back, it?s hard to imagine the locals turning out for a NASCAR weekend in early March when weather can be brutal in the southeast.

A current projected forecast for this weekend has high temps in mid to upper 50?s and lows down to 29 predicted for Saturday night. That?s not exactly camping ? or racing – weather.

Whatever the conditions, make sure you keep an eye out to see how many fans do turn up for this weekend?s Atlanta events.

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