From the Marbles - NASCAR

The Sprint Cup series returns to Auto Club Speedway this weekend, marking the last time the track will host two races in a season. As part of NASCAR's major schedule realignment for 2011, Fontana lost one of its two races, and will run only on March 27 of next year.

Now, Fontana takes more grief than any track this side of Pocono, so for many race fans that's not necessarily the worst news in the world. Attendance is suspect at best, and the racing isn't the most competitive on the circuit. (Those two statements may well be connected, you know.) Auto Club Speedway puts far more effort into marketing than most tracks -- they fill media members' inboxes with press releases throughout the year -- and the track has kicked around idea after idea to goose interest. Repaving the track? Increasing the banking? Running the race as a five-lap shootout? Whatever the idea, you can bet Cali has given it some thought.

But here's an idea that's starting to gain traction: maybe the track doesn't need more than one date. Maybe no track does.

This is an issue that's been percolating under the surface most of the season, but it's tough to take on directly. After all, it means taking away dates, and the requisite millions of dollars, from established tracks, and that's n the best way to make friends.

Jimmie Johnson, who doesn't need any more friends, took on the issue directly earlier this season when talking about whether Las Vegas needs a second date. "I think you lose something when you go to two dates. I don’t think you can take a facility that’s seating 60 or 70 percent of its capacity, add a second date and expect it to be that big at both events." Johnson noted that it's too easy for fans to rationalize their way out of two races in a year. 

"They say, 'I’ll skip the spring race and go to the fall race,'" Johnson said. "The fall race comes around and they say, 'I’ve got some things going on, I’ll go to the spring race.' I now have friends who haven’t been in four years because of that cycle."

As of 2011, 13 tracks -- Daytona, Talladega, Bristol, Martinsville, Texas, Phoenix, Kansas, Charlotte, Pocono, Michigan, Dover, Richmond and Loudon -- are running two dates. Atlanta and Fontana lost one from 2010; Kansas gained one. Purely in terms of speculation, how many of those tracks really must have two races? Daytona, Talladega, Bristol and Martinsville because of history, Charlotte because of locale. Beyond that, what do you say?

The reason why a track-cutting is on the table is because of the ongoing shortening movement. Slicing the schedule to 30 races necessarily means cutting dates away from tracks. (I went to college to figure that out.) And what easier race to cut than one from a track with one to give?

So have your say, folks. Would cutting a date from a track goose attendance and interest at that track? And if so, who's on your chopping block?

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