Playing calendar roulette with California's race dates

The official estimate for crowd attendance for Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Auto Club Speedway was 72,000, which for many media members in attendance also took into account team and NASCAR employees, as well as those dining at nearby restaurants during the race.

Realistically, it was probably an overestimation of at least 10-15,000 people, and ACS President Gillian Zucker even held a mid-race press conference to discuss attendance and how the lackluster attendance numbers could affect future California race dates. (Side note: does Zucker have the job that's the NASCAR equivalent to the president of the BCS? The lady's been having to turn chicken crap into chicken salad since she got the job.)

ACS hasn't sold out a race since the second race date was added to their schedule, and when asked if it was better to have one sold-out race instead of two half-full races, Zucker immediately responded that it was better to have two races.

But no matter what Zucker says, it's looking more likely that ACS could lose one of its race dates, and if I were in charge of the Sprint Cup schedule, it'd be the first date.

ISC owns ACS as well as Kansas Speedway, and it's basically a given that Kansas will have a second race in 2011 thanks to approval of plans to build a casino just outside of turn two. Kansas's second race date is going to come from an ISC track, and given that Kansas's original date is in the Chase, it makes perfect sense to take ACS's first date. (A Chase date would be much more lucrative to ACS than a February date would)

Of course, you can't exactly have the second race of the year at Kansas Speedway because right now there is five inches of snow on the ground, so another ISC track would have to be involved in the date switching.

Phoenix makes the most sense to take Auto Club's February date and give its date to Kansas, because it would allow NASCAR to keep their early-season west coast swing intact. Currently, Phoenix's first date is in April, a month when the weather is obviously substantially better in the Midwest. Yeah, there's always the risk of tornadoes, as happened last year during the Camping World Truck Series race at Kansas, but it spaces Kansas's dates out nicely and wouldn't conflict with much else on the Kansas City sports calendar.

Zucker probably knows that her track is at the top of a very short list of tracks to lose a date to Kansas, but she obviously has to put the best face on to support Auto Club Speedway. But if ACS attendance spikes back to near capacity with one Chase race in 2011 -- no guarantee given the California economy -- her job will be much easier.

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