Jim Utter: Next season’s Cup schedule has some ironic twists

Darlington, which hosted the Southern 500 on Labor Day weekend from 1950 through 2003, will return to that date in 2015.
Aug 29, 2014

Are NASCAR’s schedule-makers going in circles?

We know NASCAR drivers compete mostly driving in circles, but the release this week of the 2015 Sprint Cup Series schedule seems to indicate schedule-makers — or at least their line of reasoning — might, as well.

The most glaring of the changes involve Darlington (S.C.) Raceway and Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Darlington, which hosted the Southern 500 on Labor Day weekend from 1950 through 2003, will return to that date in 2015.

Track and NASCAR officials praised the move, in part for listening to fans, many of whom did not approve of the date moving in the first place.

But will it succeed?

Despite the “outcry,” the Southern 500 enjoyed the greatest attendance while the race was held Mother’s Day weekend, in part because its seating capacity was expanded — and filled — in the years after the move.

And I seem to remember a reason the date was moved.

“We feel like the growth of the sport, the oversaturation that exists in the southeastern United States, complemented that whole thought process of taking advantage of the same amount of race dates we are running,” Mike Helton, NASCAR’s president, said at the time.

Then there’s Atlanta, which hosted a pair of Cup series races from 1960 through 2010 before track owner Bruton Smith elected to move one of its dates to his new facility at Kentucky.

When choosing which date — spring or fall — to eliminate, Smith chose Atlanta’s March race.

What was the reasoning?

“It’s tough to do an outdoor event here in March,” speedway president Ed Clark said at the time. “Even if it’s 60 degrees for the race, it’s cold for the (overnight) campers.”

When the 2015 schedule was released Tuesday, Atlanta’s lone race date was moved to March 1, 2015 — the earliest it has ever been run.

Dizzy yet?

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