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Tuesday, February 27, 2007
Updated: February 28, 7:40 PM ET
California should lose a race, but it won't happen

By Terry Blount
ESPN.com

After falling thousands of seats short of a sellout once again, you have to wonder if California Speedway deserves two Nextel Cup dates.

The 92,000-seat facility is relatively small compared to some NASCAR tracks, but not all of those seats have been filled in the second-largest market in the country.

No wonder L.A. doesn't have an NFL team.

The main reason NASCAR wants two Nextel Cup events in Southern California is because sponsors want more races in big markets, but it doesn't look good when fewer than 80,000 show up for the race.

Atlanta, Texas and Lowe's in Charlotte also don't sell out two Cup races, but you have to keep it in perspective. All three tracks still sell more than 125,000 tickets to each Cup event.

Gillian Zucker, president of California Speedway, would like to see NASCAR move the early-season date to April. What the track really needs is a date that isn't within three weeks of the race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

If any track out West deserves two Cup races, it's Las Vegas, which sells out every Cup event. The facility also was remodeled and the track reconfigured in the offseason.

Taking a race away from California and giving it to Las Vegas makes sense, but politics gets in the way.

Vegas is owned by Bruton Smith and Speedway Motorsports Inc., while California Speedway is owned by International Speedway Corp, a public company controlled by NASCAR's France family.

ISC isn't going to give one of its races to an SMI track. The last time that happened (a second race at Texas) it took a major lawsuit and a $100 million out-of-court settlement for Smith to purchase ISC's Rockingham, N.C., track and take its Cup date.

SAFER does mean safer
David Reutimann's violent impact with the wall in Sunday's Auto Club 500 was the second time he escaped major injury in a scary accident. Reutimann slammed into the SAFER barrier at Texas Motor Speedway in a Craftsman Truck Series accident two years ago.

David Reutimann
David Reutimann's hard crash in California might not have ended so uneventfully just a few years ago.

Later that year, the Texas Motor Sports Hall of Fame gave a special award to Dr. Dean Sicking, the man who invented the SAFER barrier. Reutimann wrote a letter to Sicking and had it read to him during the ceremony:

"If a woman you don't know comes up to you at a race track and gives you a big hug, that will be my wife," Reutimann wrote then. "She wants to thank you that I'm still around. All of us in racing thank you for what you've done for our sport."

Reutimann's crash Sunday is another example of how far NASCAR has come in safety advancements.

The speed and impact angle of the accident were similar to the one that took Dale Earnhardt's life. NASCAR officials told ESPN's Marty Smith that it was one of the hardest g-force impacts ever recorded. But Reutimann walked away with only a bruised left foot.

King Kenny getting crowned
Kenny Bernstein's return to drag racing is off to a rough start. The six-time NHRA champion failed to qualify for the first two events in his new Funny Car.

But Bernstein shouldn't feel too bad. This season has the deepest Funny Car field in NHRA history. Veteran racer Del Worsham, runner-up to the title in 2004, also didn't make the 16-car show in the first two races.

It really brings home the amazing achievement of John Force's ongoing qualifying record. The 13-time Funny Car champ has made the show in 394 consecutive races.

Ashley Force, John's daughter, is only 392 races behind him. She qualified for her first two events as a rookie.

RCR making more gains
It's early, but Richard Childress Racing is the most impressive team in Nextel Cup right now. All three RCR drivers rank in the top six in the standings -- Jeff Burton is second, Kevin Harvick is fourth and Clint Bowyer is sixth.

Jeff Burton
Jeff Burton has been instrumental in his team's resurgence.

Harvick might be 2-for-2 in the win column if not for a flat tire at the end of the California race. And Bowyer would rank a couple of spots higher if not for finishing the Daytona 500 upside down.

But it's Burton who deserves a lot of the credit for RCR's remarkable turnaround over the last two seasons.

When Burton left Roush Racing to join RCR at the end of 2004, things weren't going well for Childress. But Burton helped Childress revamp the operation, making numerous suggestions on personnel and technical procedures that moved RCR in the right direction.

Buschwhackers beware?
Timothy Peters' 17th-place showing at the Busch race in California made him the highest finisher who isn't a Cup driver. A Busch regular hasn't cracked the top 10 in the first two races. Scott Wimmer's 13th-place effort at Daytona was the best in the Daytona Busch race.

Cut that out
NASCAR needs to stop allowing drivers on the tail end of the lead lap to line up in front of the leader on a restart. This happens occasionally, depending on when the caution drops and when drivers come to pit road.

It happened once in the Auto Club 500 on Sunday. Leader Matt Kenseth had eight cars in front of him on a restart at Lap 60.

Stop doing it. Let the tail-end cars go around and start in the back of the pack. It gives them almost a full lap for free, but it's better (and safer) than potentially slower cars starting in front of the leader.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.