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Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Updated: November 14, 5:21 PM ET
It's not the Super Bowl, but Chase finale still a pretty good draw

By Marty Smith
ESPN.com

MIAMI -- Curtis Gray sounds happy. By creating a weeklong Super Bowl atmosphere around the NASCAR season finale, the Homestead-Miami Speedway president has established a franchise at his 1.5-mile venue.

A marathon campaign culminates here in balmy South Florida, and the entire nation knows it.

"We had trouble selling out at one time," Gray said Monday. "There were no major events leading up to the finale. But because of the reconfigured points system, the Chase and our position in the schedule, we've done well [increasing our position]."

And he doesn't anticipate that position will change. Asked if Bruton Smith's recent purchase of New Hampshire Motor Speedway -- which inevitably will shuffle the Chase schedule -- concerns him, Gray didn't hesitate: Nope.

"This is just a natural to host the championship down here," he said. "The weather is perfect. If not the most fair track, with variable banking that drivers can run all over track, it's one of most competitive.

"And the other thing, if you look at goals of NASCAR, where they're going -- it's so diverse down here. That's very important to NASCAR. This is just a great market. It's used to hosting championship events."

Like the biggest of American games -- the NFL Super Bowl. Gray said he and his staff learned a tremendous amount from last season's Super Bowl in Miami about how to generate coveted interest. It's really about the periphery -- the buildup.

Gray and his staff work closely with the Super Bowl committee to cultivate unique ways to generate that coveted focus.

Festivities began last week with a fundraiser for Speediatrics -- International Speedway Corp.'s children's charity -- that raised some $200,000. There is a sail fishing tournament Wednesday that benefits the NASCAR Foundation, as well as a charity golf tournament at Doral Resort & Country Club -- organized by the same folks who organize the Super Bowl golf tournament -- that includes such former sports stars as New York Giants Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor and New York Mets catcher Gary Carter. There is a weeklong race festival, too.

Thursday is the big day, though. Juan Pablo Montoya's wife, Connie, is hosting a massive charity function at Miami's Karu & Y restaurant called "BELive" to raise money through Montoya's foundation for needy Columbian communities. Some 500 international high-profile guests are expected, including NASCAR chairman Brian France, president Mike Helton and points leader Jimmie Johnson. Also on the docket Thursday is the first-ever exclusive Sports Illustrated party outside of Super Bowl week.

The resulting economic impact on the region is tremendous. Back in 2005, an outside marketing agency was commissioned to do a study on the economic impact of NASCAR's championship weekend, which showed a $174 million influx into the local economy.

Gray said that number is now substantially higher, because of the aforementioned weeklong focus.

"In 2005 it was just a three-day show," Gray said. "Now the fans are in earlier and out later. That number is much bigger now."

He anticipates it will continue to grow, given the region's diversity and the recent influx of international drivers into the sport. The Ford 400 is already sold out.

"We've been sold out for a while," Gray said. "We're moving ahead with our truck finale and Busch finale, as well. That's another neat thing, it's the last race of the season for all three series. It all ends here. It's the last race of current car ever -- the last time [Dale Earnhardt] Junior is in the red number 8. It's history being made."

Marty Smith is a contributor to ESPN's NASCAR coverage. He can be reached at ESPNsider@aol.com.