Sunday, March 8, 2009
Bad economy wins out over great weather at AMS
HAMPTON, Ga. -- Big patches of empty seats under the Atlanta Motor Speedway press box on Sunday prompted Jeff Gordon to say he was "a little baffled."
"I know there's a lot of race fans around here," Gordon said. "I've been hearing that they were going to have some empty seats. It's hard to say. It's really hard to say. ... This place should be packed."
Observers estimated the stands were no more than two-thirds filled for the NASCAR event, and total capacity is about 125,000. The listed attendance was 94,400.
There were hopes attendance would be boosted by great weather, but one week after a snowstorm, not even temperatures in the high 70s could fill the seats.
It was more proof of the economic downturn's impact on sports.
"We are far from immune from what's going on in our economy," said Carl Edwards, who finished third.
"It's too bad there aren't more fans in the grandstands, but I feel like my responsibility ... is to go out there and race as hard as we can, deliver for our marketing partners and deliver for our fans, and do the best we can and hope the economy comes back up and those stands get more full. But there's nothing we can do about it. I'm just glad for the fans that are here."
The least expensive ticket for the race was $39.
Atlanta Motor Speedway has two races on the NASCAR schedule, including a fall race that has moved to Labor Day weekend.
"Atlanta has had a tough time," said Dale Earnhardt Jr. "You'd think that this place would do really well. I love it. I love coming here. ... I would hate to see them lose a race, which I ain't saying they will. ... It is a great race track with a lot of history."
MORE DISAPPOINTMENT FOR MARTIN: Mark Martin's first pole since 2001 only led to more racing disappointment.
The 50-year-old Martin entered the race only 34th in points after frustrations with blown engines the last two weeks.
He lost his chance for his first win since 2005 when he blew out his right rear tire on lap 214 and hit the Atlanta Motor Speedway wall, causing major damage to the back of his car.
Martin's crew stripped off the twisted sheet metal and Martin returned to the rear of the field to finish 31st. He led five laps.
Martin won the pole with a lap of 187.045 mph for his 42nd career pole, but first since May 5, 2001 at Richmond.
After two seasons as a part-time driver, Martin is back with a full-season ride with Hendrick Motorsports.
NO REPEAT FOR KYLE BUSCH: Kyle Busch, the defending champion in Atlanta who was coming off a win last week in Las Vegas, finished 18th while his older brother Kurt enjoyed the win.
"It just was a bad day. We have them," said crew chief Steve Addington.
"We didn't have a good car today from the start. ... It was just no grip out of the race track. We started making gains on it there at the end. We could make it last for about 30 laps and then that would go away."
Even after his win, Kurt Busch had another compliment for his brother.
"I feel I needed to uphold my end of the bargain because Kyle is on the gas right now, up front every week," said Kurt Busch.
PAINFUL PASS: The first pass of the race field was completed away from Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Martin Truex was back in his No. 1 Chevrolet, starting 23rd, after a bout with kidney stones.
Truex was taken by ambulance to Spalding Regional Medical Center in nearby Griffin on Saturday after experiencing brief bouts of intense pain during practice. After being examined and given fluids, he was released from the hospital and passed the stone at about 10 p.m.
Truex finished 10th in his No. 1 Chevrolet.
MORE SLIPPING AND SLIDING: There was more talk from drivers about poor grip by the Goodyear tires on the track.
"They need to go back to the drawing board, I guess," said Earnhardt, who finished 11th. "I ain't no tire engineer but, I mean, we have good success at a lot of tracks. ... We just have to try and figure it out. I've got a lot of confidence in Goodyear that they will figure it out. If this is as good as it is, this is as good as it is."
KYLE'S PLANS: Kyle Busch has looked into buying a NASCAR team in the truck or Nationwide series, but those plans are on hold for now.
The 23-year-old Busch already owns a Late Model team, and he's more concerned at the moment with getting that financial house in order.
"We've got to get a better business model," he said. "I spent way too much money last year on my Late Model team. I'm trying to get a better idea of what's going on there. As soon as I get a better plan going and I'm not blowing through my sponsorship money, I may take a look at something else."
Busch estimated that it would take about $8 million to buy the assets of a team, and another $3 million a year to run it.
"The first year, you'd be spending $11 million of your money," he said. "Without sponsorship money, it's just not possible. I've got to work on retirement first."
Besides, Busch may have something else on his agenda if a new American-based Formula One team gets off the ground. He has been mentioned as one of the possible drivers and is definitely interested.
"I'd like to go to all the different areas and see what's all about," he said. "It would be fun to go do that stuff. You can find out exactly how good you are against the best in the world."
Busch sounded as though it takes more skill to race on the Grand Prix circuit, a challenge he would love to take on.
"Those guys are outrageous," he said. "They are so good at being able to finesse a car and make it do what they want it to do. Here, you can try to make the car do what you want it to do, but you're really at its mercy. Those guys can make it do what they want it to do. To learn about that, see what it's like, that would be a lot of fun."
ELLIOTT'S DAY ENDS IN CRASH : Georgia native Bill Elliott finished 36th. He was unable to avoid a collision with Sam Hornish Jr., who hit the wall on lap 201.
"It's just a shame," Elliott said. "We didn't have a terrible race car."
LUG NUTS: David Ragan, who qualified 39th, started at the back of the field due to an engine change and finished 19th. ... Jimmy Watts, a crew member for the No. 47 Marcos Ambrose team, was suspended for the remainder of the race after he ran onto the infield grass -- a prohibited area -- to retrieve a loose tire on the third caution of the race. ... Kurt Busch was dominant in leading 234 laps. Other lap leaders included Gordon, 47; Edwards, 28; Jimmie Johnson, 11; Martin, 5; Ryan Newman, 3; Joe Nemechek, 1; and Truex, 1. ... Joey Logano, the 18-year-old who finished 30th, had the best finish among rookies.