Speculation is mounting that Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, which has seen sagging attendance for its two Sprint Cup Series races each year, might lose one of the stock-car events as NASCAR prepares to shuffle its schedule for 2011.
Nothing was confirmed as of Wednesday, but NASCAR is putting the final touches on the schedule for its premier 36-race series and NASCAR Chairman Brian France recently said “we’ll have some pretty impactful changes.” They could be announced as early as next week.
Auto Club Speedway is owned by International Speedway Corp., which operates 13 tracks overall and is controlled by the France family, which also controls NASCAR. Because ISC is petitioning for a second race at its Kansas Speedway facility, where a casino is being built, speculation is strong that one of Fontana’s races might be shifted to Kansas.
Spokesmen for NASCAR, ISC and Auto Club Speedway declined to comment on any specific changes.
Most of the other speedways on the Sprint Cup circuit are owned by Speedway Motorsports Inc., and that company is pressing NASCAR to shift one race to its Kentucky track and give its Las Vegas track a second race. That might mean taking them from SMI tracks that currently hold two Cup races a year, such as New Hampshire or Atlanta.
The Fontana track hosts Cup races in February and October. Because the October race is one of 10 races that make up NASCAR’s “Chase for the Cup” championship playoff, the track’s February date might be more vulnerable to being moved.
The schedule shakeup comes as NASCAR is grappling with falling attendance and television ratings for the Cup series, mainly because of the poor economy.
But the two-mile Auto Club Speedway has struggled with shrinking crowds since the track, located 50 miles east of Los Angeles, began staging two Cup races a year in 2004.
While its recent crowds of 70,000 to 80,000 remain among the largest for a one-day Southland sporting event, they’re down from 100,000 a few years ago. The 565-acre track has 92,000 grandstand seats and can hold several thousand more in its infield.
Like many tracks, Auto Club Speedway has lowered some ticket prices and rolled out marketing initiatives to boost attendance. But the track also has repeatedly said it’s a challenge to grow its fan base when Southern Californians have widespread entertainment choices.
Others have suggested that the track’s design too often provides less-than-thrilling racing and that Fontana’s February race suffers partly because it precedes the Las Vegas race, with many Southland fans preferring to attend that event.