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Dates could change for Atlanta and Fontana races UPDATE This rumor is upgraded to 'fact' today based on the rumors below.

03/09/08 When the green flag waves today on the Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, many eyes will be on Carl Edwards to see whether he can win three Sprint Cup races in a row.

But the eyes of Bruton Smith, the chairman and CEO of Speedway Motorsports, which owns the suburban Atlanta track, will be focused on the grandstands. Last week, a sellout crowd of about 150,000 watched the race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, a track also owned by Speedway Motorsports.

Barring an enormous walk-up crowd of race day ticket-buyers, the Atlanta crowd today will be significantly smaller than that, and well under the track's capacity of 124,000. This has become a regular problem in recent years at Atlanta, which hosts two Sprint Cup races compared to only one for Las Vegas.

Smith, a vocal critic of NASCAR's current schedule, says he believes it is time for a change.

"I think we need to race here at Atlanta on Labor Day weekend and give California Speedway our October date," Smith said. "It makes good business sense for both parties."

It's an interesting proposition. The Auto Club Speedway, formerly California Speedway, has not sold out a race since it received its second annual date from NASCAR in 2004. In February, the track struggled with attendance, weather and pavement issues. Last September, triple-digit temperatures took their toll as over 25,000 tickets went unsold.

"They've struggled with weather out there, and it's just so hot on Labor Day that the fans can't take it," Smith said. "We can run the race here [in Atlanta] on Saturday night, and the weather wouldn't be bad at all."

There are snags to the plan, however. Rival racetrack company International Speedway Corporation owns Auto Club Speedway, so both parties and NASCAR would have to agree to the change.

The two companies have worked together before. In 2002, Atlanta swapped dates with ISC-owned Homestead-Miami Speedway, giving Atlanta its current October race date and Homestead-Miami the season finale date in November. And after last year's Labor Day race, Auto Club Speedway President Gillian Zucker said the track would entertain the idea of switching races to get an October date.

Smith said that if the California-Atlanta swap falls through, he still has no plans to move a date from any of his tracks to give Las Vegas a second date.

"Ticket sales in Atlanta are up, they're better," Smith said. "I think you have a lot of people who go to this race at the last minute, so we're expecting a great turnout of walk-up buyers on race day."

That's not to say Smith doesn't want a second date at his Las Vegas track, a date he says makes sense.

"Maybe NASCAR will decide that we've earned it," Smith said. "If they want what's best for the sport, we need to be there a second time." OCALA.com

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