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December 19, 2014

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NASCAR drivers talk pros, cons of a second race in Las Vegas

Speedway could get another race as early as 2011, but it remains unlikely

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Sam Morris

The Air Force Thunderbirds fly over before the start of the NASCAR Shelby American GT 350 Sunday, February 28, 2010 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Jimmie Johnson won for his fourth career victory in Las Vegas.

Jimmie Johnson Wins at LVMS

For the fourth time in six years, Jimmie Johnson cruises to victory lane at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, winning the Shelby American NASCAR Sprint Cup series, Sunday.

NASCAR Sunday

Jimmie Johnson celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Shelby American GT 350 auto race at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway Sunday, February 28, 2010. Launch slideshow »

As they are every year during NASCAR weekend, discussions about Las Vegas hosting a second NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race were a hot topic at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Speedway officials have always kept their opinions consistent on the matter: They’d love to have a second race, but it’s just not that simple.

NASCAR isn’t going to add an extra date to its schedule, so a race would have to be taken away from another track to make room for a second date here. What complicates the situation is other tracks, such as the Kansas Speedway, also want another Sprint Cup race.

Some of the drivers at the Shelby American race this weekend, however, thought Las Vegas was worthy of a second race.

“There isn’t anyone in racing who doesn’t love coming here,” Tony Stewart said. “There’s not a lot of places we go where we’ve got so many options of what to do at the end of the day.”

While NASCAR battles the economy, some speedways around the country have seen a sharp decline in attendance. Reports from last week’s race at Fontana outside of Los Angeles, for example, indicated that only half of the seats were full and the real attendance was much lower than the announced 72,000.

Although Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s attendance reached its peak in 2007-2008, the race still registered as a sellout Sunday with an attendance near 140,000.

Attendance would be one of Las Vegas’ selling points. Joe Gibbs, president of Joe Gibbs Racing team, wouldn't mind another date in Las Vegas.

“I’d love it,” Gibbs said.

But there are people in NASCAR who are not so sure. The most prominent would be the man who won Sunday’s race, Jimmie Johnson.

Johnson said Fontana, which currently has two races, should be seen as a cautionary tale for Las Vegas. Fontana sold out every year up to 2004, when it got its second Sprint Cup race.

With two races per year, the track has never sold out and attendance has slipped drastically.

“I think you lose something when you go to two dates,” Johnson said. “I don’t think you can take a facility that’s seating 60 or 70 percent of its capacity, add a second date and expect it to be that big at both events.”

Johnson, who grew up in Southern California, said a group of his friends used to go to the race every year at Fontana before it got a second date.

“Now, they say, ‘I’ll skip the spring race and go to the fall race,” Johnson said. “The fall race comes around and they say, ‘I’ve got some things going on, I’ll go to the spring race.’ I now have friends who haven’t been in four years because of that cycle.”

Whether that would happen in Las Vegas is debatable, especially since the speedway reports that 70 percent of the attendance comes from out of state.

Thirteen tracks on the NASCAR circuit currently have two races. Las Vegas would love to join that group, and several NASCAR drivers wouldn’t mind, either.

“This place is very strong on service,” Mark Martin said. “That is a pleasure. When you come to Las Vegas, it’s a whole different feeling than it is a lot of other places where you feel like you’re a burden on folks.”

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