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Inside Motorsports: 2015 Cup schedule has some ironic twists

By Jim Utter
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Todd Warshaw - Getty Images
Darlington, which hosted the Southern 500 on Labor Day weekend from 1950 through 2003, is returning to that date in 2015.

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Are NASCAR’s schedule-makers going in circles?

We know NASCAR drivers compete mostly driving in circles, but the release this week of the 2015 Sprint Cup Series schedule seems to indicate schedule-makers – or at least their line of reasoning – might as well.

The most glaring of the changes involve Darlington (S.C.) Raceway and Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Darlington, which hosted the Southern 500 on Labor Day weekend from 1950 through 2003, will return to that date in 2015.

Track and NASCAR officials praised the move, in part for listening to fans, many of whom did not approve of the date moving in the first place.

But will it succeed?

Despite the “outcry,” the Southern 500 enjoyed the greatest attendance while the race was held Mother’s Day weekend, in part because its seating capacity was expanded – and filled – in the years after the move.

And I seem to remember a reason the date was moved.

“We feel like the growth of the sport, the oversaturation that exists in the southeastern United States, complemented that whole thought process of taking advantage of the same amount of race dates we are running,” Mike Helton, NASCAR’s president, said at the time.

Then there’s Atlanta, which hosted a pair of Cup series races from 1960 through 2010 before track owner Bruton Smith elected to move one of its dates to his new facility at Kentucky.

When choosing which date – spring or fall – to eliminate, Smith chose Atlanta’s March race.

What was the reasoning?

“It’s tough to do an outdoor event here in March,” speedway president Ed Clark said at the time. “Even if it’s 60 degrees for the race, it’s cold for the (overnight) campers.”

When the 2015 schedule was released Tuesday, Atlanta’s lone race date was moved to March 1, 2015 – the earliest it has ever been run.

Dizzy yet?

Notes

Stewart investigation continues: The investigation into the Aug. 9 racing incident involving NASCAR driver Tony Stewart and resulted in the death of driver Kevin Ward Jr. is “still on-going,” a spokeswoman with the Ontario County (N.Y) Sheriff’s office told the Observer on Wednesday.

The spokeswoman said there was no timetable for when the investigation would be completed.

It was just more than two weeks ago Sheriff Philip Povero held his last news conference during which he said it would be “two weeks or more” before the investigation would be concluded. The resolution of the investigation will be released by the sheriff’s office, or jointly with the district attorney’s office, the spokeswoman said this week.

During a sprint car race at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park, a car driven by Stewart struck and killed Ward, a 20-year-old driver from Port Leyden, N.Y., who was standing on the track while the race was under caution.

Stewart has not raced since.

Ty Dillon set to make Cup debut: Ty Dillon will make his Cup series debut this weekend at Atlanta in the No. 33 Chevrolet for Circle Sport Racing. Dillon, who is competing fulltime in the Nationwide series, will have Nick Harrison as his crew chief Sunday night.

“It’s going to be a pretty special moment when I make those first laps this weekend, one that I won’t forget,” said Dillon, 22. “I’ve been fortunate enough in my racing career to have great opportunities like this one.”

Truck teams penalized: The teams of Brad Keselowski, Cole Custer and Ron Hornaday were penalized by NASCAR this week after each truck was found to have a rear spoiler that was too high after last week’s race at Bristol, Tenn.

Crew chiefs Joel Shear (Custer), Doug Randolph (Keselowski) and Doug George (Hornaday) were fined $5,000 each. The teams also lost 10 driver and 10 owner points.

Petty truly a ‘Good Guy:’ NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard “The King” Petty was presented The American Legion’s James V. Day “Good Guy” Award during the organization’s national convention this week in Charlotte. The award is named after a World War II veteran and prominent Legionnaire.

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