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Hood: Atlanta Under The Lights Was A Winner

Jeff Hood | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, September 7 2009
Night time proved to be the right time to hold a Sprint Cup race in Atlanta.  (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)

Night time proved to be the right time to hold a Sprint Cup race in Atlanta. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)

By Jeff Hood | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Hampton, Ga. – There was plenty of electricity in the air when the lights came on at Atlanta Motor Speedway Sunday night for the Pep Boys Auto 500.

One of the most competitive races in the track’s history, won by Kasey Kahne in front of an estimated crowd of 111,300, was merely icing on the cake.

NASCAR’s return to the south during the first weekend of September for the first time since 2003 had a Darlington Raceway-type feel.

Much like Labor Day weekends of years past in Darlington, S.C., Atlanta’s abrasive track surface resulted in cars often skating around the 1.54-mile quad-oval.

Some drivers resorted to navigating the turns by running within a few feet of the outside wall. Tire wear left crew chiefs scratching their heads and slowed lap times by as much as three seconds during green-flag runs.

The rumors circulating that Atlanta could be in line to lose a Sprint Cup race had been silenced for the immediate future when the speedway announced earlier in the day that it will retain its two Cup dates in 2010.

AMS President and General Manager Ed Clark was thrilled to welcome a near-sellout crowd to the first scheduled Cup night race at the facility located 30 miles south of Atlanta.

Parking lots were jammed more than three hours prior to the 7:47 p.m. start. Some cars were parked alongside roads more than two miles from the speedway.

“We’ve wanted to have a night race here for almost as long as the fans, and we’re grateful for the response to this weekend’s event,” Clark said.

The November 1998 Cup event at AMS, won by Jeff Gordon, finished under the lights following a lengthy rain delay.

Because Atlanta hasn’t sold out a race since 1992, many fans often wait until the week of the race to purchase tickets.

But the demand for tickets was higher than normal this week.

“We’ve continued to add ticket sellers and expand our ticket office hours, and still we aren’t fully meeting the demand,” Clark said early Sunday. “We apologize to fans who experienced challenges in purchasing tickets, and we will alleviate these issues before the March 7 Kobalt Tools 500.”

Second-place finisher Kevin Harvick, who won Saturday night’s Nationwide Series race, hopes next year’s Labor Day weekend stop in Atlanta will once again be a two-day show.

“I think the teams enjoy the shorter schedule,” said Harvick, when asked if he would have benefitted from practicing his Cup car under the lights on Friday night instead of Saturday afternoon. “The track conditions didn’t really change.

“The more time we can give these guys at home, the better we’ll be.”

– Jeff Hood can be reached at jhood@racintoday.com

Jeff Hood | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, September 7 2009
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