Dramatic declines in racing

DEAN MCNULTY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:55 AM ET

The sports page pundits and 24-hour sports networks' talking heads have blamed the current economic calamnity for just about everything from lack of trades in pro sports to the price of stadium hot dogs.

And in most cases they have a point. But NASCAR analysts who are suggesting the recession is the culprit behind falling ticket sales have not been paying attention.

There is one exception and that is scenedaily.com's Bob Pockrass who holds up this weekend's NASCAR Sprint Cup Kobalt Tools 500 at Speedway Motorsports International's Atlanta Motor Speedway as an example of a race where tens of thousands of tickets have, so far, gone unsold.

Pockrass' theory is that Atlanta -- close to the heart of NASCAR's prime constituency -- may be losing interest in what was once the dominant pro sport in the U.S. southeast.

He trots out television ratings to make his point.

"According to the Street & Smith's Sports Business Daily," Pockrass wrote. "Nielsen ratings for the 2005 Daytona 500 were 20.4 for Atlanta. Ratings decreased to 14.5 in 2006, then 13.6 and 12.3 the next two years, and was a 9.9 this year."

With such a dramatic decline it's no wonder rumours that one of Atlanta's two Cup races will be moved in 2010 to Kentucky Motor Speedway, another SMI property.

Talk of the town

Twenty-year-old Cambridge, Ont., native J.R. Fitzpatrick is getting plenty of attention this season as he battles for rookie-of-the-year honours in NASCAR's Camping World Truck Series. His fourth-place finish at Daytona International Speedway in the No. 7 TRG Motorsports Chevrolet Silverado during Speedweeks certainly pushed his name to the front among the young guns trying to make an impression this season.

All the talk prior to that was about Americans Timothy Peters, T.J. Bell and Chad McCumbee as the three top prospects in the series.

Leading up to Saturday's American Commercial Lines 200 at Atlanta, however, Fitzpatrick is the talk of the town.

Speed TV pit road reporter Ray Dunlap considers him the cream of the crop.

"It's so hard to evaluate each guy on his merit this early in the season but when you look at their teams, the edge probably goes to J.R. Fitzpatrick," Dunlap said. "Timothy's is very small operation -- three trucks total trying to make it from week to week. Chad's deal is a good team but across the board, TRG Motorsports probably has the best overall operation.

"J.R.'s the guy I'd keep my eye on. But it's neat to see the changing of the guard, so to speak, but realize we're very early in our season."

Practice makes profit

Ferarri Formula One driver Filipe Massa has some ideas on how to spice up practice laps on the Saturday prior to race day.

He suggests that to inject some intrigue into mostly boring lap after lap tire, brake and fuel runs, that championship points be awarded to teams with the fastest practice times.

"Friday is not so important for the show, so you can use the Saturday morning, and take away the Friday, and do two, three or four (test) sessions during the season, not together, separated, making a testing championship," he said. "Maybe the winner has a bonus for the championship, or whatever you want to give."

Massa said that at a time of tightening budgets, F-1 could use these sessions to add to their racing coffers.

"You could have a lot more sponsors following the testing, and also a more interesting championship," he said.

Over to you Mr. Ecclestone.

Youth being severed

Expect to see at least one high profile F-1 prospect making the trek across the Atlantic for a try at IndyCar racing this season.

Bruno Senna, nephew of Brazil's patron saint of racing Ayrton Senna, said this week he's angry at being left off a list of potential drivers for a seat in F-1 this season.

He had hoped to be part of a new team rising from the moth-balled Honda outfit.

"I'm kind of resigned to trying something else. I had a meeting (Monday) with Ross Brawn and he cancelled," Senna told Brazil's Agencia Estadao. "Now I'm going to get together with my family, with my advisors, and decide what way to take."

Any number of IRL teams would be more than happy to have him and his backers on the grid when the season open at St. Petersburg on April 5.

DEAN.MCNULTY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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