- Ryan McGee, ESPN The Magazine, NASCAR
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Despite the best efforts of the guy who was supposed to put the cap on the oil tank in Carl Edwards' car and the photographer who got in the way of Edwards' tire, most of this weekend's chatter at the Atlanta Motor Speedway likely will be centered on the 48-year-old track's place on the NASCAR schedule.
In case you missed it (and if you did, you need to spend more time reading David Newton's columns), AMS owner Bruton Smith has admitted approaching NASCAR with the idea of swapping out Atlanta's late fall race date with the California, ahem, Auto Club Speedway's current reservation on Labor Day weekend.
All of this comes during a time when most in the NASCAR-know expect Smith, who recently purchased the New Hampshire International Speedway, ahem, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, to take one from New England and move it to Las Vegas, though he denies it. Meanwhile, International Speedway Corp. is snooping around Seattle, Denver and, despite the best efforts of environmentalists, New York City.
Meanwhile, no track, not even Bristol, is selling tickets as easily as they have in the past.
But instead of wasting time on speculation about the here and now, why not hit the fast forward button to when the smoke has already cleared? Let's take a look into the crystal ball bearings and see what the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule will look like in 2015, seven years from now.
• 1. Feb. 15, Daytona International Speedway --
The 57th edition of Super Bowl of Stock Car Racing continues to occupy its perfect position on the schedule, kicking the season off with a weekend placed in this optimal spot between football and March Madness. Tony Stewart finally wins the 500 on his 17th try, but instead of spiking his helmet in Victory Lane like Darrell Waltrip, he wings it at the media and stomps out of the track.
• 2. Feb. 22, Las Vegas Motor Speedway --
Vegas takes over the post-Daytona spot previously occupied by California and replaces the momentum-killing vision of empty seats with a packed house and the sight of 88-year-old Bruton Smith rubbing really old elbows with 73-year-old Wayne Newton.
• 3. March 1, Phoenix International Raceway --
The West Coast swing continues with a visit to Phoenix, which moves the starting time up a couple of hours to beat the late-night desert chill. The night gets off to a rough start, however, when 68-year-old Darrell Waltrip nearly chokes to death while inhaling a cloud of desert dust prior to his milestone 10-millionth "boogity boogity boogity."
• 4. March 8, Auto Club Speedway, Fontana, Calif. --
Ever since California put the Michael Waltrip plan into place -- jacking up the banking and turning the race into a restrictor-plate event -- the stands have been packed, and plans to flatten the track and turn it into a dune buggy park have been scrapped.
• 5. March 15, Twin Ring Motegi, Japan --
Don't laugh. Toyota and Honda -- which joined the Cup Series in 2011 -- wanted a home game.
• March 22 -- Off.
• 6. March 29, Atlanta Motor Speedway --
The good news: A slightly later date means better weather and the racing is still phenomenal. The bad news: People still aren't showing up. Kevin Harvick beats Kyle Busch for his first win as a driver-owner and then both drivers proceed to get out of their cars and reenact the '79 Daytona 500, when Harvick and Kyle get into an argument and then Harvick and Kurt get into a fight.
• 7. April 5, Martinsville Speedway --
Martinsville stays put on this spring weekend, if for no other reason than to ensure the Turn 1 azaleas are peaking.
• 8. April 12, Bristol Motor Speedway --
Bristol finally gets to run a night race in the springtime and sends everyone home in time for Easter. Kurt Busch breaks Darrell Waltrip's career wins record with his 13th BMS victory.
• 9. April 19, Montreal --
Because the Watkins Glen Raceway was declared unfit for habitation by the Department of the Interior in 2011, NASCAR replaced it with the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. Jacques Villeneuve once again takes a crack at making the race, but is overshadowed by 56-year-old Toronto native Ron Fellows, who finally wins a Cup road course race in his 34th try. Sadly, he is sent to hospital from Victory Lane, where he is suffocated during the celebration by his friend Boris Said's afro.
• 10. April 26, Texas Motor Speedway --
The Great American Speedway continues to have its spring date pushed deeper into April, bringing more pleasant weather. Dale Earnhardt Jr. loses at the line to his DEI teammate and nephew, Jeffrey. Teresa Earnhardt, who sold the team back to her stepson in 2013, is told of the finish one week later when she pulls into a port in Monaco for fuel and drinks.
• 11. May 3, Talladega Superspeedway --
The greatest month on the calendar kicks off with the biggest, baddest track -- the perfect place to throw cold water on the simmering tempers left over from the short tracks and Montreal.
• 12. May 9, Richmond International Raceway --
Reed Sorenson earns his 23rd Cup victory, reviving hope that he can overcome last year's heartbreaking title loss to Kyle Busch.
• May 16, NASCAR All-Star Race XXXII, Nashville Superspeedway --
No longer able to ignore such a nice facility in such a great location, the All-Star event is moved to Music City, where NASCAR's new re-embracing of country music pays huge dividends and the pit road is packed with Nashville superstars. After a stirring prerace tribute to Marty Robbins and Bobby Hamilton, 56-year-old Mark Martin wins the race, easily the highlight of this, his 10th annual farewell tour.
• 13. May 24, World 600, Lowe's Motor Speedway, Charlotte, N.C. --
If they ever move this race from this date, they will have to answer to racing gods, who don't like it when you mess with tradition. Just ask the Indy 500, now run on Monday so as not to be overshadowed by the 600.
• May 21 -- Off.
Trust me, folks, everyone needs an off week to recover from Charlotte.
• 14. June 7, Michigan International Speedway --
NASCAR's new Midwestern swing begins in the Motor City, finally putting some space between the two Michigan dates.
• 15. June 14, Chicagoland Speedway --
Thanks to a typically low number of caution flags and the multiuse COT (which now stands for Car of Timelessness), everyone hauls their Michigan cars to Chicago then move on to
• 16. June 20, Springfield, Ill. --
After a week of hanging out on Michigan Avenue and Wrigley Field, we travel three hours and several decades back in time to the 1-mile clay (yes, as in dirt) oval at the Illinois State Fairgrounds. For 200 laps the guys who came from the dirt -- Stewart, Gordon, Kahne, Newman -- dominate. But in the end, the race is won by 60-year-old Ken Schrader, who holds off nine-time ARCA champion Frank Kimmel. When they hear that dirt is back, Richard Petty, David Pearson and Junior Johnson all come out of retirement.
• 17. June 28, Kentucky Speedway --
After filing a lawsuit every single summer since 2005, Kentucky finally gets a Cup date in 2013. Darrell and Michael Waltrip come out of retirement but DNQ after being caught with jet fuel in the fuel lines of their Honda Accords.
• 18. July 4, Daytona --
The Firecracker 400 returns to its rightful place. Not the weekend before or after Independence Day, but the actual date of July Fourth. It should stay there, no matter what day of the week it falls on.
• 19. July 12, Seattle --
International Speedway Corp.'s first race on its new Richmond clone is delayed three days by rain and run on a Wednesday despite the fact that hundreds of environmental activists have chained themselves to trees surrounding the track. Hometown heroes Kasey Kahne and Greg Biffle put on a show, while Derrike Cope and Chad Little are the honorary starters.
• 20. July 19, Infineon Raceway, Sonoma, Calif. --
Everyone heads south to Northern California, where they ingest huge quantities of wine to offset the jitters of drinking all that Seattle coffee.
• 21. July 26, Pocono Raceway, Long Pond, Pa. --
Pocono lost one of its two race dates back in 2010 and got to keep the second on the condition that it would reduce the race length from 500 to 400 miles. Track owners Rose and Joe Mattioli handle it as gracefully as they always have, but secretly scatter nails all over the Tunnel Turn the night before the race.
• 22. Aug. 2, Indianapolis Motor Speedway --
Tony Stewart wins his fifth home race, but after giving up his Subway diet in 2008, his fence climb is reduced to being helped up onto the top of the frontstretch wall by his crew and then passing out.
• 23. Aug. 9, New Hampshire -- In 2010 Burton Smith moves one of Loudon's dates to Las Vegas, claiming that he never actually promises to keep both races in New England and that the media must have misunderstood him due to all the noise coming from his new drag strip in Charlotte. Former major league pitcher Roger Clemens tells Smith he should use the phrase "misremembered" because it kept him out of prison.
• 24. Aug. 16, Michigan --
The second Michigan date stays put. This would also be a sweet spot for the New York track when it comes online but don't hold your breath.
• 25. Aug. 22, Richmond --
Still the perfect race for The Chase cutoff, which in 2010 was put back to 10 teams.
• 26. Aug. 29, Bristol Motor Speedway --
The Bristol night race should be in The Chase. Anyone care to argue with that?
• 27. Sept. 6, Southern 500, Darlington Raceway --
After the Fontana-Vegas swap talks fell apart, the Lady in Black was finally sent back to where she's supposed to be -- Labor Day weekend! And it's the perfect super-tough test to begin the stretch run to the championship.
• 28. Sept. 13, Dover International Speedway --
Dover loses one of its dates to the new Midwestern swing, but gets to keep its primo spot early in The Chase. Martin Truex Jr., the 2013 Cup champ, wins on his home track to take the points lead with seven races to go.
• 29. Sept. 20, Kansas Speedway --
Hard to argue with this track's spot in The Chase.
• 30. Sept. 27, Mexico City --
Like it or not, there needs to be a road course in The Chase. And since being added to the Cup schedule in 2011, the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez has become the premiere road course facility in North America. The crowd nearly tears down the grandstands during a thrilling last-lap duel between Juan Pablo Montoya, going for his fifth straight win in Mexico City, and Aric Almirola.
• 31. Oct. 4, Texas --
The perfect place to return to after a trip to Mexico and it's not quite as cold as the current date in November.
• Oct. 11 -- Off.
Time to catch our breath and pump up the "five to go" hype machine.
• 32. Oct. 18, Talladega --
We're going farther back east.
• 33. Oct. 24, Lowe's Motor Speedway --
One week at home, capped by the 107th and final win of Jeff Gordon's career, who, as promised, retires from stock car racing in his mid-40s. One year later he finishes seventh in the Indianapolis 500 and wins the 24 Hours of LeMans.
• 34. Nov. 1, Phoenix --
Back out west to check in with the folks there but NOT to Fontana.
• 35. Nov. 8, Homestead-Miami Speedway --
The start of a three-week nonstop NASCAR party. Two-time Indy 500 champ and Miami resident Helio Castroneves wins the race in his Penske Racing Honda.
• 36. Nov. 15, Las Vegas --
Here's where the other New Hampshire date ended up, in front of a packed house in Nevada to see three NASCAR champs get crowned. Kyle Busch enters the race with a 15-point lead, but has his third Cup title taken away when Joey Logano wins the race and clinches his first Sprint Cup title. Immediately following the race, NASCAR announces that Michigan is losing one of its dates to a new track at the Meadowlands (which looks suspiciously like Bristol), and because the people who run the Kentucky Speedway have been such a pain in the butt, they are losing their race to the new 1.5-mile oval located on the outskirts of Denver.
• Nov. 20, Cup Awards Banquet, Las Vegas --
With all due respect to the good folks of Manhattan even they would rather have a party out here than at the Waldorf-Astoria. Plus, the location provides easy access to Los Angeles for the media blitz. The challenge for the champ will be surviving long enough to make it to the awards dinner on Friday night. Plus, we wrap everything up before Thanksgiving, which -- no matter what the racers may tell you -- would be a welcome change for everyone.
Ryan McGee, a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine, is the author of "ESPN Ultimate NASCAR: 100 Defining Moments in Stock Car Racing History." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ryan McGee peered into his trusty crystal ball and viewed some rather shocking images for the year 2015. Seattle has a Cup race, Toyota and Honda get a home date at Twin Ring Motegi and Joey Logana wins his first crown in Vegas!