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NASCAR: Three teams swap dates in 2009

By Mike Harris
Associated PressLadies and gentlemen, rearrange your calendars!
Three NASCAR tracks will swap dates on the 2009 Sprint Cup schedule released Tuesday.
Atlanta Motor Speedway will move its fall race from October to Labor Day weekend, with Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., giving up that date to move into the Chase for the championship and Talladega Superspeedway moving its second race nearer the end of the season.
Atlanta will run a Cup race at night for the first time on Sept. 6. The second race at Auto Club Speedway will be run Oct. 11, in Talladega’s former slot, while the Alabama track will hold its second race of the season Nov. 1, on the date formerly held by Atlanta. All three tracks also have Cup races in the first half of the schedule.
There also will be an additional off-week for the Cup teams before the Labor Day weekend event, giving them a break before a 12-week stretch that will end the season. The 2008 schedule ends with 16 consecutive weeks of racing.
Otherwise, the 36-race Cup schedule for next year will remain the same as this season.
“The 2009 schedule reflects realigned dates that are good opportunities for everyone involved in our sport ó fans, sponsors, tracks and teams,” NASCAR president Mike Helton said.
He said requests from Auto Club Speedway and Atlanta initiated the changes in the Cup schedule.
Auto Club Speedway ó formerly California Speedway ó officials have been talking to NASCAR for several years about getting away from a date that doesn’t draw well in Southern California, where there a multitude of things to do on a holiday weekend, and is typically very hot. Last September, the Sunday night race began in temperatures approaching 106 degrees.
“The 2009 schedule is a victory for race fans,” said Gillian Zucker, president of Auto Club Speedway. “From a weather standpoint, I can hardly think of a better time to visit California than early October. … (and) we look forward to being part of the championship puzzle.”
For Atlanta, the switch offers the chance to move to the traditional end-of-summer date under the lights.
“We’ve been desiring a night race in Atlanta for a number of years. We’ve had a number of conversations and I’m sure Mike Helton can tell you about that,” said Ed Clark, president of the Atlanta track. “We’re bringing Labor Day racing back to the Southeast and doing it with a nighttime event. … It’s a win-win-win situation for everybody.”
Before the track in California got the Labor Day date in 2004, Darlington held the Southern 500 on the holiday weekend. The South Carolina track now has one Cup date in May.
Rick Humphrey, president of Talladega, said the attraction for him was moving from the fourth to seventh race in the 10-race Chase.
“We’ve been a big part of the championship battle and we believe that moving even deeper into the Chase makes Talladega even more significant to the championship,” Humphrey said.

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