Cup schedule changes should spur interest

Let's start today with the 2009 NASCAR schedule before we examine a safer Las Vegas Motor Speedway and pray for Joe Gibbs Racing.

The biggest change in the Sprint Cup schedule next year is a three-step tap dance that hopes to fill tens of thousands of empty seats for three races.

The moves are the result of a rare act of kindness and cooperation between rival track owners Speedway Motorsports Inc. and International Speedway Corp.

These steps are intended to save face and increase revenue for the second Cup races of the year at SMI's Atlanta Motor Speedway and ISC's California Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway.

California and Atlanta will benefit the most. The Southern California event moves from Labor Day to Oct. 11, and Atlanta gets the Labor Day weekend date that now is a Sunday night race.

Atlanta should do better with a night race, which wouldn't work on the West Coast because it would be too late to televise in the East.

Moving to the heart of the NFL season won't hurt the track in Fontana, Calif. -- the Los Angeles area has no pro football team, unless you count the Southern California Trojans.

The race also moves from a traditionally hot weekend that is better suited for a day at the beach than a day at the races.

The new date also is in the heart of the Chase for the Cup, and if that doesn't spur interest, nothing will.

Talladega's second event moves to Nov. 1, making it the seventh Chase event. That should boost attendance in football-crazed Alabama as well because by then the Crimson Tide will have fumbled away its season.

Dates for Las Vegas Motor Speedway -- an SMI track -- are relatively unchanged: Nationwide Series on Feb. 28, Cup on March 1 and trucks on Sept. 26.

One change at LVMS was completed this week when the new "Jeff Gordon Wall" was christened just past the second turn of the 1.5-mile tri-oval.

At the Cup race in March, Gordon was shaken up but not hurt when he lost control of his car while running third and crashed head-on into a solid concrete inside wall.

The speedway, which NASCAR deemed safe after the incident, installed the Steel and Foam Energy Reduction (SAFER) barrier system along that part of the inside wall. Its outer guardwalls have had the crash-softening system for several years.

But that bit of damage control is minuscule compared to what Joe Gibbs Racing faces.

The highly respected Gibbs operation was caught trying to cheat post-race NASCAR horsepower tests after Saturday's Nationwide series event at Michigan International Speedway.

Team owner Joe Gibbs and son J.D., the organization's president, apologized and accepted full responsibility immediately after inspectors found magnets under the gas pedals of the team's Nationwide cars when they were sent to the chassis dynometer for examination.

It was a blatant and stupid attempt by some Gibbs employees to manipulate power evaluations of the Nos. 18 and 20 cars, which have won 14 of 25 Nationwide races this season.

NASCAR this week doled out punishment for the incident, suspending seven Gibbs crew members and fining Nationwide drivers Tony Stewart and Joey Logano 150 points apiece in the standings. The listed owners of each car also were docked 150 points.

Also, crew chiefs Jason Ratcliff and Dave Rogers were suspended indefinitely and fined $50,000 apiece.

The Gibbs family is religious and regularly hosts employee Bible study sessions at the team shop. Maybe it should begin having ethics study groups for the team.

To its credit, Gibbs Racing has apologized and vowed to fire those responsible.

This is the first blemish on Gibbs Racing's reputation, and not many winning teams in NASCAR can make such a claim.

Still, it was an arrogant case of cheating and cannot be tolerated.

Jeff Wolf's motor sports column is published Friday. He can be reached at 383-0247 or Visit Wolf's motor sports blog at throughout the week.