Fort Worth — The tough economy's impact on NASCAR will be evident again today at Texas Motor Speedway, one of the sport's largest venues, for the Dickies 500 in the Sprint Cup Series.
Texas Motor Speedway doesn't expect to fill its nearly 160,000 grandstand seats today, just as attendance at several other tracks has fallen short of capacity this year, said TMS President Eddie Gossage.
"We're going to be off 8% to 10% in ticket sales from a year ago," Gossage said.
The track doesn't divulge attendance figures, but NASCAR estimated that last year's race drew 183,500, including fans watching from the infield of the 1.5-mile oval.
Texas Motor Speedway, a modern racing complex that can be seen from miles away on the flat Fort Worth landscape, staged its first Cup race in 1997.
The track features 144 luxury suites that sit atop the entire length of the main grandstands, a 10-story tower of 76 condominiums and a nine-story Speedway Club that includes a dining room and fitness facility.
Gossage said ticket sales to fans in Texas and nearby states remained strong, but sales to fans in more outlying states -- who would have to drive farther to attend the race -- had dropped.
"Most people decide six months or more out" whether to buy tickets, "and gas then was way high and we feared it was going higher," Gossage said. "Also, everybody is tightening their belts."
Even so, today's expected crowd is "still two times bigger than the Super Bowl and . . . that's a huge success," he said.
Jeff Gordon starts on the pole and Jimmie Johnson, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate and the current Cup points leader, hopes for a strong finish to move closer to his third consecutive championship.
Only two races remain after Texas, in Phoenix and Homestead-Miami.
Tony Stewart's No. 20 Toyota was badly damaged in practice Saturday after the two-time Cup champion had a shredded right rear tire.
The mishap will force Stewart to use a backup car for today's race, meaning he'll have to start at the rear of the 43-car field. Stewart had qualified eighth.
Texas Motor Speedway
Where: Fort Worth
When: 12:30 p.m. PST
TV: Channel 7 (coverage begins at noon)