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Race tickets a tough sell in L.A.

In a town where appearance is everything, California Speedway outside Los Angeles is spending $10-million on a facelift and reconstruction this year.

The midway has been transformed into an outdoor park and shopping center, and a restaurant has been added, with chef Wolfgang Puck choosing and preparing the menu.

The idea is to look a little bit more like Southern California and a little less like a racetrack. Maybe that will sell tickets in Los Angeles, a market that has not embraced NASCAR.

"The goal is to be the toughest ticket in town," Gillian Zucker, the president of California Speedway, said Thursday as she prepared for today's Nextel Cup race, the Auto Club 500.

But the job is far from complete. Neither of last season's two Cup races were sellouts at the track, which holds 125,000. Today's race will fall short of that goal, too.

After last year's race in February failed to generate enough interest, former track president Bill Miller was replaced by Zucker, a native of Englewood, N.J., who had worked at Kansas Speedway and Daytona International Speedway.

But even with the new look and a new logo, 200 banners hanging on downtown streets and a proclamation by the mayor and the city council, it is hard to get people out to Fontana, 40 miles west of the city.

So Zucker has opened an office in Century City and is working to get Hollywood to notice. Fantasia, Hillary Duff and Nick Lachey will be among the celebrities at today's race.

The A-list will need more convincing, as will the rest of the town.

This is the second year NASCAR has held two races at Fontana. For more than a decade before 2005, the second race of the season was usually at North Carolina Speedway in remote Rockingham, N.C., the heart of NASCAR country.

But in NASCAR's continued push to expand beyond its base in the South, Rockingham was abandoned and the race date shifted to Fontana, which also holds a Labor Day race.

That is a lot of tickets to sell in a nontraditional NASCAR market, says David Carter, a sports consultant and executive director of the University of Southern California's Sports Business Institute.

"There's an old saying about martinis - one's not enough and three is too many," Carter said. "Races out here, one is not enough and you wonder if two is too many."

BUSCH SERIES: A gamble by Carl Edwards on fresh tires late in the race at California Speedway fell short, allowing Roush Racing teammate Greg Biffle to run off to an easy victory.

With Nextel Cup drivers, known as "Buschwhackers," again dominating a race in the developmental series - sweeping the top 11 - Biffle passed Jeff Burton for the lead with 10 laps to go in the Stater Brothers 300. Biffle won by 2.256 seconds over Ryan Newman.

Edwards, who finished third after leading 49 of 150 laps, appeared to have the fastest car throughout but gave up the lead to pit for four tires after debris brought out the last of four caution flags on Lap 134.

Biffle, whose Ford Fusion led a race-high 52 laps, said the late caution was the key to his 18th career Busch victory.

"We weren't going to catch them without a caution flag," Biffle said. "We had to stay out because we had used up all of our sets of tires."

NHRA: Tony Schumacher had a string of 4.4-second passes to earn the No. 1 qualifying position in the Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals in Chandler, Ariz. It was his third time running 4.4s in all four qualifying attempts, and he's the only driver to do it at all. Eric Medlen (Funny Car) and Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) led their classes heading into today's eliminations.

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