Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Motor Mouth: Kentucky, We Expected Better

Fans were packed into the stands for the inaugural Cup race at Kentucky -
but the verdict is out on the results of the racing and problems that occurred.
Credit: Andy Lyons/Getty Images for NASCAR

Kyle Busch won the inaugural Sprint Cup race at Kentucky, but thousands of fans ended up being the losers.

It should have been one of the highlights of the NASCAR season. Finally, a new track was added to the Cup schedule, the first in 10 years. And while the sport has been battling a decrease in attendance, the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky sold out its 107,000 seats. It was NASCAR and Kentucky’s time to shine.

But a day that had looked so promising devolved into utter catastrophe. It became all too clear that Kentucky, even after 11 years of trying for a Cup event, was woefully unprepared to handle all that came with hosting one.

Throughout the day, horror stories poured in from fans on Twitter and Facebook. Fans painted pictures of being stuck in traffic for up to seven hours trying to reach Kentucky Speedway. Vehicles were backed up on Interstate 71, the main route to the track, for as much as 20 miles. The gridlock prevented many from reaching Kentucky in time for the green flag, if at all. If this wasn’t bad enough, other fans finally made it to the track only to be turned away because there was not enough parking. According to published reports, anywhere from 5,000 to 20,000 fans didn’t make the race.

Those who did weren’t faring much better. Concessions stands were running out of food, some even before the race started. Lines were outrageous for port-a-potties, many of which were out of toilet paper.
Since the race, many fans have shared their stories on the Internet. Here are a few that help convey the confusion and chaos of that day:
Skirts and Scuffs writer Amy McHargue attended the race. Though she was able to escape the traffic nightmare, she offers her observations, good and bad, about the track’s facilities: http://bit.ly/nW79H9.

It took two days after Saturday’s race for Kentucky Speedway to apologize for the traffic conditions and other inadequacies fans endured. The speedway is offering a ticket exchange for fans who never made it to the track, good for any Speedway Motorsports Inc.-owned track for the rest of the year, the upcoming truck race or IndyCar race at Kentucky in October, or next year’s Sprint Cup race at Kentucky.

It’s commendable the speedway finally admitted fault and is trying to make it up to fans, but one has to ask, is it enough?

I was almost one of these fans. I was originally planning to make Kentucky’s inaugural event until I was unable to get the weekend off from work. While I was in the planning stages, though, I could see that the event would have cost me hundreds of dollars to attend. There’s the hotel room to book, gas (I would have had to drive at least nine hours to get to the area in the first place), meals, and oh yeah, the tickets themselves. So take what I would have spent and apply it to the nearly 5,000 to 20,000 people who missed out on the race. Even with the ticket exchange, that’s still a lot money that these fans will not get back. And to assume that they are able to attend another race through the ticket exchange and still shell out hundreds for hotels, gas, meals, etc.? No matter how you look at it, it’s not a fair exchange.

With that said, it’s now up to Kentucky Speedway to make sure this debacle does not happen again next year. They have a year to work with local and state officials regarding traffic and the roads situation, and well as expand parking and make sure enough food and supplies will be on hand to greet fans next summer.

Simply put, the fans deserve better.


THE ACTUAL RACE

To add insult to injury, the inaugural Quaker State 400 at Kentucky was a snoozer. There was little passing or side-by-side racing. Cars were strung out and ran mostly in single file. Few lead changes occurred during the green-flag racing.

Expectations had been high for the race, and that includes my own. The Camping World Truck Series and Nationwide Series race at the track regularly, and when they do, the racing has been exciting, with cars running close together and plenty of passing. The truck race and Nationwide race earlier in the weekend suggested it would be the same for Cup. Unfortunately, it was not the case.

Why the difference from the truck and Nationwide races to the Cup race? Did the rough and bumpy surface not agree with the Cup cars? The track’s surface has worn away since Kentucky first opened in 2000. Could it benefit from some more banking? Maybe, but the track has other issues to work on first (see: traffic).

But we’ve also seen this strung-out racing on other intermediates on the circuit this year. I can’t help but wonder if Kentucky is another example of what Carl Edwards and now Denny Hamlin have criticized about the Cup racecar. Basically, the current Cup model has leveled the playing field, with all drivers able to run at the same speed. But prior to Saturday's race, Hamlin said it becomes harder to pass when the drivers are running similar speeds because one can't gain an advantage over the other. What we saw at Kentucky bolsters Edwards' suggestion that the cars need more downforce so the drivers don’t have to rely so heavily on track position.


DRIVER PROPS

Victory at Kentucky and for the 99th time in his young career.
Credit: Andy Lyons/Getty Images for NASCAR
Though overshadowed by “Carmageddon,” Kyle Busch gave a dominant performance at Kentucky, winning the track’s inaugural Cup race and his third of the season. The victory ties Busch with Kevin Harvick for most wins this season (can you say “odd couple”)? With his win, Busch knocked Harvick off the top of the standings to become the new points leader.

Kentucky is just the latest in Busch’s strong performances in Cup this season. The driver of the No. 18 has overcome controversy with Harvick stemming back to their meeting on pit road at Darlington, a speeding ticket, failing post-race inspection at Pocono and “Oilpangate." As of now, Busch is showing the form needed to challenge five-time champion Jimmie Johnson for the championship.

Busch’s win also gave him his 99th victory across NASCAR’s three series. Could we see him reach his 100th milestone this weekend at Loudon?

David Reutimann finished second, his first top 5 of the season as well as the first top-5 finish for his team, Michael Waltrip Racing. Johnson praised Reutimann’s performance, saying if there had been one more lap, it would have been Reutimann in victory lane. With Reutimann currently 24th in the points, could Kentucky give the No. 00 the momentum to turn their season around?

Brad Keselowski looked like he might take his second win of the season when an alternate pit strategy allowed him to take the lead about halfway into Saturday’s race. Keselowski led 79 laps before a late pit stop forced him to give up the lead. Keselowski ended up finishing 7th, not at all indicative of how well the No. 2 had run that evening, but it was enough to lift Keselowski in the points. Sitting in 21st, he’s only 3 points outside the top 20, which is important to the wild card race. As of now, if Keselowski were to make his way into the top 20, he would bump two-time champion Tony Stewart, currently in 11th, from one of the wild card spots for the Chase by virtue of his win at Kansas. A second win would vault him into the top 20 and past David Ragan, who sits 15th with one win.

Keep an eye on the wild card standings – this is going to get interesting.







Motor Mouth is a weekly column in which Skirts and Scuffs lead editor Rebecca Kivak spouts off about the latest NASCAR happenings. Continue the conversation by leaving a comment below. To read past columns and other posts by Rebecca, click here.

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