Kansas Rear View Mirror
By: Pete Pistone - @PPistone | MRN.com on June 5, 2011 | 9:56 P.M. EST
Kansas Speedway hosted its first June Sprint Cup Series race. (Photo: Getty Images)
The NASCAR calendar provided a new wrinkle this weekend with the Sprint Cup Series and Camping World Truck Series racing at Kansas Speedway while the Nationwide Series competed at Chicagoland Speedway.
I’d say it’s going to take some time to see just how both these schedule moves will pay themselves out.
Taking a second Cup weekend to Kansas has been on the radar for some time as parent company International Speedway Corporation watched the incredible growth around the track that has taken place since it opened its doors in 2001.
A mini-city has exploded around Kansas with shopping, restaurants, hotels, movie theaters, baseball and soccer stadiums as well as a number of other entertainment options. Now add in a huge hotel/casino complex that is rising beyond the horizon of turn two and the track has become one of the circuit’s best fan destinations.
Attendance has been strong throughout Kansas Speedway’s existence and since management broke up the much-maligned “Track Pack” program that forced fans to buy a full season’s worth of events rather than individual race tickets, support seems strong.
Sunday’s Cup race wasn’t a jam-packed sellout but was well attended. The question will be whether the facility can support two weekends a year with the traditional October Chase weekend still to come.
Kansas’ sister track is Chicagoland Speedway as both were built in the same year and are virtual mirror images of each other at least in terms of track layout.
But that’s where the comparison ends.
The Chicagoland track in Joliet, Illinois is 45 miles southwest of downtown Chicago and in honesty out in the middle of nowhere. The city of Joliet has some offerings but there’s nothing near the plethora of attractions that surround Kansas.
Saturday night’s Nationwide Series race was a bit of an experiment for the track, which will host a tripleheader of NASCAR’s top three divisions in September including the Chase opener.
A modest crowd was on hand with severe weather in and around the area no doubt hurting the potential walk-up ticket sales.
I’d personally like to see the June Nationwide race stay on the calendar for a few years so the track can build and promote it as an annual date.
Both tracks came into the world at the same time but each seems to be on a different path. The next few years will be interesting to watch in future.
- The weekend racing was overshadowed by yet another off-track incident, this time an altercation between team owner Richard Childress and Kyle Busch. Childress threw and landed more than a couple of punches on Busch after Saturday’s Truck Series race when the team owner did not take kindly to his driver Joey Coulter’s getting roughed up by the driver of the No. 18 truck. NASCAR will most likely take further actions against Childress this week, who was allowed to stay on track property Sunday. But once again we have a situation that does not put the sport in a good light and completely shifts the focus away from the on track product, a theme this season that has now reached near ridiculous proportions.
- Fuel mileage decided both Saturday night’s Nationwide Series race as well as Sunday’s Sprint Cup Series race, coming on the heels of last Sunday night’s Coca-Cola gas strategy victory by Kevin Harvick. I’m personally not a huge fan of these calculated race strategies that decide who wins and loses, but don’t mind a handful throughout the season. However, when they happen on a near-weekly basis I’m not sure it’s the best possible racing experience and show for fans.
- That said Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Steve Letarte might not be fans of the fuel game as well, coming up on the short end two weeks in a row. On the bright side for Junior Nation was a second place finish for the No. 88 on Sunday and yet another example of how the fortunes of NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver have changed so dramatically in a year’s time.
- Danica Patrick and Trevor Bayne made successful returns to the Nationwide Series in Saturday night’s STP 300 at Chicagoland Speedway. Bayne finally was back behind the wheel for the first time since April 23rd, when he was sidelined with a still undisclosed illness. He reported no health problems in Saturday night’s race and turned in a solid top-five finish. Patrick had been out of a stock car since March when she bolted back to the IZOD IndyCar Series. She struggled in the opening segments of the Chicagoland race with handling issues, but recovered to post a 10th-place finish. Overall the two big names did well for themselves in their return to NASCAR.