Kentucky Rear View Mirror

Brad Keselowski

Brad Keselowski is a virtual lock for the Chase now after his third win of the season on Saturday night. (Photo: Getty Images)

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SPARTA, Ky. – Whatever happened on the race track the main story this weekend in Kentucky was going to be traffic and parking.

That’ll happen when you host one of the biggest debacles in recent NASCAR history.

Last year’s inaugural Quaker State 400 was a disaster of epic proportions with thousands of fans trapped on the highways outside the speedway, some unable to get into the track at all and actually missing the race.

Parking was woefully inadequate and even items like concessions and restroom facilities – two givens when a fan attends any sporting event – were failures.

Speedway Motorsports Inc. president Bruton Smith didn’t do the situation any favors with his damaging public relations follow-up, initially saying there would be no refunds for fans that were inconvenienced or completely missed the race because “he didn’t want to.”

Track management finally stepped in and did a better job of damage control and those fans were finally offered tickets to future SMI races or this year’s Quaker State 400.

And to the track and state’s credit effort and dollars were thrown at the problem in hopes of alleviating the situation. More parking spots, wider highways and better traffic flow greeted fans this weekend and I’m happy to report it was a much better experience than the catastrophe of last year.

Now to be fair there were a lot less fans to deal with this time around. The Camping World Truck Series and Nationwide Series races drew crowds in the neighborhood of 30,000 while Saturday night’s main event was far short of the 106,000 that jammed into the track last season. Most realistic estimates were about 30k short of a sellout.

No doubt memories of the inaugural fiasco kept many fans away some no doubt taking a “wait and see” approach to the changes made. Throw in the extreme heat and potentially stormy weather conditions and any hope of a strong walk-up crowd on Saturday were torched.

So with two Cup weekends in the book – one bad and the other much better – we’ll have to wait until 2013 to see if Kentucky Speedway is indeed ready for NASCAR’s big time.

If you do decide to attend next year plan to arrive early and stay late. It can’t hurt.

  • Brad Keselowski is a virtual lock for the Chase now after his third win of the season on Saturday night. The Penske Racing driver has at least sewn up a wild card entry and the team continues to impress as it works through its last season for Dodge before moving to Ford in 2013. Look for Keselowski and crew chief Paul Wolfe to be a little more daring in weeks to come with not much to lose before the playoffs.
  • The comeback kid of the night was Kasey Kahne, who was on pit road for a loose wheel within the first ten laps and suffered through another pit miscue later in the race. But in the closing laps Kahne was an absolute rocket running his way to the front of the field and had it been the Quaker State 425, Kahne might have been able to carry the sponsor’s colors on his No. 5 ride into victory lane.
  • It was also a stellar night for the entire Hendrick Motorsports stable with Kahne’s teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson all finishing in the top 10. Earnhardt in particular was impressive in his rebound from last week’s Sonoma misfortune as was Johnson, who was fast early but forced to battle back from a tire issue late. As for Gordon, a fifth place was good in the confidence department but the 24 team needs wins to make the Chase.
  • Kentucky was a disaster for Stewart-Haas Racing with Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman both departing the race because of engine issues. Stewart has ignition problems nearly at the drop of the green flag and finished 32nd while Newman exited with a blown motor on lap 208, but not before getting into a tangle with Joey Logano. The two have had issues before and based on Newman’s words after the race might meet again down the road.

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