Kentucky Rear View Mirror

Kentucky Speedway

Pistone: "Kentucky Speedway has been on the Sprint Cup Series schedule for three years and the jury is still out whether bringing NASCAR’s top division to the Bluegrass State was the right decision." (Photo: Jeff Wackerlin)

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Kentucky Speedway has been on the Sprint Cup Series schedule for three years and the jury is still out whether bringing NASCAR’s top division to the Bluegrass State was the right decision.

The inaugural Quaker State 400 was an unmitigated disaster when overflowing parking lots and a traffic nightmare caused what is still referred to as “Carmageddon” around the track.

The attendance for last year’s race definitely reflected what happened in year one with a drastically smaller crowd on hand than the announced 106,000 in 2011.

Since NASCAR dropped the practice of releasing estimated crowd numbers this season, the best guess is Saturday night’s turnout was somewhere between the throng of year one and last season’s attendance.

Speedway Motorsports Inc. honcho Bruton Smith and local government should be commended for tackling the issues that marred the first Cup race. But as the saying goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression and it appears winning back race fans will take some more time.

There was a time when Kentucky would put 70,000 in the stands for stand-alone Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series races. But now with those two divisions on the tripleheader weekend card with the Sprint Cup main event, fans don’t seem interested in buying a ticket. Judging by the small gatherings Thursday and Friday nights, with NASCAR’s top draw now on the schedule ticket sales for the Cup race have cannibalized the two support events.

Kentucky lies right in a very saturated market for NASCAR with several tracks and events all within a pretty close proximity to the track. Indianapolis is only about 90 minutes to the east with Michigan and Bristol also relatively nearby. Toss in the Nationwide Series now competing at Mid-Ohio and next month’s highly anticipated truck series visit to Eldora Speedway and all of a sudden there’s a pretty jam-packed racing calendar for area fans to choose from.

While I don’t expect Kentucky to be dropped from the Sprint Cup Series schedule in the immediate future, there is still a challenging road ahead for the track to become a successful NASCAR mainstay.

  • For the first time since the 2012 Daytona 500 a Sprint Cup Series race was postponed by rain. But in an odd way maybe it was for the best at least in terms of the competition. While nobody wins when a race is rained out, having the action shift from under the lights to the bright sunshine of the next day might have created better racing. Cars were slipping and sliding in the hot sunshine on Kentucky’s rough surface and although clean air once again allowed the leader to go on basically a Sunday drive, back in the pack there was some very good racing – maybe the best we’ve seen at Kentucky.
  • A year ago Matt Kenseth announced he was leaving Roush Fenway Racing and some folks questioned the decision. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone these days that thinks it was a bad idea for the former series champion to have joined Joe Gibbs Racing. Kenseth and Jason Ratcliff have blossomed into one of if not the most potent driver-crew chief combos in Sprint Cup Series racing and seem destined to add more wins to their total while battling for a championship.
  • Jimmie Johnson was on the wrong end of another late race restart and wasn’t happy about it. But in my opinion Matt Kenseth did nothing wrong and NASCAR does not need to do anything to revise the rules. The bottom line is the leader is in charge of the start, Kenseth accelerated within the boundaries of the restart box and Johnson got snookered. Case closed.
  • The championship picture got jumbled up in a big way on Sunday with Kenseth’s fourth win of the season putting him completely in charge of the Chase number one seed. But bad days for Brad Keselowski and Greg Biffle were major jolts to their title hopes and Denny Hamlin, who was hanging on by his fingernails to any Chase aspirations, is now completely out of it after his altercation into the wall.

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.

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