Time to rethink Cup at Kentucky?

June 29, 2014 No Comments

Brad KeselowskiBrian Wiggins, Senior Writer 

There may be no event on the Sprint Cup schedule that has had more issues in recent years than Kentucky Speedway.

From the overall debacle that was the inaugural race in 2011 to Saturday night’s lack-luster crowd, it hasn’t been easy for Kentucky Speedway in their short tenure on the schedule.

So, after four years, is it time to rethink Kentucky as a Sprint Cup venue?

One of the main points supporters of Kentucky Speedway of having a Sprint Cup date was the amount of fan support at the track.

The track’s Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series events were long some of the best crowds on the circuit for the two series that have seen more aluminum than people in the stands at most of their races.

When Kentucky got a Sprint Cup date after Speedway Motorsports Incorporated (SMI) purchased the track and took one of the dates away from Atlanta Motor Speedway, Bruton Smith wanted the Sparta, KY track to grow massively. To make that happen, Smith added more seats to the venue and more amities that you would add for that type of expansion.

Come time for race weekend, it became obvious from the start that Kentucky Speedway was not prepared for a Sprint Cup weekend.

With traffic issues following both Thursday night’s truck race and Friday night’s Nationwide race, everyone knew that problems for Saturday night’s Sprint Cup race were only going to be magnified. People knew it was going to be bad, but no one really knew how bad it really would be.

Fans who trekked in from areas such as Cincinnati– typically a two or three hour drive– saw journeys that took upwards of seven hours to reach the track.

One of the most memorable scenes from the night was a camera shot from TNT that showed thousands of abandoned cars and an enormous traffic jam along the two-lane highway heading into the track.

And, when some of those fans got to the track late for the race, they were turned away because Kentucky Speedway had no more parking available.

Fans weren’t the only ones with issues getting to the track, Denny Hamlin nearly missed the mandatory drivers meeting before the race due to the long lines of traffic getting into the track.

Add on long waits for restrooms and the concession stands running out of food during the race, it was a disaster.

For 2012, improvements were made to make sure the problem would never happen again. But, there’s one problem. We haven’t seen numbers like that inaugural race since it happened. Granted, attendance numbers are down everywhere in the sport and the race date for Kentucky doesn’t produce the most ideal conditions, but many are still ill-minded over that inaugural weekend.

NASCAR no longer issues attendance numbers at racetracks, however anyone that was watching Saturday night’s race on television could see how many empty seats there were. An educated guess would be that the seats were roughly forty-percent full, significantly less than most other stops on the tour.

In 2015, many people are expecting change in NASCAR. With NBC coming back into the sport as a television partner, there are rumors that a massive schedule overhaul could be in the works. Whether that means new venues or date changes still remains to be seen.

SMI has long wanted a second date for Las Vegas Motor Speedway, especially a date in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Last season, one of the rumors swirling was that SMI would take the fall Charlotte Motor Speedway date and shift it to Las Vegas; a track that drivers and fans all seem to love unlike Kentucky Speedway.

Over the course of the weekend, many drivers called Kentucky a “frustrating place to race.” During the race, Dale Earnhardt Jr. even said they can’t race on the track if they don’t so something about the front straightaway bumps. While drivers love racetracks with “character”, Kentucky Speedway crosses the line of being “race-y” and being a nuisance to drivers and crews.

Time will tell if Kentucky Speedway remains on the Cup schedule. However if attendance numbers or a more favorable spring or fall date change doesn’t happen, its days may be numbered.

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