Traffic debacle overshadows Kyle Busch's win
by Matt Taliaferro
Saturday was a date that over 10 years in the making for Kentucky Speedway. Following years of litigation, lawsuits and a buyout, the track finally landed a cherished NASCAR Sprint Cup race under the guidance of parent-company Speedway Motorsports, Inc. Unfortunately, the event will be remembered for all the wrong reasons.
In what may be the most atrocious debut of a major-league sporting venue in North America, a sellout crowd in the neighborhood of 107,000 waited for hours to gain access to the speedway, only to see 400 miles of lackluster racing. Kyle Busch’s No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team unloaded on Thursday with the fastest car and held serve throughout the weekend, leading 125 of 267 laps en route to a dominant win in the Quaker State 400.
But the race itself was secondary — an afterthought to the thousands who waited for hours in 20 miles of gridlock traffic on the lone interstate leading into the facility. Many did not make it to the grounds by the drop of the green flag, and many more — a figure thought to be in the 5,000-person range — were turned away from the track by state police who had to begin setting up the exit route once the race passed its half way mark.
For the fans that found a parking space on the property — the track reportedly had parking for 33,000 vehicles — the “fun” was only beginning. Social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter were flooded with complaints, ranging from a lack of porta potties in the grassy parking areas where fans tailgated, to a “no coolers” policy, to price gouging for bottled water once inside and an inability to accept credit cards.
Kentucky Speedway General Manager Mark Simendinger issued a statement during the race, addressing the situation.
“Kentucky Speedway regrets the traffic conditions surrounding the Quaker State 400. We’re committed to working with NASCAR, state and local officials and traffic experts to assure that this never happens again. The details of these improvements will be announced over time as they are formulated.
“We also recognize the traffic problems resulted in some fans not being able to attend the Quaker State 400. We are gathering information on this and will announce a policy for these affected fans within seven days.”
On Monday, the release was amended, replacing the word “regret” with “apologize.”
The facility, under the ownership of SMI’s Bruton Smith, was expanded by 41,000 seats to 107,000 when he announced he would move one of his existing Sprint Cup dates from a struggling Atlanta Motor Speedway on Aug. 10, 2010.
NASCAR principles all but disappeared after the event. CEO Brian France released a statement on Sunday, saying, “While NASCAR was thrilled by the incredible response to our inaugural NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race in Kentucky, we also are extremely disappointed by the traffic problems and inconveniences endured by fans who wanted to be part of our races at Kentucky Speedway.
“NASCAR will be in close communications with Kentucky Speedway and Speedway Motorsports, Inc. to see that they work to resolve the issues. This situation cannot happen again.”
As for the race, it witnessed zero lead changes that did not involve pit stops under either green- or yellow-flag conditions. Busch held off a hard-charging David Reutimann after a lap 260 restart, when a caution was thrown for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s blown tire. Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman and Carl Edwards rounded out the top 5.
The win was Busch’s third of the season and catapulted him to first in the Sprint Cup championship standings.
You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattTaliaferro