Those who have attended a race at Kentucky Speedway know that, with the exception of some additional seating, the track has everything needed to host a Sprint Cup date. Former owner Jerry Carroll built the track knowing it was not guaranteed to receive a Cup date, but by hosting Nationwide Series and Camping World Tuck Series each year the track quickly built a huge NASCAR following.
Fans were not the only ones who liked to go to Kentucky, the track quickly became one of the hottest testing tracks for the Cup Series until NASCAR put a ban on all testing at tracks that hosted any of its sanctioned events. The testing may have ended, but every Cup driver who tested there said the track needed to have a spot on the schedule.
Carroll fought for years in the courts for a Cup date from NASCAR, but eventually sold the track to Bruton Smith’s Speedway Motorsports Inc. SMI already owned seven tracks that hosted Cup events before adding Kentucky and the thought among most fans was that Smith would have never bought the track if he didn’t have plans to bring a Sprint Cup race to the Commonwealth.
Smith’s hands were tied in bringing a date to the track by a lawsuit that Carroll had against NASCAR that had been in the courts for several years. NASCAR had said it would not even consider bringing a race to Kentucky until the lawsuit had been settled. Smith tried to get Carroll to drop the case, but Carroll was intent on seeing it play out through the courts. Earlier this season the lawsuit ended, which paved the way for Smith to bring a date to Kentucky.
The only problem with bringing a race to Kentucky is from where that race will actually come. NASCAR has no plans on adding another race to the schedule and if it does, chances are it would go to one of the tracks owned by the France family’s International Speedway Corp. ISC has not tried to hide the fact that it would like to give its Kansas facility another date in the future.
That leaves Smith with only one avenue for getting a date for Kentucky — to move one from one of his tracks that is presently on the schedule. That sounds like it would be easy, but complicating any such move would be that SMI’s Las Vegas Motor Speedway would also like a second date and it is already up and running as a Cup hosting venue.
Like everything else in Vegas, the track is over the top in the experience that it off ers both the fans and competitors and that makes it one of the favorite stops on the schedule. The season-ending banquet was moved to the city last season, giving it more of a NASCAR flavor, and it may only make sense that if Smith does move a date, he would move it to one of his tracks that already has firmly established itself on the Sprint Cup schedule.
So Smith must now decide which, if any, of his tracks from which he is willing to take a date to move to either Kentucky or Las Vegas. Atlanta seems to be the logical choice as it just can’t sell tickets. Atlanta’s spring race this season had a reported crowd of 85,000, only about 70 percent of its capacity. Its second race is now a night race on Sunday of Labor Day weekend, making it one of the better dates on the schedule but it, too, will struggle to fill every seat.
The sport is about money and Atlanta can’t produce like the rest of SMI’s tracks, but Smith may have thrown New Hampshire Motor Speedway into the field as one of his tracks that might be losing a date in the future. Apparently, Smith was feuding with the local police about paying for their services during the track’s recent Cup weekend and hinted that he might be willing to move one of its dates in the future. That would seem odd, as New Hampshire is one of the few tracks that has pretty much held its own for selling tickets during the slowdown of our economy.
Smith is good at moving race dates and his SMI tracks are some of the most successful on the schedule, but eventually he is going to have to make a move. Some fans will be happy and others upset, but let’s hope that we here in the Commonwealth can soon say that we not only have big time basketball and horse racing, but we also have big time Sprint Cup racing!
Chicagoland Speedway (1.5-mile oval, 18 degrees of banking in the turns)
July 10, 7:30 p.m. TV:
MRN Defending champion: