Sunday, June 14, 2009

Making room for Kentucky

It seems all but inevitable that Kentucky Speedway will be adding a Sprint Cup series event to its schedule in the very new feature. Although SMI owner Bruton Smith seemed pessimistic that 2010 will see the blue grass track make its Cup debut, it seems the track is poised to take over hosting duties from one of the other 8 SMI owned properties.

But of the current Cup SMI-owned tracks, where is this race going to come from?

Bristol and Lowes Motor Speedway ,two tracks high in history and fan support are as likely to lose either one of their two Cup points-paying events as Humpy Wheeler is to be named the new president of Kentucky Speedway.

After a long and hard fought battle with NASCAR to put a second date on the schedule for Texas Motor Speedway, it's not likely that TMS would be willing to share.

While many fans (and Matt Kenseth) would be happy to see Infineon and Watkins Glen, the two road course tracks on the schedule, both disappear, with the sights and tastes of Sonoma, CA second to none on the circuit, many would be reluctant to leave the rolling hills of Napa Valley for the rolling hills of northern KY.
The tourist appeal of the riverboat casinos along the Ohio river not far from KY Speedway are no match for the bright lights of Las Vegas.Atlanta and Richmond are likely to squeak by unscathed as well, although the low attendance at Atlanta Motor Speedway this spring was well documented by the drivers and media alike. Their proximity to such major metropolisis, especially when compared to Sparta, KY will likely keep them safe.

That leaves only New Hampshire Motor Speedway, a staple of the series since the early 90s, but unfortunately a track best known by many new-school fans for the two tragedies during the 2000 season that took away first Adam Petty and then two months later Kenny Irwin far too soon. While NHMS is currently the only track in New England to host a NASCAR Sprint Cup event, and they boast, these events host the largest sports attendance in New England, is that enough to save the track from losing (at least one) of its events? Probably not.

Luckily for the fine folks at NHMS, they still have two opportunities this season to prove their value to Smith and SMI, and for their sake, I hope the motor-enthusiast New Englanders rally around the track.

Kentucky holds a special place in my heart, as it has played host to many of my favorite track memories: the 2002 Nationwide (then Busch, of course) race was my very first in-person race experience, and the pre-race autograph session led to my very first television appearance (but that's for another time), I skipped my senior prom to go see the likes of Benny Parsons, Jamie McMurray, Larry Foyt, Jeremy Mayfield, Sterling Marlin and Ricky Craven, and my mom and I witnessed the first of many acrobatic performances by a certain driver we've come to appreciate over the years, about 30 rows up right by the start finish line at the track.

Needless to say, like so many others, I believe KY Speedway deserves a Cup race more than other current NASCAR sanctioned track. The fans and the community deserve it, and although the original owners did pass the torch to SMI in an effort to make their dream of the track hosting a premier NASCAR event a reality, their passion and dedication shouldn't be ignored.

I just hate to see their dreams become a reality at the expense of another's dream.

What do you think?

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