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NASCAR debuts at Kentucky Speedway....and it's a traffic nightmare

  Kyle Busch at the finish line, beating David Reutimann and Jimmie Johnson to win the Kentucky 400, NASCAR's debut Sprint Cup event at the Cincinnati-area track (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern



   SPARTA, Ky.
   It was historic, and certainly a day and night that will be long remembered by NASCAR fans….but not for all the right reasons.
   An epic traffic disaster -- a traffic jam comparable only to the legendary and infamous Texas '97 fiasco -- marred NASCAR's Sprint Cup debut Saturday night in this Cincinnati-area market, some two hours south of Indianapolis.
   Kyle Busch capped off the momentous weekend for NASCAR, winning the first Cup race at Kentucky Speedway, dominating the rather lackluster event, with little action or passing at the newest track on the major league stock car tour.

   Busch led nearly half the race. But it was Brad Keselowski with the faster car down the stretch. However Keselowski lost position on the final pit stops, Busch had the point for the last restart, with three laps to go, and Busch got some help from David Reutimann in holding off Jimmie Johnson for the win.
   "We made it seem easy, but it certainly wasn't, and there were a few difficult moments at the end," Busch said. "Dave Rogers (his crew chief) and I have talked about how we've got to improve our 1-1/2-mile program, and tonight we did."
   However the real story of the weekend was not on the bumpy track asphalt but rather the action – or make that extremely slow-paced, sometimes non-existent action -- out on the highway just outside this $150 million track south of Cincinnati.
    Horror stories filled Twitter all day and night, with Interstate-71 living up to its billing as one of the worst interstates around, as new track owner Bruton Smith himself said.
    The road was backed up with pre-race traffic jams that some reports had from 12 to 15 miles long coming into the track.
    Some fans said once they got to the track they were turned away by security people saying there was simply no more parking.
    Parking was haphazard, and what the rest of the night would hold remains to be seen.
    Two hours after the checkered flag traffic was still at a virtual standstill at the track, and out on I-71 traffic was jammed up more than 14 miles.
    It was simply a mindboggling traffic debacle.
    Little wonder that NASCAR officials and track officials were all but hiding after the race. NASCAR president Mike Helton could not be found for comment. And Bruton Smith, who owns this track, his latest acquistion, seemed almost in despair over the situation.
    Traffic has long been an issue here, because of a very poorly designed Interstate interchange at the track.
    But the scope of Saturday's situation -- both pre-race and post-race -- can only be seen as a major disaster.

    Here are some videos of the traffic mess:


    Great crowd! A sellout at Kentucky Speedway for its first, and long awaited, Sprint Cup race. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    The biggest problem with traffic appeared to be the parking plans for the areas surrounding this track, in rural countryside some 30 minutes south of Cincinnati. Track parking officials appeared unable to get fans parked in any reasonable timeframe, and the backup turn chaotic, and apparently rather angry at times.
    Some people reported that it took nearly five hours to make it the 60 miles from Louisville.
    Others reported being turned away when they got here, some apparently well after the race had started.
    Even as the race reached the halfway mark cars were still trying to get into the parking lots, and some reported they were simply turned around by police who had apparently begun setting up reverse traffic patterns for the post-race exits.
    Covering the day-long traffic mess was, in a sense, one of Twitter's finest moments in this sport, bringing fans and their situations and their emotions right to the fore – citizen journalists behind the wheel….even Denny Hamlin, who Twittered from his car during his hours stuck in traffic.
    On the downside, obviously, is the fact that NASCAR, as a sport, should be doing its best to put it best foot forward here – not only a new Cup market, but also a raging hotbed for NASCAR racing, after 10 years of annual Nationwide events to sellout crowds.
   And Saturday night's 400 was a sellout too, the first sellout of the season, with something like 110,000 people on hand.
   Unfortunately track officials appeared overwhelmed.
   What ensued out on the roads surrounding the track could be described as mass chaos.
   At one point before the race the highway patrol shutdown the main Interstate exit to the track, exit 57, because traffic was so clogged on the four-lane road feeding the track parking lots.
   On the plus side, at least the day was hot and sunny, with no rain.
   Mark Simendinger, the track general manager, issued a brief statement: "We've had an overwhelming response to our inaugural NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quaker State 400. We know we had challenges related to traffic. We're already planning improvements and looking forward to a much better situation for next year's event."
   NASCAR issued a brief statement too: "We had a great race and a heckuva crowd here this evening. It's disappointing the fans had a difficult time getting in here tonight. We expect the track to address this head on and have a much better situation for the fans moving forward."


Kyle Busch and Company, in Kentucky's victory lane. Busch won Thursday's Truck race, almost won Fridsay's Nationwide race, and finished the weekend with a dominating performance in the Quaker State 400 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   Not much for apology. But Jimmie Johnson, who came in third, nipped for second by David Reutimann in the final three-lap sprint, apologized more directly to the fans for the mess.
   "I went home to Charlotte; it was my daughter's birthday," Johnson said. "I was going to drive in (Saturday morning, from Cincinnati airport), but I heard there had been issues(with traffic) with the Nationwide race (Friday night), so I helicoptered in.
   "But from the stories I've heard, I  understand there are some upset fans….people who were turned away, and weren't even able to get in.
   "It's disappointing. The SMI group (which owns and runs this track and seven other Cup venues) knows race tracks and does a very good job at all the race tracks it owns.
   "It's unfortunate they weren't able to look ahead and see what the central problems were.
    "This is such a great market and so many fans are enthused about being here…to not get them all in the door is a bummer.
   "But knowing Burton he's not going to let it happen again, and he'll get it fixed for next year. But unfortunately it happened this year…."

    Sunday night Simendinger issued a second statement about the traffic fiasco: "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."

   And later Sunday night NASCAR CEO Brian France issued this terse statement: "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."
   Traffic was not the only major disappointment.   
   The race was not filled with the sizzling action some drivers had predicted, because of the bumpy first turn and slippery third turn. In fact it was pretty much single-file most of the night.
    "I felt kind of bad for these fans when we were running single-file middle of the race," Carl Edwards said.
   "But we completely made up for that at the end. That was insane. Ryan Newman went down on the grass on the last restart, and I thought 'Hey, that's a good idea,' so I followed him.
   "Then I got into a game of chicken with Matt Kenseth…..I beat him, but believe me, you don't want to get into a game of chicken with Matt."
   However that was only a late 10-minute part of the three-hour race.
   For most of the night Brad Keselowski had the car to beat. "We were better than we ended up," a disappointed Keselowski said.
   Keselowski was leading when the final yellow came out, ironically just after nearly everyone had just pitted under green. That yellow was for Dale Earnhardt Jr., whose left-front tire blew just after he left pit road.
   Keselowski came out seventh for the restart and couldn't get back to the front.
   That set up the final three-lap, with Busch and Johnson side by side. Busch took the high lane, typically the better line here. But Johnson hung side by side with Busch the first two laps, before yielding.
    "The restarts are a crapshoot, and I kept getting the bottom lane, and that kept working against us," Keselowski said after what may have been his best overall run of the season.
   Despite having all day Thursday for computerized testing here, many teams were clearly off in handling. At one point, for example, three of the four Rick Hendrick cars were a lap down.
    Curiously NASCAR's wave-around rule – designed to ensure that the race leader is always physically the point car on the track for every restart – was used three times during the race, saving a number of teams that were a lap down.



Hey Mike, What I don't

Hey Mike,
What I don't understand is why this was such a mess if they've hosted sold-out races for Nationwide before. Are there more people per car, on average, among the fans attending a Nationwide race? How do they manage sold-out for one series, but fail so miserably for a different series that's sold out? What was different?


i cant understand it either.

i cant understand it either. it's just unacceptable. it's pretty simple. and if disney can do it, every day, like clockwork, then nascar should be able to do it to. i can understand being 'overwhelmed,' but this is supposed to be professional entertainment, and what i saw here today (and i just got back myself, off i-71, at 4 am) is just not professional. plain and simple.
no excuses. period. you want to be major league, be major league.
thanks for hanging....

Before, there were only

Before, there were only 70,000 seats there. They expanded to 110,000 for this year. Thus, you would expect more vehicles. I live 45 minutes away, and still did not get in, and I did not come in on the interstate. US 127/KY 35 was backed up as well for several hours. This was poor planning on SMI and the Commonwealth of Kentucky. I went to the Nationwide race here last year, no traffic issues and made it and parked with 30 minutes to spare. Also, I lived 3 hours from Bristol a couple of years ago, and went there, left about 5 hours before the race, and made it to the seats about an hour and a half before the race.

great article I was in that

great article
I was in that mess and I agree that the inability of track officials to park vehicles in a reasonable time was a major factor. Bruton always tries to lay blame, this time saying it was I-71, not this time, his track parking plan was flawed. I was at Thursday and Friday nights race and I saw it coming. They could have converted another exit lane into a entrance lane and double loaded a parking lot at the same time , in fact they could have double loaded 2 or three lots at the same time (comming from the same direction) , they had enough parking attendants to do that.
I gave up and went home. On the way home, many folks had just parked their car on the side of the road and was walking in , that was East of Sparta, gee it was 4-5 miles to the track , can you imagine that.

OMG! Can some one tell me

OMG! Can some one tell me the last first time Sprint Cup race that traffic wasn't a disaster? Please.... 1st race at TMS not only had morons directing traffic but rain to boot! 1st time host tracks is a race I always watch from my couch... it'll get better - it took a few years but TMS rcoks with the pros in NC/SC

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