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NASCAR's Mike Helton addresses that Kentucky traffic mess and says.....

  The Sheriff speaks, and he's not happy about that traffic mess at Kentucky Speedway (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern


   NASCAR's Mike Helton, bright and early Friday morning here at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, addressed last Saturday's traffic mess at Kentucky Speedway, and Helton said the issue was being taken "very seriously" at the highest levels in the sport, with Jim France – the man who owns majority interest in NASCAR itself – and Lesa France Kennedy, who runs the family's International Speedway Corp., both actively looking at the fiasco, along with Kentucky track owners Bruton and Marcus Smith.

   "Everybody is engaged in this topic," the NASCAR president said. "The intent is to find out exactly what happened, so a fix can be determined.  We will not rest until we have figured that out.
   "It was very unfortunate it happened.  We're sorry for the fans that were touched by that unfortunate episode.  We will not let this fall to the wayside until we get resolution to it."
   Helton opened by emphasizing the positives: a great crowd, a sellout of some 107,000 -- at least -- and enthusiastic fans at the Kentucky track.
   Then Helton said the sanctioning body was investigating the entire situation and trying to pinpoint just where things went so badly wrong.
   Bruton Smith, whose Speedway Motorsports owns both this track and Kentucky Speedway, conceded before last weekend's race, NASCAR's debut Sprint Cup race at the Cincinnati track, that traffic would be bad. And Smith pointed to Interstate-71, which runs within a mile of the track, as a big issue.
   However fans, via Twitter, indicated that parking may have been the bigger issue, saying that parking was poorly designed, with poor signage, and with ineffective and/or nonexistent parking officials.
   Fans coming into the Kentucky race, once they got off I-71, at either of the two exits, number 57 and number 55, were confronted by a monumental mess. One issue easily seen was that only two lanes of the four-lane highway (State 35) running by the track were being used. Another issue easily seen was that the physical entries to the track proper were very poorly designed.
    A third issue was lack of 'counter-flow' on I-71, that is, using the opposite lanes to effectively widen the highway.
    Helton pointed out "We were very pleased and excited about the overall support that fans showed in Kentucky.  It was impressive.  Don't want that to get overshadowed."
   Fixing the traffic is critical, and Helton, perhaps pointedly, mentioned the 2012 Sprint Cup schedule is currently being set.
   "We are working on the next season's calendar, so the timing of this is very important," Helton said.
   Is that a hint that perhaps NASCAR might not take the Cup tour back to Kentucky Speedway?
   "I don't want to speculate on that type of thing," Helton said, in a curiously nebulous response.
    "(But) I can't help but think -- you look at the history of our sport, we've had issues that happen, and we generally figure out how to work through them.
    "What we're after right now is to figure out what happened in Sparta and figure out the cure. 
    "Outside of that, I don't have an opinion at this point.  But we're working toward a resolution."
     That response may correlate to what the late Bill France Jr. had to say about Texas Motor Speedway when it opened and the track surface had 'weepers.'
     France then pointedly questioned whether NASCAR would return.
     Helton here indicated a certain complacency by NASCAR about Kentucky Speedway and the game plans for last weekend.
    "This was not our first race at Kentucky Motor Speedway," Helton said. "We have had several years of Nationwide and Truck races there. 
    "(But) I grant you the physical layout of the surrounding area outside the racetrack was under significant changes."
    "We have an interest in finding out exactly what happened Saturday night," Helton went on. "Did all those changes contribute to that, and maybe compound the situation?
    "Was there overconfidence from the fact they had raced there for 10 years…and not taken in full consideration of the physical changes that were taking place?"
    Ironically the Kentucky traffic mess comes just as the sport seems to be on a rebound, with momentum building.
    Will this Kentucky thing hurt that momentum?
   "I'd like to think we will overcome the glitch in Kentucky…and what happened on the track in Kentucky is that the teams and the drivers delivered on their end, and they will this weekend.  So we go on," Helton said.
    "We certainly take what happened on the highways trying to get into Kentucky as a very serious issue that we intend to correct. 
    "But what's happening on the racetrack helps us maintain that momentum."


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