After nearly a decade of wait, Kentucky Speedway hosted its first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event Saturday night. Leading 125 of the 267 laps, Kyle Busch scored the inaugural win in dominant fashion, but had to survive a late-race restart to hold on to the victory.
The win propelled Busch into the points lead and gave him is 99th NASCAR
“Couldn’t be happier to be here in Victory Lane,” Busch said. “This one ranks right up there with the best of them. I haven’t won any of the big races, unfortunately, yet. But, you know, it ranks right up there with Las Vegas being another of my prestigious wins that I feel like I’ve accomplished so far.”
The inaugural event did not see much action, as Busch led the train of cars for most of the night. With the checkered flag approaching, the field began to hit pit road for fuel, but when Dale Earnhardt Jr. blew a left front tire exiting pit road the caution flew and the field was bunched up for a restart with eight laps to go.
Once underway, Clint Bowyer’s rough night got worse when he lost a tire and backed the No. 33 Chevrolet into the fence. After a long, strung-out race, the field was again bunched up for a restart with two laps to go.
Restarting on the outside, Busch was able to drive away from Jimmie Johnson, David Reutimann and Kurt Busch, as Ryan Newmam jumped from seventh to fourth. Coming to the checkered flag, Reutimann was able to put together a run on the outside of Johnson to finish second.
While the inaugural race was the main focus of the evening, the big story emerging Saturday night was the disastrous traffic fans were forced to endure getting to the track.
Facing a sell-out crowd, the speedway and the highway system was unable to handle the massive amount of fans headed to the track. Some fans waited in traffic for hours, while others were turned away and missed the event entirely.
Even Denny Hamlin was stuck in traffic prior to the race, posting on his Twitter account (@dennyhamlin) “Good news bad news/ bad news is I’m prolly not gonna make the drivers meeting in 3 hrs because I’m in this traffic with everyone else.”
Kentucky Speedway general manager Mark Seimendinger released a statement as the race came to a close, acknowledging the issue, but offering little for those turned away or forced to endure the long wait.
“We’ve had an overwhelming response to our inaugural NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quaker State 400,” the statement read. “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.”
The issue caused a major backlash on Kentucky Speedway’s Facebook page, with nearly 700 comments being posted on Simendinger’s statement alone.
Here is a sampling of what fans had to say on Facebook:
“We paid 400 for 4 fan passes that we never got to use!!!! 1st NASCAR race and had to walk 6 miles one way to see it!! not a very happy anniversary for me and my husband!!”
“I hope you are planning n reimbursing everyone that couldn’t get to the track because of your so called parking plan and traffic control was piss poor i will not be back!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
“Did you guys have ANYBODY directing traffic? After spending hours on State Hwy 1039, and more time on Kentucky Speedway Blvd I didn’t see a single person trying to control traffic or inform everybody coming through the gates that the parking lots were full. Even if I were to be refunded the ~$450 or so we spent trying to get to this race I would NEVER come back. If I want to spend 9+ hours in the car I can go to a much better event.”
With such anticipation and hype surrounding this inaugural event, the traffic issues and lack of exciting action on the track with leave a bad taste in the mouth of many fans.
“I think the only thing that made this a great race today was the green-white-checkered and the excitement and energy of the fans,” Jeff Gordon said. “I think when Bruton (Smith) is looking at how to get the traffic in here he’s going to have to look at the race track as well. It’s rough. It’s really hard to pass. The layout needs a little help; but the surface most importantly, to give these fans what they really deserve. You never know how it’s going to go.”
“The stories I heard sounds like there’s some upset fans, people that were turned away and weren’t able to get into the event today,” Jimmie Johnson said. “It’s disappointing. I mean, the SMI group knows racetracks and does a very good job at all the racetracks they own. It’s unfortunate we were unable to look ahead and see where these potential problems were. This is such a great market, so many fans are enthused to come and want to be here. To not get them all in the door is kind of a bummer. Knowing Bruton, he’ll get it fixed for next year and unfortunately it happened this year.”