LOUDON, N.H. (AP) - Bruton Smith boasted about the largest crowd to attend a NASCAR race this season: More than 100,000 fans filled Kentucky Speedway in its inaugural Sprint Cup Series event.
Unfortunately for NASCAR, it was the fans who couldn’t get there that got the headlines.
The lasting memory of the race is not Kyle Busch taking the checkered flag, but the gridlocked cars filled with fans who were, in NASCAR terms, red-flagged and forced to sit on I-71 with no shot at making the big pass and arriving to the track in time for the start _ or even the halfway point _ of the race.
Smith, the track owner, and NASCAR officials want answers to why fans were stuck in traffic for hours as they tried to get to Saturday night’s race at the track in Sparta, Ky.
Smith said he will meet next week with Kentucky governor Steve Beshear to start finding some solutions.
Smith absorbed some of the blame, but stopped well short of saying there was more the track could have done to avoid the problem. He blamed everyone from the company running parking (“they did a lousy job”), to I-71 (“a lousy piece of interstate”), to the fans who were warned about the trouble ahead but still left late.
NASCAR President Mike Helton called the traffic a “very serious issue” that must be corrected, adding that NASCAR “won’t rest” until it figures out what went wrong and how to correct it.
Many fans say once they got to the gate, they were turned away by police because the track had run out of parking.
“We’re sorry for the fans that were touched by that unfortunate episode,” Helton said. “We will not let this fall to the wayside until we get resolution to it.”
Helton said there were numerous meetings with track officials and other organizations, and he was confident a proper plan was in place. Kentucky Speedway had held Truck Series and Nationwide Series races in the past without the massive congestion on I-71. The state spent millions of dollars over the last decade to improve the infrastructure around the venue in hopes of one day getting a Cup date. Yet widening the interstate to three lanes for a couple of miles heading north to Cincinnati did little to expedite traffic.
“Ten lanes wide, everybody would have been in there,” Smith said.
Helton has not talked to any Kentucky government officials since Saturday afternoon.
“What I think we have an interest in is finding out exactly what happened Saturday night. Did all those changes contribute to that and did it really maybe compound the situation,” Helton said. “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. Those are the kind of questions we’ll have to get to the bottom of to figure out the solution.”
Kentucky Speedway on Monday offered a ticket exchange to fans who missed the race because of the traffic.