Officials don’t feel jammed by Kentucky traffic

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SPARTA, KY. (AP) - Getting into Kentucky Speedway wasn’t the biggest race this time.

After a year of stinging rebukes, apologies and detailed plans to correct problems, officials said things appeared to be going smoothly in the hours leading up to Saturday night’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race in the Bluegrass state.

“Whenever you have about 100,000 people showing up, you’ve always got concerns,” track manager Mark Simendinger said. “Trust me, I’ll have concerns until the last person leaves and we turn the lights out. But I’m really pleased with the way things are going.”

Thousands of fans were angered a year ago by horrible traffic congestion that resulted in many cars waiting so long to get to the track in rural Northern Kentucky that they were forced to turn around and head home before ever getting on the grounds.

The situation was so bad that most people remember the inaugural Sprint Cup race at the track for its maddening parking and access problems than for Kyle Busch’s spirited victory. Local and commonwealth government and track officials responded by widening ramps and roads, increasing the police presence and expediting the flow of fans to and from the parking areas, where room for 20,000 vehicles was added.

“Look, it is a race, there may be minor delays,” Simendinger said. “But obviously I think everybody’s understanding that the traffic snarls of last year are just not going to happen.”

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PUSHED AROUND? It’s not acceptable but certainly widespread: Seniors belittle freshmen and veteran athletes put down rookies.

Danica Patrick’s crew chief, Tony Eury Jr., said recently that he felt many male drivers were trying to intimidate and push around Patrick on the track.

The matter gained momentum last week in the Nationwide race at Sonoma when Jacques Villeneuve, the 1995 Indianapolis 500 winner and 1997 Formula One champ, ran into Patrick’s car on the last lap. In contention for her best finish of her rookie year, she fell to 12th.

For her part, Patrick made light of the situation.

“Don’t they watch the news?” she said, laughing. “Bullying is the new not-cool thing!”

Several drivers jumped to her defense.

“She is doing just fine,” Tony Stewart said. “She got run over by a guy that runs two Nationwide races a year and has hit everything but the pace car religiously every race. Every time everybody gets around that guy they get wrecked so it doesn’t matter whether it’s her or anybody else.”

It’s a matter of not backing down, Dale Earnhardt said.

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