CONCORD, N.C. (AP) - Kentucky Speedway moved a step closer to
landing a coveted Sprint Cup Series race when Speedway Motorsports
Inc. on Thursday added it to its growing portfolio of tracks.
Kentucky's previous owners have fought for a Cup race, and SMI
owner Bruton Smith said he wants a date for his new track by 2009.
Just how he gets one at his eighth facility remains to be seen.
"We will continue to wonder about that," Smith teased. "We'll
certainly be working on that."
Smith has battled for years with NASCAR over the awarding of Cup
races, and Kentucky already has unsuccessfully sued to get its own
Track officials filed an antitrust lawsuit in 2005 against
NASCAR and Smith rival International Speedway Inc., but it was
dismissed in January. It's now in the U.S. Court of Appeals.
There was immediate speculation Smith has his eye on Pocono
Raceway, which currently has two Cup races. If he purchased that
track, he could move one or both its dates to any of his speedways.
"I'm always interested in a speedway," Smith said. "But here
again, if I say something about Pocono, it would indicate to you
that it's for sale. I don't know if it's for sale or not, but if
you're telling me it is, then I'll make a phone call tomorrow."
Smith has acquired race dates by purchasing tracks before. He
and Bob Bahre teamed in 1996 to buy North Wilkesboro Speedway,
which they promptly shuttered when Smith took one of its races to
his Texas track and Bahre moved the other to New Hampshire.
Smith last year spent $340 million to buy New Hampshire from
Bahre, and there was immediate speculation he'd take one of its two
races to Las Vegas, where Smith has unsuccessfully lobbied for a
New Hampshire president Jerry Gappens said Smith has assured him
the track is not in danger of losing one of its dates to Las Vegas
"He never made a promise, but he did tell me he doesn't see any
reason to change anything," Gappens said. "He spent two days up
there a few weeks ago looking everything over, we just spent
$200,000 renovating the offices and Bruton has a master plan for
If New Hampshire is safe, then Smith might look to his track in
Atlanta. The facility doesn't sell out and is saddled with a pair
of dates that are often afflicted by poor weather. And, Smith has
already offered to swap dates with ISC-owned California Speedway to
help both tracks overcome weather handicaps.
But, Smith has so far steadfastly refused to take dates from his
tracks to secure races at his other facilities. That makes Pocono
the most likely scenario for Smith to secure a date for Kentucky.
NASCAR already has started lining up the 2009 calendar, and
spokesman Ramsey Poston said "it's getting fairly late in the
year" to open talks with a new speedway. Pocono is owned by Joseph
and Rose Mattioli, and is one of just three tracks on the Cup
circuit not owned by either ISC or SMI.
"I wouldn't speculate on (Pocono) having a date or not having a
date," Poston said. "It's certainly been a very good track; it's
been part of NASCAR's history and heritage. It certainly has served
that region of the country very well."
Mattioli was not immediately available for comment.
One way or another, it's clear Smith will find a Cup date to
give to Kentucky. The track, about halfway between Cincinnati and
Louisville in northern Kentucky, regularly hosts NASCAR's
second-tier Nationwide Series, Indy Racing League and ARCA events,
but has lobbied unsuccessfully since it opened in 2000 to bring a
Cup event to the 1.5-mile oval.
With crowds of more than 70,000, the track is currently the
largest venue that hosts a Nationwide event but doesn't have a Cup
race. Smith said he immediately plans to add 50,000 more seats to
make it more suitable for a Cup race. In documents filed with the
Securities and Exchange Commission, SMI has already agreed to pay
$78.3 million for the speedway that cost $152 million to build.
Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear hoped the sale would lead to a
Cup date for the track.
"Jerry Carroll and others built this into a world-class track
and their long-held dream of having a permanent home for a NASCAR
Sprint Cup race may finally come true," said Beshear, who will
attend his first race Sunday as a guest of Smith's at Lowe's Motor
"As Speedway Motorsports and Bruton Smith take the wheel, I
look forward to working with him to bring a coveted Sprint Cup
event to Kentucky Speedway."
The previous unsuccessful efforts to get a date led track
ownership to sue, alleging NASCAR and ISC worked together to create
an unfair monopoly and prevent Kentucky from securing a Cup race.
Carroll, part of the original ownership group, said the suit
will continue. Carroll has accepted a position to stay with the
speedway after the sale,
"The litigation will continue on as long as we think that there
is an opportunity to do something right, get an even playing
field," Carroll said.
Smith can not be part of the appeal under a settlement in a
Texas-related antitrust lawsuit previously filed by an SMI
shareholder against NASCAR and ISC.
Not everyone is so sure Kentucky is the right place for another
Cup race. The Southeast is already saturated with races, and
there's four tracks with a total of six Cup races already located
within a five-hour drive of Kentucky Speedway.
"In my eyes, the question becomes, if we're going to go to
Kentucky, where are we going to leave?" Jeff Burton asked. "Is
the gain of Kentucky a net gain? I'd have to have all that
information in front of me to answer that question correctly.
"I have said it's in our best interest to be in as many places
as possible. When I said that, I had Wyoming and Canada in mind,
not another place in the Southeast."
But Kentucky native Michael Waltrip was thrilled about the
potential for his homestate.
"Every time I go to Kentucky I always hear, `When are we gonna
get a Cup race?' So those questions will certainly speed up now,"
Waltrip said. "I'm real proud that that track has a future now.
They know their direction."