The Frontstretch: Oh No, You Didn't: Marred Kentucky Debut Leaves Unanswered Questions by Thomas Bowles -- Monday July 11, 2011

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Oh No, You Didn't: Marred Kentucky Debut Leaves Unanswered Questions

Bowles-Eye View · Thomas Bowles · Monday July 11, 2011

 

You never want a new, flagship event to fizzle into a long list of Negative Nancy items by the checkered flag. But by the finish of Saturday night’s Sprint Cup race at Kentucky, when one public relations director actually noted the National Guard was needed to curb a chaotic outflow of traffic you could sense this event will be talked about at the water cooler Monday for all the wrong reasons. If anything, NASCAR was shouting U.S.A. ten times louder than anyone Sunday during the Americans’ dramatic comeback at the World Cup; it’s the one start to the workweek where they’ll be happy to get ignored, those women taking the spotlight off their moment of shame.

Certainly, people at the track will point to six-hour jams, 20 miles long on I-71 as their living nightmare; but what we’re forgetting was millions of fans on their couches psyched up for the sport’s first “new” Cup track since 2001 subjected to paint-drying, single-file competition that was hardly a deterrent from spending their Saturday night doing something, anything else. Perhaps that’s the biggest, under-reported aspect of what’s missing in the midst of gridlock madness; on a stage where NASCAR could tout progress on those yawn-inducing, tough-to-pass intermediate ovals they gave fans some of the same old, same old dreary competition that disappointed them at Chicagoland, Kansas, Texas, and Las Vegas in their debuts. The difference now? It’s been ten years since NASCAR added one of these tracks to the schedule, a full decade to flush out problems and come up with solutions so the next time they went back to the drawing board, it wouldn’t happen again.

But it did.

“I don’t know if the track is not taking any rubber,” said Jimmie Johnson, clearly noting a facility – one that’s had a dozen years to fix its flaws – needs dramatic improvement. “I’ve heard from some people there’s a different grooving pattern above where we’re running, that’s why the cars aren’t comfortable up there, but something to widen out the lanes would put on a better show.”

And then, came the words that these days bring groans to any stock car supporter: “The clean air really makes a big difference.”

Such an aero push, a driver’s hidden enemy remains the serial killer to NASCAR competition officials, drivers, and engineers can’t catch. To Bruton Smith’s credit, the owner of Kentucky Speedway and about a dozen Sprint Cup dates keeps attempting to halt the problem; he’s just attacking it with the wrong type of weapon: new asphalt.

“The track was roughly two-and-a-half-lanes wide,” claimed Kyle Busch. “The top was a little slick. Whatever grind they did up top seemed to hurt it, I think, rather than help it.”

“I’ve heard rumors of repaving this place. Hopefully they ask us before they do it.”

That renovation would be a multi-million dollar project, the type that’s been used at Smith’s Charlotte, Vegas and even the short track of Bristol with limited success. Like trying to unclog a sink with a hammer, the two are completely unrelated to each other; aerodynamic issues are caused by speed and tire grip, not bumpy spots on the asphalt. How many times can Smith try to put makeup on a pig and call it a supermodel? Wouldn’t some sort of radical, graduated banking, a shorter track or even a couple more Goodyear tire tests make a bigger difference?

Smith talked a good game after the race, but for certain he’s on top of the “Oh no, you didn’t” list after the fallout. This guy’s the one who bought this track specifically to bring a Cup date, brought millions in renovations to add seats in the stands and has been helping prepare for this moment for over two years. Sure, he can’t fix the car chassis themselves but some of that money could have been spent on more parking lots, traffic research and government lobbying for an expansion of I-71. What good are adding tens of thousands of seats when angry fans will be there only one year? Smith also didn’t immediately announce ticket refunds, discounts or any type of “make good” program on Saturday night, a plan that needed instant action in this age of social media dictating perception.

You see, it’s not 1998, where people will wait in Las Vegas traffic for eight hours and just say “it’s part of it;” in 2011, when negative experiences get spread on Twitter in seconds combined with the ADD nature of our general public today, fans just won’t put up with the problems. A track statement, released Saturday by GM Mark Simendinger won’t get it done either; Smith himself needs to be the face of Kentucky’s recovery, tackling not one but both major issues. Otherwise, he risks spoiling a market once drooling for Sprint Cup competition. And that needs to happen sometime this week, before fans move on to the next big thing and all they’ll remember was a long list of others’ bad experiences.

Read The Latest Traffic Statements Here… Including One By NASCAR CEO Brian France

Joey Logano’s bright orange paint scheme was the only thing that drew attention to a mediocre night the No. 20 team did not need at Kentucky.

On the racing side, so many stars spend this Monday shaking heads at their own performance. Joey Logano, with his job on the line and entering Kentucky – a track where he’d gone 3-for-3 in Nationwide competition entering this weekend – had a golden opportunity to kill rumors his job was on the line, but didn’t. The No. 20 never contended, failing to crack the top 10 for more than a handful of laps en route to 14th. Included on the stat line was zero laps led, combined with limited TV time on a track where three years ago, he came into his own at 18. Now, the youngster seems unlikely to score a victory during the rest of the regular season, refocusing the conversation on an ugly start, a third missed Chase and whether Home Depot’s become permanently impatient with limited progress.

There’s Dale Earnhardt, Jr. whose blown tire, putting the No. 88 out of its misery meant he didn’t stop the bleeding on a slump that’s now lasted about a month. Runs of 21st, 41st, 19th, and 30th have dropped him to eighth in points, sapping confidence and linking to recent history of a similar fall from Chase contention last year… and the year before that… and really, for all intents and purposes (although Junior had enough cushion to make the ’08 Chase) the year before that. Steve Letarte’s biggest test as a crew chief, not long removed from putting Junior on the cusp of title contention now lies ahead.

For Brad Keselowski, an all-important second victory that would have all but assured him a bid on the Chase, especially considering his recent run of solid performances didn’t transpire. Sure, a faulty radio played a part but this race seemed like one Keselowski could have had. He had Kyle Busch in his sights, and could have even roughed up the No. 18 considering their back-and-forth history but wound up in the wrong place on the wrong time on double-file restarts, fighting an enemy he could not see.

“At the end, the restarts are just a crapshoot,” he said after fading from first, leading 79 laps total to seventh in the final few circuits. “If you get the bottom lane, you’re going backwards. When you restart on the bottom lane, not only do you not have air on the nose, you don’t have air on the right side of the car. The right side is what keeps these cars from spinning out. When you don’t have that air, you’re awful.”

“It’s just a product of double-file restarts. That’s why drivers hate them because some tracks are great and they put on a good show, and then there are tracks like this where it just completely screws your day.”

Hours after the checkered flag fell, too many people from all walks of NASCAR Nation were busy using those words, “I got screwed.” So now, the question becomes in the wake of plenty of “Oh no, you didn’ts” what are the main principles involved both on the track and off actually going to do before it’s too late?

Editor’s Note: Were you at (or trying) to get to Kentucky Speedway this weekend? Have a positive or negative experience you’d like to share? Tom would love to hear from you… please connect with him through his email or Twitter listed below.

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Chris in Hawaii
07/11/2011 04:40 AM
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What a snoozer of a race. I didn’t make it 10 laps in before I turned on the Playstation. Oh, and did you know this was the first Cup race at Kentucky? I don’t feel that TNT made that clear enough.

Bill B
07/11/2011 09:52 AM
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It sucks to watch a race where whomever gets out front looks like they are unbeatable. That is NASCAR’s #1 problem and they should be doing something to fix it.

GinaV24
07/11/2011 10:27 AM
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totally, completely, utterly bored by that TV broadcast. Wasn’t the ugly car supposed to fix the aero push issue?

Now we have an ugly car AND aero push.

I sure wouldn’t bother to buy a ticket to that track – ever.

RamblinWreck
07/11/2011 11:41 AM
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Even Kyle Petty admitted on air that this wasn’t an exciting race.

Maybe Atlanta can get its date back when half the crowd decides not to renew their tickets next year.

Ken
07/11/2011 11:48 AM
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Don’t feel bad about the race or the broadcast. I was one of the dumb 107,000 people who went to the race. We left Cincinatti at about noon and finally made it into the track at about 7:00. There were cars running out of gas on I71! When we finally got off I71, there were no cops directing traffic. No wonder there was traffic caos! It was worse once we finally got into the track! Now, we knew about the no cooler policy, but apparently, a lot of people didn’t. And there was some serious delays getting into the grandstands. The concession stands were selling everything out by the time the race started! I finally made it to my seat with my one bottle of water about half-way through driver intros. Never again! This was my first time to that track, and my last! Bruton and Mark Simendinger both should be strung up! If I was the Governer of Kentucky, I’d order that facility shut down for good! Absolutely the worst fan experience ever! I hope nobody shows up next year! Better yet, I hope Brainless Brian pulls the track off all three schedules next year and the track goes bankrupt!

Earner
07/11/2011 03:12 PM
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Complete Snoozer (*Sorry Kentucky) I could have watched fontana for that….Tried to be positive but we just did’nt need another Dull D track…It was Dull…& No I would not go there….While Kentucky remains high on my list their track will not

Carl D.
07/11/2011 03:27 PM
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A boring race for those watching at home, and a nightmare for those who actually attended or tried to attend the race. It’s now at the point that no amount of “boys have at it”, double-file restarts, and G-W-C finishes will ever be able to fix the damage that management incompetence has done to this sport.

MikeGH
07/11/2011 03:36 PM
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Amazing….just when you think it can’t get worse for nascar…..and now lets move a NW race to Indy.

Oh well, guess I’ll just fire up some YouTube clips of Winston Cup.

nc1fish
07/11/2011 04:31 PM
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Last year I turned Nascar off for the rest of the season when the chase started. After whatever that was on TNT saturday night I am gone for the rest this year- maybe forever. The Sonic Tap soft hits station will get my attention. Looks like Bruton is still selling used cars.

The Mad Man
07/11/2011 05:10 PM
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ZZZzzzz Huh? There was a race at Kentucky? I thought it was NASCAR’s latest product to cure insomnia.

mike
07/11/2011 05:36 PM
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Well done Mr. Bowles…Definately a snoozer of a race…

Marybeth
07/11/2011 06:47 PM
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Back in April, Kyle Petty was on Dave Despain’s ‘Windtunnel’. In answer to a question, Kyle said that now days, how you run is determined by the engine shop & who gets the best engine coming out of the shop. That is not a verbatim quote but it is the gist of it. Jr. said that his car was slow. He tried lines all over the track & they were only slower.

 

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