Kentucky Speedway

Denying Sparta Cup race illogical

If NASCAR never sanctions a Cup Series race at Kentucky Speedway, count me among those who think it has that right.

As I've noted before, if you and I open the best fast-food restaurant in Lexington, have the best food, the friendliest employees, the lowest prices, it doesn't mean that McDonald's is obligated to give us a franchise.

NASCAR, in my view, has the same right to choose where it does business.

I just wish the powers-that-be from Brian France on down would stop offering as reasons they don't want to bring the big leagues to Kentucky assertions that defy reality.

The impending purchase of the Sparta track by Bruton Smith's Speedway Motorsports Inc. has the subject of a major-league stock-car race coming to the commonwealth back on the front burner.

The discussion over whether the Northern Kentucky racetrack would be a good location for a Cup race quickly settled on the same old arguments we've heard over and over since Jerry Carroll and Co. opened the Speedway back in 2000.

NASCAR Chairman Brian France said this past weekend in Charlotte that the market served by Kentucky Speedway is not ”highly desirable“ for Sprint Cup racing. He says that Kentucky is already ”well-served“ by other nearby Cup races.

Others say placing a Cup race in the commonwealth would only be adding to the oversaturation of NASCAR major-league events in the Southeast. That it would not contribute to NASCAR's goal of taking its prime attraction to America's major TV markets.

Let's examine these issues:

Issue 1. Too many races in the Southeast:

NASCAR runs four points-paying Cup races in Virginia; three in Florida; two each in Delaware, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Alabama; and one in South Carolina.

Kentucky is a border state with ties to the South and Midwest. Kentucky Speedway is located in a county (Gallatin) that borders the Ohio River. It is closer to Cincinnati (45 miles) than to either Louisville (61 miles) or Lexington (85 miles).

Adding a race at Kentucky Speedway would actually be bringing another race to Midwestern fans. Right now, the entire Midwest has five Cup races: two dates at Michigan and one each at Indianapolis, Kansas and Chicago.

That doesn't seem a dramatically oversaturated market to me.

Issue 2. Kentucky Speedway is not in a large market like New York or Seattle:

True enough. Cincinnati is the 33rd largest TV market in the U.S. Louisville is 50th and Lexington 64th. However, combine the population of just the home counties of those three cities, and you have more than 1.8 million people.

That's enough to form a top 10 market.

Issue 3: The market is already ”well-served“ by other nearby Cup races:

In an era of $4-a-gallon gas, there is one track that is within reasonable driving distance from the Kentucky Speedway market. Indianapolis is a three-hour drive from Lexington, two hours from Louisville and less than two hours from Cincy.

Otherwise, there is no Cup race within a four-hour drive from any of the major cities to which Kentucky Speedway markets. Bristol, which is 4:20 from Lexington but more than five hours from both Louisville and Cincinnati, is the closest.

Issue 4. The Kentucky Speedway market is not ”highly desirable“ for Cup racing:

Over seven years, Kentucky Speedway has drawn an average of 70,952 to Nationwide Series (formerly the Busch Series) races.

In eight years, it's drawn more than 47,000 fans for IRL races every year but one. It's attracted more than 40,000 for NASCAR truck races every time but one in eight tries.The same market that France says is not highly desirable?

Bruton Smith told it is ”fabulous. Our sport needs to be there.“

Smith also told the Web site that NASCAR was probably correct in saying it was too late to get a Cup date to Kentucky for 2009.

He now says 2010 is the goal.

In between, one surmises that some closure needs to come to Carroll's appeal of the dismissal of the antitrust lawsuit that he and his ownership filed against NASCAR.

(I'd like to think it is the requirements of the lawsuit that has NASCAR officials saying such illogical things about the Kentucky Speedway market.)

A billionaire with a long history of getting what he wants within NASCAR, Smith will get a Cup race to Kentucky if that's what he really wishes.

If and when that day comes, I'm guessing the ”Kentucky Speedway market“ will prove quite desirable indeed.