Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear stands with Kentucky Speedway owner O. Bruton Smith and Kentucky-native Darrell Waltrip and proclaims the past week as NASCAR week in Kentucky. (Matt Weaver/ NASCAR Ranting and Raving)
SPARTA, Ky - At the end of the 2010 season, fans at Kentucky Speedway proclaimed their track as not ready to host a Sprint Cup weekend.
On Saturday their worst fears were realized.
Traffic was backed up entering the speedway from all directions on Saturday morning and the race was not scheduled to start until 7:30 p.m. local time.
"It's really bad out here," one fan said while waiting in traffic. "If this is how it's going to be, I won't be back. It's July, it's hot, and the track didn't have any foresight at all. This sucks."
Friday night's Nationwide race hinted at the first signs of trouble when fans were still trapped outside of the parking lot at the drop of the green flag. Many fans reported missing the race altogether, prompting Saturday morning's mass exodus to the speedway.
Track owner and Speedway Motorsports Inc. chairman Bruton O. Smith held an impromptu press conference on Friday and was asked about the traffic.
Deadpan, Smith responded, "It's going to be a problem.
"It'll be Tuesday before we get everyone out."
He may have been referencing Friday's traffic.
Cup Drivers equally unhappy with Kentucky
Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart were among several drivers also troubled with the track over the weekend with Gordon and Stewart complaining about the lack of a SAFER barrier on the inside of turns one and two. This is especially concerning for Gordon who has a penchant for crashing into unprotected walls over the last decade.
Smith was pretty nonchalant about the drivers' concerns.
"I have not talked to Jeff or Tony, but I'd tell them to just drive where Kyle Busch goes," Smith said. "If they will do that, they won't have to worry about the padding."
The irony in that statement is that even Busch has concerns about the safety of that corner.
"I don't know who's dumb idea it was to put the wall out inside Turn 1 and 2, six feet away from the racetrack, but that's not right," Busch said. "That was wrong."
After Cup qualifying was rained out on Friday afternoon, Johnson gave a scathing response to Smith on his twitter page, calling it a "BS response" The defending champion wasn't done there:
"I'm a Bruton fan but it pisses me off to (hear) a comment like that on driver safety," Johnson later posted. "My job title is racecar driver not stunt man. Think of who would be alive (today) if safety was where it should have been years ago."
Smith envisions Kentucky as the biggest race of the year but he's got a ton of work to do if he's going to convince the fans and drivers.
Matt Weaver is the senior writer and content editor for NASCAR Ranting and Raving and will be tweeting from Kentucky Speedway all weekend. Follow him @MattWeaverSBN