SPARTA, KY. - I don't have particularly fond memories of Kentucky Speedway. And why should I? I've only been here once, and was one of the many who were victimized by last year's traffic debacle that saw up to 15,000 fans miss the race due to poor logistical decisions and limited highway options.
Those who made it to the race were trapped in the area until the early morning, with those in the media center and paddock playing cards and stashing energy bars long after we filed our last stories.
During the crisis, there was even talk amongst the media that SMI officials could even count their losses and return the date to Atlanta Motor Speedway or another one of their one-date tracks.
Instead, the Speedway responded by adding additional parking spots and pressuring the cities of Sparta and nearby Cincinnati to pave additional lanes and add roads to and from the facility. They've added bathrooms, a new pedestrian tunnel for infield access, and several buses to and from the campground. They've done an excellent job, a fact not lost on the drivers.
O. Bruton Smith, chairman of Speedway Motorsports Inc. and owner of the 1.5-mile track has 'promised' that last year's debacle will never happen again, saying, "We made a lot of promises and we're setting out to prove that we've fulfilled each of them."
Inside the facility, it is as beautiful as ever. I was a fan of our visit last year on several fronts. The garage is arguably the largest in NASCAR with both Cup Series and Nationwide/Trucks having plenty of space to do their work.
The media center is one of the newest in motorsports and has three wings - working press, Bluegrass Hall (press conference) and dining/catering. There's never a lack of space for those trying to do work on any given weekend.
The Speedway also rented additional golf carts and trams to transport fans to-and-from their vehicles before and after the race, a rare sight in July 2011.
While the fans were the most vocal in 2011, drivers can tell the difference too.
"I wish I could get an aerial view of the speedway," Brad Keselowski said. "I saw a lot of improvement with the additional parking and the fan walkover. Now we have to do our part as drivers and put on the best show we can."
That's important to note because two of the three races last year were largely uneventful. The exception was the Truck race where Kyle Busch failed to make the prerace drivers meeting and had to race his way through the field.
Most of the drivers agree that the track did its part to make this a more efficient weekend, but fans and teams won't know for sure until Friday. We'll get our best indication after tomorrow night's Nationwide Series race. Over 105,000 fans are expected for Saturday's Quaker State 400, roughly the same number that attended the 2011 race. That will be the true test for Kentucky Speedway's future prospects.
The track's staff did their best, and with luck, it will work out. Kentucky Speedway is just too wonderful to deserve another setback.
A Truck Series race thread will be posted within the hour. We hope to see you there. SPEED Truck Series prerace starts at 7:30 EST with the green flag dropping at approximately 8:18 p.m.