Published May 15, 2012
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Kentucky Speedway general manager Mark Simendinger said there's no excuse for last year's traffic blunders at the inaugural Sprint Cup Series race at the track in Sparta.
"I want to say one more time how sorry I am that that whole thing occurred," Simendinger said Tuesday. "... We just weren't as ready as we thought we were."
While 107,000-plus fans clogged access roads and many missed the race, those who attended didn't see much of the anticipated show either.
Kyle Busch won the race that was filled with buzz beforehand, but lacked three-wide racing after the track's signature bumps in Turns 3 and 4 did little to provide expected drama.
Simendinger and Daytona 500 champion Matt Kenseth toured a Ford assembly plant Tuesday that built this year's Quaker State 400 Ford Escape pace car for the June 30 race.
Kenseth said he's ready to return to Kentucky after gaining valuable track experience following last year's sixth-place finish by learning about the quirks in Turns 3 and 4.
"There's kind of a groove where some people that I could tell had some more experience or were better at it — like Kyle Busch comes to mind. I was kind of watching and the way the track is shaped over there, there's definitely some speed there and it took me most of the race to try and get that figured out," Kenseth said. "It took the whole test (day), all the practice and most of the race to get that where I thought I was getting it right."
Kenseth expects the learning curve to end this time around for everyone.
That includes many of the fans who were stuck in logjams of traffic up to 15 miles long trying to get in. Some fans ended up turning around when officials reversed the traffic flow at the halfway point of the race to help fans exit the facility.
Since then, Simendinger has shouldered the blame at every step along the way and the track's owner, Speedway Motorsports Inc., has worked diligently to improve this year's event.
"When something like that happens, you do one of two things - you either back up or you stack up. We stacked it all up and we have really worked hard to make sure that wasn't going to happen again," Simendinger said. "We are ready to go. We have spent a lot of money, a lot of time, a lot of preparation and I know it's all going to work because we've done all this computer simulation modeling and all this stuff.
"I know it works, but the best way to convince everybody else that it works is have them come on out and try for themselves. So we're really excited about that."
The improvements included a $4 million highway contract from the state that widened an exit ramp coming off southbound Interstate 71 and a stretch of Kentucky 35 than runs past the track. Also, a new pedestrian tunnel has been built.
Simendinger said 173 acres of neighboring farmland has been purchased to become parking and that 50 more acres of land around the track were repurposed to help patrons park and get to the track quickly.
He believes it'll add up to an event where the focus will be solely on the stars of NASCAR.
"Fans are going to be very, very impressed," he said.
Kenseth believes the racing will improve, too, and the traffic problems that surrounded last year's event won't be remembered after this year's race.
"It's a great race track. I know they spent a lot of time, money and effort fixing the traffic situation to get everybody in there and everybody out of there at a decent time to help them enjoy the event," he said. "I look forward to getting back there."