Kentucky Speedway confirms 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup race

O. Bruton Smith finally delivered on his promise to bring a NASCAR Sprint Cup date to the Blue Grass State.

On Tuesday, the chairman of Speedway Motorsports announced that Kentucky Motor Speedway will host NASCAR’s top tour on July 9, 2011. The 400-mile race will be held under the lights on the 1.5-mile oval.

The new date marks the first time NASCAR has awarded a Sprint Cup event to a track since Chicagoland and Kansas speedways were added to the schedule in 2001.

Kentucky Speedway petitioned NASCAR for a Cup race in 1999 and consequently opened in 2000 with NASCAR Truck series and IndyCar races. Greg Biffle won the inaugural Truck event and Buddy Lazier won the Indy opener that August. The following year, NASCAR awarded the track a Nationwide Series date along with the Truck race. Kevin Harvick won the first Kentucky Nationwide race in 2001.

SMI purchased the facility from Jerry Carroll in May 2008 after Kentucky Speedway unsuccessfully filed an antitrust lawsuit against NASCAR and International Speedway Corp., beginning in 2005.

“I’m the one that stood here when there were only farms and said, ‘I think I’ll build a race track here and get eventually what would be a Winston Cup — well, that was then — now a Sprint Cup date here,” Carroll said. “It’s a great feeling. It’s not a revengeful feeling or anything like that, it’s more like, ‘I told you so.

“The market is here. We always knew that. I’ve done a lot of things — whether it’s been horse tracks or office buildings — and it’s always depended on the market. I believe in this market and so does Bruton Smith.”

The deal with Carroll was finalized in January 2009 and Smith began his pursuit of a Cup date. Once Carroll dropped the lawsuit in December, it paved the way for Smith to obtain his date.

“The biggest hold-up was the lawsuit,” Smith said. “We needed to get past that — and we did finally. Then we could start planning. If we hadn’t had to do that, we probably could have held a race sooner."

NASCAR’s Vice President of Race Operations Steve O’Donnell, who has been instrumental in orchestrating the 2011 schedule, said the previous success of both the Truck and Nationwides series races at Kentucky tipped the track in the sanctioning body’s favor.

“We looked at it as an opportunity to come to an event that would sell out,” O’Donnell said. “This is the first new market in 10 years and the fans in Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia have been very supportive. This gives them the opportunity to have a racetrack in closer proximity. We all know that people travel to events that are closer to their homes.”

Smith says SMI will add 50,000 seats to the existing 66,000 and 200 acres of camping. The NASCAR weekend will include a Nationwide Series race.

“We’re going to be fan friendly when we get through,” Smith added. “You’re going to love it.”

There was no bigger fan than three-time NASCAR Cup champion and Kentucky native Darrell Waltrip on Tuesday.

Waltrip considers himself "one of the founding fathers" of the speedway and repeatedly lobbied the sanctioning body for a date with reports of the considerable crowds at stand-alone Truck and Nationwide events.

“It’s like giving birth to a child,” Waltrip said, “I don’t know what that feels like but I know how it feels like as a father. That’s what this has been like. We nurtured this thing. We brought it a long. We thought we had a date. We thought we had a deal. People kind of played with us — almost toyed with us. The previous owners got annoyed, they got upset, they got mad. Filed a lawsuit and that’s when I kind of backed away from it. That’s not me. I don’t go that route.

“But when Bruton came along, I talked to Jerry Carroll and I got the two together and (when) Bruton bought the racetrack two years ago, I knew sooner or later (it would happen), because Bruton told me, ‘I’m going to buy the racetrack and move a date there.’ When he told me that it was good enough for me. It was a big sigh of relief. … The big day will be July 9, that Saturday night, when the cars come rolling off that fourth corner, then you can say, ‘We did it. We were able to do something that not very many people have been able to do and that’s get a date for a brand new racetrack. It’s been 10 years since someone built a racetrack and got it on the schedule. No matter how we did, we did it.”

Smith said that acquiring the date showed the relationship he shares with NASCAR officials.

“We have a good relationship, contrary to what sometimes you might think,” Smith said. “… I think this is a testament today that we are helping to build NASCAR and I enjoy doing it and that’s what we’re doing.”

Still, on a day when several tracks were announcing shifts in their schedules – Atlanta Motor Speedway previously announced it lost a race, which went to fellow track SMI track Kentucky, and Auto Club Speedway confirmed one of its two races would move to Kansas Speedway – Smith showed that he’s still not done when it comes to pushing for schedule changes.

“The one other thing that I think would put a great cap on it is to have another date in Las Vegas,” he said. “That would be fabulous. … I know the media is all for the last race of the year to be in Las Vegas and we look forward to that day. I think it will happen, I don’t know when, but I hope it happens.”