Commentary

Lawsuit's dismissal a late Christmas gift for NASCAR

NASCAR and International Speedway Corp. got the sweetest gift of all when a judge threw out a lawsuit against them last week, writes Terry Blount.

Updated: January 8, 2008, 9:16 PM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

Christmas came late for NASCAR, but it was the best present ever.

[+] EnlargeKentucky Speedway
John Sommers II/Getty ImagesKentucky Speedway officials contended in a lawsuit that the track can't turn a profit off the racing -- such as the Craftsman Truck Series -- it currently has.

NASCAR and International Speedway Corp. officials probably did a little jig in their Daytona Beach offices Monday when the news came down on the Kentucky Speedway lawsuit.

A federal judge ruled to dismiss the lawsuit, saying Kentucky Speedway officials failed to make a case of NASCAR/ISC conspiring to deny them a Sprint Cup date.

The implications of the decision are enormous. The case was scheduled to go to trial in March. A victory by the speedway could have forced the France family to sell its controlling interest in ISC, a public company.

ISC owns 12 tracks where Cup races are held. The Kentucky lawsuit claimed the relationship between NASCAR and ISC is an anti-trust violation and keeps independent tracks from securing Cup dates.

Judge William Bertelsman disagreed in his written decision: "A producer of a product is free under current antitrust laws to select its distributors and to refuse to deal with would-be distributors, no matter how worthy or deserving they may be."

Legal mumbo jumbo maybe, but it's a slam dunk for NASCAR. Kentucky officials say they will appeal. But for now, NASCAR is riding high.

Any other speedway that might have considered challenging NASCAR/ISC over a Cup date probably will back off. But there aren't a lot of independent track owners out there who have a legitimate argument for acquiring a Cup date.

ISC and Speedway Motorsports Inc. own 19 of the 22 facilities that play host to Cup events. The other three are Pocono, Dover and Indianapolis. Pocono and Dover already have two annual Cup races and Indianapolis doesn't want two.

Had the Kentucky suit been successful, the process of awarding Cup dates might have gone to the highest bidders. That could have enabled SMI mogul Bruton Smith to acquire a second Cup date for Las Vegas Motor Speedway simply by outbidding everyone else for another race.

Kentucky Speedway's owners probably decided to sue after Texas Motor Speedway was successful in acquiring a second Cup date through an SMI shareholders' lawsuit.

TMS officials always have claimed their situation was different because TMS was promised a second Cup date by NASCAR officials. Kentucky officials never claimed they were promised anything, but believe they have a facility worthy of a Cup date. And they do.

Kentucky's 1.5-mile oval and its overall amenities are far better than several tracks that host Cup events. Kentucky has a Nationwide Series race, a Craftsman Truck Series race and an IndyCar Series event, but the owners claim they can't make money without a Cup date.

NASCAR and ISC reportedly dropped $10 million on attorney fees over the Kentucky lawsuit. It was the best $10 million they ever spent, pennies compared to a billion or more dollars they could have lost in revenue had Kentucky won its case.

NASCAR and the France family have ridded themselves of their biggest headache before the 2008 season begins.

Twice the fun
Bruton Smith loves to surprise us, and he may drop a big surprise on everyone when he announces the plans for his shiny new drag strip during the NASCAR media tour later this month in Charlotte.

Smith has wanted to build the first four-lane drag strip for years. Now he has his chance. He may opt to make the new facility at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., the only four-lane track in the NHRA.

Don't get the wrong idea. It doesn't mean that four cars will race at the same time. But having four lanes would enable the action to continue if one lane had oil down or engine parts on the asphalt from the previous pass.

The NHRA often has delays between matchups while safety crews clean up oil, other fluids or debris from the track. Four lanes, with a concrete barrier in the middle, would enable the next pair to go ahead and race while the cleanup was happening.

It's a controversial idea, but Smith loves to think outside the box. The NHRA has a TBA date for the weekend of Sept. 13-14, which everyone expects is the slot for the new facility at Lowe's.

It gives Smith only about eight months to finish the facility, but building a drag strip is much easier than building an oval racetrack. It will get done. Smith didn't go to war with Concord officials for nothing.

They didn't want the noise from a drag strip, but gave in after Smith threatened to shut down Lowe's and build a new speedway somewhere else in the Charlotte area.

When Smith wants something, he usually gets it.

Sweet Home Alabama
You have to give those Amp Energy drink folks some credit. They know the best place to take advantage of their new sponsorship on the No. 88 Chevy of Dale Earnhardt Jr.

The product is the new title sponsor for the fall Cup race at Talladega. Earnhardt has won five times at Talladega, and nowhere is he more loved than at the Alabama track. The usual sea of red will become a sea of green for that event.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter