Commentary

Bet on Kentucky Cup race in 2011

Updated: December 22, 2009, 5:36 PM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

Whatever it takes.

No matter how he has to do it, Speedway Motorsports Inc. chairman Bruton Smith plans on bringing a Sprint Cup race to Kentucky Speedway in 2011.

"It's not going to be easy, but we have some time to figure it out," Smith said Monday from his office in Charlotte, N.C. "We probably have about six months or so to work it out."

Things are looking good for Smith and Kentucky Speedway, which means things are looking grim for another track in the NASCAR food chain. It's a yin-yang situation. One track's gain is another track's loss.

What track would lose a Cup date to Kentucky? No one knows for sure, not even Smith.

"If I had to figure the odds right now on which direction we'll go, I couldn't do it," Smith said. "There are a couple of ways of [getting a Cup race for Kentucky]. We've got to do it where, hopefully, it doesn't disturb a lot of things. We have to be very careful.

[+] EnlargeKentucky Speedway
Gavin Lawrence/Getty ImagesKentucky Speedway, which opened in 2000 at a cost of $147 million, has been seeking a Sprint Cup race date.

"There will be a lot of speculation about it. If someone writes a certain track is losing a race, I'm going to hear from that track and get calls from its fans. People are very touchy about their race track."

No track wants to lose a Cup date. A Cup race is worth millions of dollars in revenue. But some realignment moves are likely now for 2011 with Kentucky probably getting a Cup race and Kansas Speedway possibly getting a second annual Cup race.

The last big hurdle between Kentucky and a future Cup race was cleared last week.

The original Kentucky Speedway owners dropped their lawsuit against NASCAR. Former Kentucky Speedway chairman Jerry Carroll made the announcement.

"I have informed our attorneys we will not pursue any remaining appeals in the case," Carroll said in a news release. "While we still believe in the merits of the case, it is time to accept the decision of the courts and move on."

Moving on means Christmas came early for Smith, who purchased Kentucky Speedway for $78 million in 2008 with hopes of bringing a Cup race to the Sparta facility.

NASCAR officials made it clear all along that no Cup date would come as long as litigation was pending. The lawsuit claimed antitrust violations in the connections between NASCAR plus sister company International Speedway Corp. -- which owns multiple tracks -- and the way Cup dates are awarded.

Smith thought he could persuade Carroll and the previous ownership group to drop the suit long ago, but Carroll was determined to play it out.

The likely final outcome became obvious Dec. 11 when a federal appeals court affirmed a lower court's summary judgment in favor of NASCAR and ISC.

Lesa France Kennedy, president of ISC, felt vindicated, which she expressed in a statement when the decision was announced: "This confirms NASCAR, much like other sport properties such as the NFL, MLB and the NBA, has the right to host its events when and where it decides is best for the sport and its fans."

So Carroll gave up the fight. Now he'll try to help Smith get the Cup race for the 1.5-mile oval, which Carroll's statement made clear:

"I appreciate the continuing opportunity to assist and consult with Bruton Smith and [Kentucky] Gov. Steve Beshear to realize our shared dream of bringing a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race to Kentucky."

It's coming, but the next big move is up to Smith. NASCAR isn't adding Cup dates. The 36 Cup races, plus two all-star event weekends, is too many already.

So Smith has two choices to get a Cup race in Kentucky -- move a Cup race from one of his Speedway Motorsports Inc. tracks or purchase a Cup date from another company.

As always, Smith has a plan.

"I'm going to call NASCAR," Smith said. "I'll say, 'I bet you have a date somewhere you don't like that you want to give to us.' NASCAR has never given me a date. Maybe it's my turn."

Smith knows better. And when Smith says NASCAR, he really means ISC, which owns 12 tracks that play host to 19 Cup events.

"Money would have to change hands, sure," Smith said. "Maybe they'll be easy on me and not rob this old country boy."

The Kansas situation makes it tougher for Smith to purchase an ISC race. Kansas Speedway will break ground this summer on a new casino at the facility.

In the contract with the state of Kansas, acquiring a second Cup race for the speedway is mentioned as part of the casino project. That race would come from another ISC facility.

So the first realignment in the ISC group would go to Kansas. Possible candidates to lose a race are Martinsville, Michigan or Auto Club Speedway in California.

Smith also could try to purchase a Cup date from Dover or Pocono, two independently owned speedways that each play host to two Cup dates.

That option also appears unlikely because those owners have stated repeatedly that they have no interest in selling to Smith.

That leaves Smith with the one option he hates to consider: Taking a race away from one of the other seven SMI tracks. Of the five SMI tracks with two Cup races, Atlanta probably is the one most vulnerable to losing a date.

When Smith purchased New Hampshire Motor Speedway, many people thought he would move one of its Cup dates.

"No way," he reiterated Monday. "I had no idea what a great place it was when I first bought it. Those people up there love racing."

Smith is continuing to upgrade NHMS and Kentucky Speedway. He said he plans to add 50,000 more seats to Kentucky Speedway, which now seats 66,000.

Smith is the consummate deal-maker in American racing. Now he has to show his stuff to bring a Cup race to Kentucky. One way or another, he's determined to do it.

Whatever it takes.

"Absolutely," he said. "I would prefer to buy [a Cup race]. But I promised those people in Kentucky I would get them a Cup date, and I like to keep my promises."

Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Blount can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter

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