Commentary

What Bruton Smith wants, Bruton Smith usually gets

Bruton Smith's announcement that Speedway Motorsports Inc. will purchase Kentucky Speedway is only the beginning, writes David Newton. Pocono Raceway could be SMI's next target.

Updated: May 22, 2008, 7:51 PM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

Bruton SmithAP Photo/Chuck BurtonBruton Smith calls the Kentucky Speedway deal "the biggest announcement we have ever, ever made."

CONCORD, N.C. -- The purchase of Kentucky Speedway by Speedway Motorsports Inc. is just the first piece of a puzzle that likely will come together over the next few months.

Buying the Kentucky track alone does SMI no good because it has no Sprint Cup date, and SMI chairman Bruton Smith is all about more Cup dates. He's spent much of the past few years campaigning for a second Cup date at Las Vegas.

So here's a prediction: SMI will purchase Pocono Raceway owned by the Mattioli family and one of the few remaining tracks not owned by SMI or International Speedway Corp.

SMI then will shut down the Pennsylvania track and give one of its two dates to Vegas and the other to Kentucky, which already had an antitrust lawsuit against NASCAR and ISC.

Dover also is an option, but there could be an issue with the adjoining casino, and it's a unique size (1 mile) that NASCAR might want to keep on the schedule in this day of cookie-cutter mile-and-a-half tracks.

Smith is anxious to get this done in a hurry. He said the purchase of another track could "easily happen." He said he wants to have a Cup date in Kentucky next season.

He hedged when asked if Kentucky could get a first date before Las Vegas could get the second date he's lobbied for harder than Hillary Clinton has to get Michigan and Florida on her official list of delegates.

"At this point I am not prepared to answer it," Smith said on Thursday at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

One thing is clear, he must move quickly. NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston said the window of opportunity to re-align the 2009 schedule is shrinking and that there have been no discussions between the governing body and SMI about a date change.

Of course, Smith said he talked to chairman Brian France Thursday morning.

Ramsey also said NASCAR would have to consider the Kentucky market and whether that will further saturate the Southeast, which already hosts races in Charlotte, Bristol (Tenn.), Martinsville (Va.), Richmond (Va.), Darlington (S.C.), Daytona Beach (Fla.), Homestead-Miami (Fla.) and Atlanta.

He also said NASCAR has done everything possible to accommodate track owners who want to move dates around.

That means Smith must get another speedway ASAP to start that campaign.

Smith said he hasn't had discussions with officials from Pocono Raceway. He chose his words very carefully, though.

"I'm always interested in another speedway," he said. "If I say something about Pocono, it will imply it is for sale. I don't know if it is for sale or if it is not.

"But if you're telling me it is, I'll make a phone call tomorrow."

Pocono chairman Dr. Joe Mattioli, by the way, was unavailable for comment.

By the way again, Smith is a smart man. It's why he is worth more than $1.5 billion and ranked among the 400 richest Americans. He didn't buy Kentucky without knowing he had a chance to put a Cup date there, particularly after calling it one of the best deals he's ever made.

He could take a date away from recently purchased New Hampshire Motor Speedway, but track president Jerry Gappens assured that won't happen.

"That's not going to happen," he said. "Bruton has not given any indication he plans to mess with New Hampshire."

Smith also could take a date away from struggling Atlanta, but that is a major market he doesn't want to give up. Of the 13 dates Smith has been given by NASCAR at his seven tracks, all but the Coca-Cola 600 at LMS were purchased.

That's what likely will happen again, and Smith is in a hurry to make it happen. He suggested 50,000 seats could be added to Kentucky before next season and that other improvements already were beyond the planning stages.

Smith usually gets what he wants. He wanted a drag strip on his property at Lowe's Motor Speedway, and when local politicians balked, he threatened to move the track.

The politicians eventually bowed to his wishes and wound up giving Smith enough incentives that he saved a ton of money.

So if Smith wants Pocono -- or even Dover -- he'll likely get it.

Of course, it did take him nine years to get a second date at Texas.

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.

David Newton | email

ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter

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