Thursday, June 12, 2003

Winston Cup wait won't end in 2004


NASCAR schedule doesn't have date for Ky. Speedway

By Dustin Dow
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Kentucky Speedway owner Jerry Carroll's chances of bringing Winston Cup racing to Sparta, Ky., do not look good today, two days before the Meijer 300 Busch Series.

NASCAR officials have scheduled a 1 p.m. Friday press conference at Michigan International Speedway, where they are expected to reveal changes to the 2004 Winston Cup schedule that will not include the local track.

Still, that is not necessarily bad news, said Kentucky Speedway general manager Mark Cassis.

"What we're seeing from NASCAR is that they are looking at new markets outside of the Southeast," Cassis said. "It shows that there is going to be some movement to bigger markets. What would be worse would be no change and no growth. This is a good sign for us. It shows that NASCAR is looking at ratings and looking at the bigger markets."

The changes will affect International Speedway Corporation tracks in Rockingham, N.C., Fontana, Calif., and Darlington, S.C. One of Rockingham's two races is expected to go to California Speedway, giving that track two races, one of which will fall on Labor Day weekend. That slot's traditionally been reserved for the Southern 500 at Darlington, which will move to a date later in the season.

Although NASCAR is not expected to announce the entire 2004 schedule, NASCAR spokesman Herb Branham said it is unlikely Kentucky Speedway will be included.

"It's probably not realistic for 2004," Branham said. "The schedule is just jam-packed now. Events would have to come off the schedule first."

Carroll has coveted a Winston Cup race since opening Kentucky Speedway in 2000, and NASCAR provided a glimmer of hope in January, when chairman Bill France Jr. said the league would explore moving some races. France's family also controls ISC, which operates 12 Winston Cup tracks. ISC's joint ownership of Rockingham, California and Darlington enabled the switches that will be announced Friday.

Last week, Carroll said he would entertain any ideas to help Kentucky Speedway gain a Winston Cup race, including selling majority ownership of the $152 million track. He stressed that Kentucky Speedway is dealing with NASCAR regarding the Winston Cup schedule and not ISC, which theoretically has no control over the schedule.

"I'm very cognizant of the fact that ISC is out there," Carroll said last week.

"If it takes talking to ISC, we'll do that, too. ... You see a lot of mergers. We feel like we're willing to talk about anything. This is a business opportunity. If you're not open to new ideas, you won't make good decisions."

Kentucky Speedway has hosted the most successful standalone Busch Series race the past two seasons, and is on pace to sell out for a third straight season with more than 70,000 fans. The Meijer 300 has the third-highest purse on the circuit at $1,247,798.

With NASCAR president Mike Helton, and possibly France, expected to attend Saturday's race, this weekend and the rest of June offer an opportunity for Carroll and Kentucky Speedway officials to make their case to NASCAR.

"I personally hope it's 2004 or '05 that we get a Winston Cup race," Carroll said.

"Within a couple years, if we're not on the Winston Cup schedule, I'd like to find out why. Before, we couldn't say that. Now, we have a right to say that."

Meijer 300 NASCAR Busch Series race

Friday

2 p.m.: Gates open, Busch Series practice

5 p.m.: Meijer 300 qualifying

9 p.m.: Kodak Elite Series "Kentucky 150" race begins

Tickets: $30 (888-652-7223)

Saturday

3 p.m.: Gates open

7:30 p.m.: Driver introductions

8 p.m.: Meijer 300 begins

Tickets: $45-$75 (about 4,000 remaining); $30 standing room only (available once grandstand is sold out; 888-652-7223)

Directions: 1-75 South to I-71 South (Exit 173). Exit at Sparta (Exit 57) and turn right onto Hwy. 35 North. Follow Hwy. 35 to Speedway Entrances 1-3.

E-mail ddow@enquirer.com




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