As Kentucky Speedway prepares for its 10th NASCAR Cup race, track general manager Mark Simendinger couldn’t help but laugh at the situation surrounding the milestone event.
NASCAR’s biggest names who are used to competing in front of an energetic crowd will now race in front of 87,000 empty seats. Fans will not be allowed to attend the Quaker State 400 presented by Walmart in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Simendinger said he never imagined a day where Kentucky Speedway would race without fans. And that’s even after the Carmaggedon fiasco at the inaugural event in 2011. Motorists sat idle in a 12-mile traffic jam for hours. Roughly 15,000 spectators were turned away at the gates or unable to find parking.
“I think it’s going to be really weird,” Simendinger said. “I can’t help but juxtapose it with our first year when we got everybody stuck in traffic and we were overrun with spectators. You talk about full circle. I never would have thought in my wildest dreams we would be running races to empty grandstands.”
Kentucky Speedway will be running five of them this weekend. The Xfinity Series runs races on Thursday and Friday. The ARCA Series and NASCAR Truck Series compete on Saturday. The weekend concludes Sunday with the Quaker State 400 at 2:30 p.m. All five races are on Fox Sports 1.
Sunday’s NASCAR Cup race will be the second day race in track history. The 2013 race won by Matt Kenseth was delayed one day because of rain. The track forecast for Sunday predicts 88 degrees and a 40 percent chance of afternoon thunderstorms. Racing in the afternoon should produce a slicker track, providing yet another challenge to Kentucky Speedway’s already demanding Turn 3.
Simendinger said even if the race outshines last year’s classic duel by Kurt Busch and Kyle Busch to the finish (won by Kurt) he doesn’t expect the race to shift from Saturday night to Sunday afternoon.
“I’m always partial to Saturday night. I think Saturday night is a really great fan experience. Our fans come really early, they tailgate, they go through the display area and make a real day of it,” Simendinger said. “It’s going to be hot. … From a fan perspective it’s a little tougher to ask someone to sit in the bleachers in the hot noon sun. However, we’ll see how the racing goes.”
In addition to the grandstands, the pre-race activities will have a different look as well. There will be no practice or qualifying for the races this weekend. The track will broadcast on Facebook Live the NASCAR haulers pulling into the facility starting at 6:30 p.m. Saturday. A pre-race show, including a virtual national anthem and virtual invocation, will stream on NASCAR.com starting around noon Sunday.
Fans are encouraged to follow Kentucky Speedway’s social media channels including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for driver interviews and other engagement opportunities.
Under the COVID-19 guidelines to host a race, spectators are not permitted on Kentucky Speedway property. Simendinger acknowledges fans might try to find parking areas across from the track to at least hear the sounds of the race.
“My goal is to make sure people are safe. If they come and want to be close to hear the roar of the engines, I think that’s great,” Simendinger said. “We will have some limited police here for those type of things, just to make sure everybody is safe. The last thing I want to do is dampen anybody’s enthusiasm for our sport.
“That never gets old to me the fact we’re bringing world-class racing to Kentucky. To me it’s a big deal every time we do it.”
KENTUCKY SPEEDWAY SCHEDULE
(All races on Fox Sports 1)
Thursday: NASCAR Xfinity Series Shady Rays 200, 8 p.m.
Friday: NASCAR Xfinity Series Alsco 300, 8 p.m.
Saturday: ARCA Series General Tire 150, 2:30 p.m.
Saturday: NASCAR Truck Series Buckle Up In Your Truck 225, 6 p.m.
Sunday, July 12: NASCAR Cup Series Quaker State 400, 2:30 p.m.
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