SPARTA, Ky. (AP) - Speedway Motor Bruton Smith was kidding when he said he expected most fans to return home from the track's inaugural NASCAR Sprint Cup race on Saturday night ``by Tuesday.''
Considering how difficult it was for people to get into the track, Tuesday may have been a bit generous.
The 1.5-mile oval's long-awaited Cup debut was marred by a massive traffic snarl that left fans stuck out on Interstate 71 for miles even as the green flag dropped. Cars were still slowly streaming into the parking gates more than 125 miles into the 400-mile event as nearby interstate turned into a massive parking lot.
Even those that made it to their seats well before the race were less than thrilled.
Randy Meyer and his brother Mark needed nearly eight hours to make the trip from Batesville, Ind., normally a 90-minute drive.
``It was a nightmare,'' Randy Meyer said. ``I go to Indy every year for the (Indy) 500 and I've never seen anything this bad.''
Track officials laid out explicit traffic plans in the weeks leading up to the race. Yet with a sellout crowd of 107,000 expected, many of them making their first trip to the area, it got messy. Really messy.
``Sure it was worse,'' said track general manager Mark Simendinger. ``I knew we were going to have heavy traffic because of our turnout and the venue that we have and we were prepared for that, but clearly it was even beyond what we had anticipated.''
Smith has been complaining about the infrastructure for weeks. On Friday he called 71 ``the worst section of interstate highway in America.''
It sure looked like it to Steve Wolf. The well-traveled NASCAR fan from Cincinnati called the drive to the track the worst he's ever seen.
``I've been to Indy, Talladega, Daytona, Texas, just all over,'' Wolf said. ``This, this is bad.''
The traffic didn't spare the drivers either.
Denny Hamlin grew so bored as his entourage waded through the gridlock he decided to play a version of ``Where's Denny?'' and offered the first fan to find him $20.
``Good news, bad news,'' Hamlin tweeted. ``I'm prolly not gonna make the drivers meeting in 3 hrs because I'm in this traffic with everyone else. ... Good news is I'm starting in the back anyway.''
Smith said he has written Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear a note asking him to take a look at the situation. The state has already spent millions expanding 71 to three lanes going north. Doing the same south toward Louisville might be a good idea. It took nearly four hours for Mike Logan to cover the 13 miles from his hotel in Carrollton to the track.
``People told me south of the track was better,'' said Logan, who is from St. Louis. ``If it is, I'd hate to see what happened to those folks coming the other way.''
BYE-BYE ORP: NASCAR's decision to move the Nationwide race from historic but antiquated Lucas Oil Raceway to Indianapolis Motor Speedway beginning in 2012 met with mixed reviews from the Cup drivers who regularly run both races when the series visits the Hoosier state in late July.
The .686-mile oval - long known as O'Reilly Raceway Park or ORP - is one of the most entertaining short tracks on the Nationwide schedule. Yet the lure of moving the race to a marquee venue such as the Brickyard proved to be too much for NASCAR. Kyle Busch understands why the race is getting moved. He's just not quite sure whether he's on board.
``I think it's good and I think it's bad,'' Busch said. ``There's certainly two sides to every story, I guess, and sometimes more. There's a lot of people that only go to the short track and wouldn't really care to go the big track and now that the race is at the big track you might lose some of those fans, but you might gain more fans because they like the big track, so who knows.''
Kevin Harvick, who owns a Nationwide team, thinks moving the race to IMS will provide higher visibility, making it easier to sell sponsorship. He's optimistic one of the other series will move to Lucas Oil Raceway in the future.
``ORP has been a huge part of the series up until this point,'' he said. ``You would love to see it get worked out to see the Truck series stay there or have the ARCA series come there, but when you have the opportunity to go to the Brickyard... It's no different than coming (to Kentucky in the Cup series). The enthusiasm is up.''
Ryan Newman, who grew up racing at ORP, thinks NASCAR is abandoning its roots a bit by leaving.
``That to me is part of the sport that I think we shouldn't let go,'' he said. ``But at the same time there is a reason why it's getting moved to the Brickyard ... maybe they will build more hype and get more hype going.''
GORDON THE MENTOR? Jeff Gordon is considered the driver who discovered five-time defending Cup champion Jimmie Johnson. He's still keeping his eye out for another protege as the four-time champ nears his 40th birthday.
``I think that our sport, it thrives on new, young talent and I don't know if we've seen enough of it in recent years,'' Gordon said. ``If I recognize somebody then I certainly would try to help them out and maybe one day I will have more time to be involved in that side of the business.''
Just not yet. Gordon entered the weekend eighth in the standings with two victories this year. Despite some wear and tear that comes from spending more than two decades racing, he's not quite ready to ponder retirement.
``Right now I'm more focused on driving the No. 24 Chevrolet so I don't really have time for that right now,'' he said.
BIGGER THAN THE DERBY? Smith raised some eyebrows on Friday when he suggested the Cup's visit to the Bluegrass State would one day outdraw the Kentucky Derby.
The Run for the Roses drew a record crowd of over 164,000 in May, meaning the speedway would have to add at least 50,000 more seats and create some more room on the infield for recreational vehicles.
Smith says it can be done and seemed skeptical about the Derby attendance figures released by Churchill Downs.
``We will outdraw this horsey race you talk about,'' Smith said. ``We will outdraw them. . This event will be larger than anything (the Kentucky Derby) has ever had.''
Churchill Downs vice president of racing communications John Asher took to Twitter to defend the 137-year-old track's credentials, while extending an olive branch to Smith.
``Churchill Downs welcomes the Sprint Cup to Kentucky, a state that loves a big show,'' Asher tweeted. ``BTW - 302 days `til Derby 138.''

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