Sunday, May 13, 2001

Full house, field expected for Busch race


Auto Racing Insider

By Tom Groeschen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        This weekend's racing at Kentucky Speedway was a warmup lap for the summer's big show, a NASCAR Busch race June 16.

        Speedway chairman Jerry Carroll expects a sellout crowd of about 67,000. And he also expects a full field of Busch cars for the Outback Steakhouse 300, despite some teams' financial problems in NASCAR's No.2 series.

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        “We could have the largest stand-alone Busch crowd, meaning one that's not connected to another race like Daytona,” Carroll said. “Our purse is $1.3 million, and that's among the top three in Busch. We'll have a full field.”

        Some venues have not seen full 43-car Busch fields this year. Only 40 cars showed up at Darlington, S.C., for a Busch race in March. The Busch field also was one car short of a full field at Rockingham, N.C., and attracted
only 43 teams to Las Vegas and Atlanta.

        The series used to have at least 50 cars attempting to qualify for a given race, but rising costs have stopped several teams. A NASCAR-mandated engine change this season hiked some Busch teams' costs by $500,000.

        The soaring costs - as much as $5 million to run a full season - have been a factor for drivers including Lockland High grad Glenn Allen Jr., the 1996 Busch rookie of the year who has returned to ASA stock racing.

        Another factor in the smaller fields is that fewer Winston Cup drivers are dipping down to race in Busch this year. Mark Martin gave it up to focus on his struggling Winston Cup team, and others have stopped because they are increasingly concerned about risking injury.

        Still, the Kentucky field will include rising Winston star Kevin Harvick and Kerry Earnhardt, son of the late Dale Earnhardt. The Kentucky date coincides with a Winston weekend at Pocono, but Harvick is going to shuttle back and forth.

        Either way, the novelty of Kentucky's first Busch race — the closest thing to Winston Cup this area has ever seen — should bring a full house of cars and fans.

        “We've got that big purse, so they'll all be here,” Carroll said of Busch drivers. “You've got the situation with the economy, and to own a car is very expensive. But we've got one of the top situations financially, so for us this will rank right up there with a Winston Cup race.”

        DW ON BOARD: Darrell Waltrip, a paid consultant to Carroll since the track broke ground in 1998, has been elevated to the speedway's board of investors. He sits in on all major decisions, Carroll said.

        Waltrip, a former Winston Cup champion and now a TV analyst for Fox, was instrumental in Kentucky Speedway's design and in helping it acquire the Busch race.

        The track will unveil a bronze statue of the Owensboro (Ky.) native next month before the Busch race. Fox's top team of Waltrip, Mike Joy and Larry McReynolds will telecast the race.

        DOUBLE DUTY: After Tony Stewart ran the Indianapolis 500 and the NASCAR Coca-Cola 600 on the same day in 1999, he said, “I'll never do that again.”

        But Stewart will try the same double this year, less than three weeks after saying he would not. In 1999, he needed medical attention for dehydration and exhaustion after running both Memorial Day races. But the Rushville, Ind., native has said many times that winning the Indy 500 is his main goal in racing.

        “When you grow up in Indiana and you're a race car driver, this is all there is, and this is all you think about it,” Stewart said.

        Rain kept Stewart away from his Kentucky Speedway appearance Friday night, when he was to drive in the night's featured USAC Midget race. Speedway officials will work to reschedule him this summer.

        It is not known if Stewart will be able to appear in the rescheduled Midget race Aug.10 at Kentucky. There is a Winston Cup race that weekend (Aug.12) in Watkins Glen, N.Y.
        E-mail tgroeschen@enquirer.com.

Special Ky. Speedway section



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