By Brant James
July 12, 2011
Kentucky Power Rankings
The professionalism and credibility of Speedway Motorsports Inc. fell off the real-world power poll this week, the one that induces fans to purchase tickets, gasoline, hotel rooms and food and patronize the races the company promotes.

But couth and class also took a slide in the aftermath of the Kentucky Speedway debacle on Saturday night. In the process, the racing industry might have revealed just how bad things remain in treacherous economy with a tepid fan base.

Though SMI announced a ticket exchange for fans that never made it inside the venue because of horrific traffic, nothing short of chairman Bruton Smith standing outside Churchill Downs handing out free vouchers to the potential second Sprint Cup race at the track would suffice in displaying true contrition. If he uses the situation -- which he certainly had been aware of as he's owned the track south of Cincinnati since 2008 -- as a wedge to wrangle federal or state funds to build a new highway to the track, he should and likely will be pilloried for it.

But as woeful as was SMI's preparedness and its response, the subsequent reaction by the industry has been even more disappointing. Racing is a confederation of so-called "stakeholders," an overused term meaning each independent contractor -- whether a driver, owner, track promoter or manufacturer -- has a vested interest in the collective health of the sport as a whole, while reserving the right to act selfishly for their individual betterment when it suits them. Some of those stakeholders attempted to drive a stake through SMI's collective heart in the aftermath of Saturday's mess, and although couched in the guise of empathy for the thousands of fans put out, the reactions of track promoters at Michigan, Indianapolis and Talladega seemed more cynical than compassionate, exploitative than empathetic.

Stakeholders cajole every dollar they can at the expense of their counterparts because that stokes competition, and in theory, provides a better experience for the ticket-buying public. But Kentucky's failing initiated a mini feeding frenzy among regional competition that was unseemly even in a hostile business climate. Chief among the opportunists was Michigan International Speedway president Roger Curtis, who apologized to fans for Kentucky Speedway's errors. His track is a geographic rival of Kentucky and its parent company, International Speedway Corp., is SMI's main competitor. Grant Lynch, president at Talladega -- another ISC venue -- issued a statement asserting his track's readiness for traffic and counterpart Jeff Belskus at independent Indianapolis Motor Speedway offered a ticket deal to disappointed Kentucky patrons for the Brickyard 400.

Said Curtis, in an e-mail: "Just to be clear: This isn't about kicking a racetrack when it's down. We all make mistakes, and MIS has certainly had past issues with traffic. And it isn't about swaying a Kentucky Speedway ticketholder to come to Michigan -- although we'll be happy to treat them the way they should be treated.

"[Rather], it's about apologizing and doing what's right when you are clearly in the wrong. It is about having your priorities right in the first place -- on the fan experience. That's why I'm upset." Undoubtedly.

Now on to the power rankings:

Kyle Busch
Wins: 3
Top-10s: 11
A third-place finish in the Nationwide race on Saturday cost him a chance to stamp a Rowdy Slam onto the inaugural Cup weekend at Kentucky Speedway. There are few more oppressive than Busch when he is in the zone.
Jimmie Johnson
Wins: 1
Top-10s: 11
The five-time defending series champion was feeling good about his chances to catch Busch on a final restart, despite a recurrence of pit stop problems that have hindered the team in the past. Johnson wasn't unable to flag down Busch and was nipped in the stretch by David Reutimann for second place. Johnson remains fifth in points, 19 behind the new points leader.
Carl Edwards
Wins: 1
Top-10s: 13
A fifth-place finish at Kentucky drew him marginally closer to the points lead he lost two weeks ago, but his fourth top-5 in his last six races indicates an upward trend. "We picked up one point on the points lead and are four points out of the lead now, so that is a good thing," he said.
Kurt Busch
Wins: 1
Top-10s: 10
He led 41 laps but settled for ninth place, and on a night when his younger brother was so dominant, everyone was settling. The older Busch continues to run well after adjustments and corrections were made at Penske Racing, but he seemed to rue a lost opportunity. "We grabbed another top-10 finish, but I think we'll look back at this one and think we maybe let one slip away late," said Busch, who is fourth in points. "We were in the catbird seat on the last restart, but we just couldn't execute."
Kevin Harvick
Wins: 3
Top-10s: 10
A 16th-place finish was his worst in nine weeks and enough to cost him the points lead. Still safely tucked into third place, Harvick is biding his time until the Chase, but his Richard Childress Racing teammates' woes recently could be worrisome.
Matt Kenseth
Wins: 2
Top-10s: 10
He blamed himself for not cleaning his tires properly and not communicating with crew chief Jimmy Fennig about a late pit stop, but he still brought the No. 17 Ford to the finish in sixth place. Nestled in the middle of the Chase boundary at sixth place, the two-race winner can afford a stumble like this right now.
Jeff Gordon
Wins: 2
Top-10s: 8
He recovered from a lap down to finish 10th, giving him a win and four top-10s in his last five races.
Ryan Newman
Wins: 0
Top-10s: 8
He used the apron to gain ground on a final restart and finished a season-best fourth, stemming a two-race slide where he had finished 23rd or worse twice. He also gained a slot in the standings, moving up to ninth.
Denny Hamlin
Wins: 1
Top-10s: 6
An 11th-place finish puts Hamlin in 10th place and the final conventional Chase qualifying spot. If he falls out of the top 10, his victory at Michigan would make him the top wild card contender.
Brad Keselowski
Wins: 1
Top-10s: 4
A seventh-place finish drew Keselowski within three points of the second and final wild card berth. At 21st in points, he has seven races to advance at least one spot and qualify for the Chase by virtue of his win at Kansas, unless one of the nine winless drivers currently between 20th and 11th place picks up a win and sends him into scramble mode.

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