By Bruce Martin
August 11, 2008

KOONTZ LAKE, Ind. -- When it comes to speaking his mind, especially when it comes to NASCAR, Jerry Carroll certainly doesn't hold back.

Carroll owns Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, Ky., and in 2005 he filed a lawsuit against NASCAR and International Speedway Corporation (ISC) alleging antitrust violations. The lawsuit was dismissed earlier this year and Kentucky Speedway has appealed.

Meanwhile, three months ago Carroll agreed to sell his track to Speedway Motorsports Inc. (SMI), with SMI having until Aug. 18 to complete the $78 million purchase. Both SMI Chairman Bruton Smith and Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage were at Kentucky Speedway on Saturday looking over the scene. They're fully aware that NASCAR is not giving a race date to Kentucky for the 2009 Sprint Cup season, but SMI is considering moving a Cup date from one of its existing tracks to Kentucky if the purchase is completed.

Carroll said last week that if SMI had not offered to buy the speedway, he would have continued to operate the track with a prime IndyCar date as well as a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and Nationwide Series date. But in all likelihood, last Saturday night's Meijer Indy 300 at Kentucky was his last at the helm of the 1-1/2-mile oval just a few miles south of the Ohio River.

The entire ordeal has left him with a negative opinion of the powers that be at NASCAR.

When Carroll built Kentucky Speedway, NASCAR was looking to expand its series to the west and become a truly national sport. With tracks such as Bristol Motor Speedway and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway located within the same geographic area as Kentucky Speedway, NASCAR did not want to add another race date to a part of the country that already had NASCAR opportunities.

Carroll built the track anyway and now realizes that just because he built it does not guarantee that they will come.

"I've been an office building developer, I've been involved in the horse business, I've owned tracks, but I have not been successful in this business," he said on Saturday. "NASCAR beat me to a pulp. They didn't give us the time of day. The only way we could do something was to sell to Bruton Smith. [NASCAR] could care less whether we put people in the seats or whether people in this area were going to get to see NASCAR racing. They were going to teach us a lesson. We were the poster child and they beat us."

While Carroll was viewed by some as a modern day Don Quixote for standing up to NASCAR, he says the battle was heavily tilted against him.

"It's like going against somebody who has a total dictatorship," Carroll said. "NASCAR owns so much of it that people like me can't get into the sport. They just don't want us. How many private tracks have been built since we built this one? None. We did what we had to do. NASCAR will do whatever it takes to win out. A dictatorship is a very powerful tool. They are very powerful to beat. I do know that we were never able to play on an even playing field. We were never even given a chance."

A NASCAR spokesman responded to Carroll's assertions by saying, "Contrary to Mr. Carroll's opinion, the fact that the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series does not run in Kentucky has nothing to do with him. It has to do with our existing schedule and ultimately what is best for everyone in the sport.

"It's well known by now that prior to building the track Mr. Carroll was told that a new NSCS date would not be granted. Let's also not forget that the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky issued a strongly worded opinion on behalf of NASCAR in dismissing the case back in January. NASCAR already runs very successful NASCAR Nationwide Series and NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series races at Kentucky Speedway. We have a great fan base in Kentucky that is very supportive of NASCAR."

Kyle Busch became the first driver ever to win on three different road courses in the same NASCAR season with Sunday's win at Watkins Glen (he's also won the Nationwide Series race at Mexico City in March and the Cup race at Infineon Raceway in June.)

More than an interesting statistic, it reminded his competitors that he is the man to beat despite mediocre finishes recently at Indianapolis and Pocono.

"We're setting up for the Chase, man," Busch said. "We were setting up for the Chase from Daytona. I'm just kidding. It's just crazy the way everything has kind of come along this year, but we were fortunate it's come along on us. The good Lord is praying that we're able to keep our car up front every week."

To secure the victory, Busch had to beat one of Watkins Glen's all-time best drivers -- four-time WGI winner and Joe Gibbs racing teammate Tony Stewart. There was a great deal of uncertainty after the race stopped for 45 minutes to clean up a massive crash with eight laps to go.

"I was a little nervous just having Tony behind us," Busch said. "Sitting there for so long whether the tires were going to have a flat spot in them from sitting there or whether the air pressures were built up on one side from the other, and what you were going to do and how you were going to get good on the restart and when to turn the brake fans on and what to do when you get to Turn 1 if somebody is alongside you. Fortunately it was the easy way, and we were able to just get a good restart and get a good launch and pull away from there."

After being treated like "a stepchild" by ESPN, the IndyCar Series decided it was a gamble worth taking to switch its cable television partner to VERSUS beginning in 2009.

The television package has left several team owners scratching their heads, but after meeting with IndyCar officials on Saturday afternoon to get more information on the TV deal, most of them supported the decision to leave ESPN.

After being granted a small window of opportunity to put its television contract up for bid, IndyCar found a willing taker to the cable channel that was previously known as the Outdoor Life Network. VERSUS adds the IndyCar Series to its list of sports properties that include the National Hockey League, the Stanley Cup playoffs, college football, Davis Cup and the Tour de France.

ABC will remain part of the television package with five IndyCar Series races on the network, including the Indianapolis 500. Next year's 500 will be the 45th to be televised on ABC, which began its relationship with the 1965 Indianapolis 500 on ABC's Wide World of Sports.

ABC will continue to televise the Indy 500 through 2012 along with four additional IndyCar Series races on an annual basis.

"We're very excited to be able to continue our 44-year relationship that we've had with ABC Sports," said Tony George, the founder and CEO of the Indy Racing League. "It's been one of the most enduring relationships in all of television sports. We're very proud of that.

The series is banking on VERSUS to give it increased television coverage -- something that has been lacking in its years on ESPN when IndyCar has been treated like filler programming on a cable company that seems only interested in promoting its NASCAR telecasts.

The multi-year partnership with VERSUS calls for the network to televise at least 13 races per year for the next 10 years, with each telecast lasting a minimum of three hours and includes extended pre-race coverage.

VERSUS also will air a one-hour preview show the day before each race that will feature qualification highlights and all of the relevant IndyCar Series stories of that weekend. Additionally, the network will feature extensive coverage of all the qualification days at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway leading up to the Indianapolis 500.

VERSUS will feature at least 10 hours of IndyCar Series ancillary programming each season focused on the drivers, teams and tracks as well as allowing for extensive coverage of the Centennial Celebration at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2009, 2010 and 2011. Further, VERSUS will have IndyCar Series re-airs in the week following every race as well as the Firestone Indy Lights schedule highlighted in weekly 30-minute telecasts.

VERSUS is currently in 75 million homes compared to ESPN and ESPN2, which is in 96 million homes. But with the promise of more television time devoted to the IndyCar Series, there is an upside to this deal, provided that VERSUS can continue to grow in the cable television marketplace.

"I don't know the numbers but on the other side of it if you look at the numbers of some of the other sports properties they have had on there, it is very good," said team owner Michael Andretti. "From what I understand, we are going to be their franchise sport. If you get a network like that promoting your series as being No. 1, we might end up with ratings much higher than what we've been getting on ESPN, which only seems to be interested in NASCAR. That was disappointing to us that ESPN was not interested in promoting the IndyCar Series

"I think this deal with VERSUS has a lot of potential and in the next few years it will be growing."

Despite an impressive offer by rival team owner Chip Ganassi, Tony Kanaan decided to honor a handshake he made with the team owners at Andretti Green Racing at Milwaukee back at the beginning of June and will remain with the team for five more years.

Kanaan and AGR announced the deal at Kentucky Speedway on Friday but the deal did not come to completion easily. Target/Chip Ganassi Racing presented Kanaan an offer that led the driver to contemplate a career change. That put the pressure on AGR to finalize the deal and after some long, hard negotiations on Wednesday and Thursday, it was completed.

"Our number has been agreed upon since Milwaukee and it was literally lawyer to lawyer stuff that was going on and then with all the speculation going on with Chip Ganassi, it was time to put an end to it and get the signature done," team co-owner Michael Andretti said. "Chip and I talked about it on Thursday and he was very upset that all this stuff was out there because it made him look bad.

"In a lot of ways, it was Chip being Chip. He probably enjoyed the last week of trying to disrupt things."

Kanaan has been with Andretti Green since its inception at the start of the 2003 season, and in that time, he has been to victory lane 13 times in 94 starts including last season's Meijer Indy 300 at Kentucky Speedway.

Kanaan owns a series-record 63 top-five finishes and has led 62 races for a total of 2,487 laps over the past six seasons. His races led and laps led rank third and fourth all-time, respectively, in IndyCar Series competition.

"It has been an eventful week with a lot of rumors and a lot of things that people come up with and I have no idea where it is coming from," Kanaan said. "This defines where we are at and I am really excited about the opportunity that these guys gave me six years ago. What can I say but I am very proud of this team for sure. I am very excited about it and it obviously means a lot to me."

By re-signing Kanaan, the only big-name driver left who hasn't signed a new contract is Marco Andretti, the team owner's son. Marco said he expects to be back with AGR next season.

"When you win a race." -- Team owner A.J. Foyt, the first driver ever to win the Indianapolis 500 four times, to his driver, Darren Manning when asked when he was going to shave again.

"Shh, the girlfriend is outside." -- NASCAR race winner Kyle Busch when told he looked like a "Frat Boy cutting up after a weekend at the beach" when he came into the post-race media conference at Watkins Glen International.

"I am a lot more comfortable with the momentum for sure. I think the last two weeks have shown how focused our team is at the job at hand. It makes me proud of our guys and proud of our whole organization. To have Kyle (Busch) win and us run second and I looked up and Denny (Hamlin) was fifth at one point -- all three of us had good cars today. It just makes you proud of the organization and to know that we have a shot if we can stay in the top-12 now." -- Tony Stewart after finishing second at Watkins Glen.

"It's a head game, and we're playing it." -- Kyle Busch in response to Jeff Gordon's comment on Friday that Busch was starting to show some "weakness."

"I think it's pretty obvious. When you've got a guy that's won eight races and run as good as he did, it's hard to not count him as a favorite right now. You don't have to be able to solve a Rubik's Cube to figure this equation out. He's on his game right now. He's having a dream year you'd cut off one of your legs almost to have a year like he's having. Everything is going right, and he's driving his heart out. I mean, the kid is up on the wheel every week and making things happen. You know, that's what you've got to do to win a championship. You build that momentum right now before the Chase starts; it's hard to break that." -- Tony Stewart on Kyle Busch's chances in "The Chase."

"These cars are not very suited to road course racing as is. It is a 1969 Camaro front end with a 1955 Chevrolet pickup rear end bolted and welded together. The suspension itself isn't a sports car-style suspension. The bodies themselves don't induce downforce like you see in other forms of road racing. So, this car is not typically built for this style of racing, but we make it work." -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. on how NASCAR's new car is suited for road course racing.

The eight-car crash that was triggered by Michael McDowell driving DavidGilliland off the road at Watkins Glen was probably the most spectacular crash of the season in any form of racing. The devastation from that crash was reminiscent of a high-speed crash on a restrictor-plate track, such as Daytona or Talladega. Driver Bobby Labonte was even sent to the hospital after he was badly shaken in the crash. He was later cleared and released.

And after Sam Hornish Jr. hit the safety barrels at the beginning of the pit wall, he was able to continue, showing that safety innovations on the new car are protecting the drivers.

But for anyone who saw Sunday's crash, it certainly was a jaw-dropping experience.

McDowell and Gilliland were both called to the NASCAR transporter following the race for their involvement in the crash.

"I had a run and I went underneath him and he just didn't give me a whole lot of room," McDowell said. "Maybe I shouldn't have been in there, but we're racing hard to stay in the top-35 in owner points and try to get back into the top-35 -- that's what we needed to do with our Toyota. It's unfortunate and I'm sorry for the fans and all the cars that got wrecked there and then they had to wait through that red flag. I was just racing hard and really it doesn't look much different than how it was with Kyle Busch and Jeff Burton yesterday, but I'm sure they'll make a big deal out of it."

Marcos Ambrose of Australia scored his first Nationwide Series victory Saturday at Watkins Glen, then starting last in the Cup race and drove all the way to third place against the big teams on Sunday.

"It's just a great weekend all around," Ambrose said. "I thought yesterday was great, but when I wound up there on that red flag, I realized where I was. I was behind Tony Stewart and in front of all those other great drivers.

"I don't want to be labeled a road racer, by the way, too. I am 10th in the Nationwide series points, so I'm trying to make it as a NASCAR driver full stop, not just a road racer. I'm just really excited that I've been given an opportunity and I've able to be making the most of it. You know, you don't get many chances in life to do something special like this, and today I'm going to look back at very fondly -- the whole weekend, to be honest with you. I'm just really proud of both my times, and I hope it can give the Wood Brothers a shot in the arm that they need to really get the momentum to move forward."

NASCAR makes its final trip of the year to Michigan International Speedway and it's a reminder that summer is nearing a conclusion in the upper Midwest. With school about to start in this part of the country, it's the last chance for race fans from Michigan, Ohio and Indiana to pack up the camper and head to the Irish Hills Resort area of Michigan.

The area that surrounds MIS is dotted with lakes and cottages that give the working class families of Detroit and Toledo a refuge from the hustle and bustle of city life. And with the University of Michigan just up the road from MIS, it's also a reminder that college football season is just a few weekends from kicking off for 2008.

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