It's Quaker State 400 day and I'll be blogging live from Kentucky Speedway all day, starting with the drive up this morning and continuing through the running of the race tonight. Along the way I'll pass along photos, news and scenes from the track. Just keep checking this story for updated items throughout the day.
LAP 47 -- Only one caution so far, coming out on Lap 43, with the running order coming out of the caution as Kyle Busch leading, followed by Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Defending series champ Tony Stewart dropped off the pace on Lap 29, pitting under a green flag and after taking on fuel, the car would not start. His crew pushed the car behind hte wall but stayed on the garage side of the track to change the throttle body. He's back out on the track, but running 27 laps down.
6:30 p.m. -- One hour until the race, and there are no worries from a traffic standpoint. Either the track did a great job adjusting to the problems, or the attendance is well below last year's inaugural event. Chances are, both are true. TNT's race broadcast is on the air. True story. TNT NASCAR play-by-play man Adam Alexander and I worked together in Evansville, Ind., about, well, lets just say a lot of years ago. Here's photographic proof. Adam does a great job and has worked for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway radio network, as well. Time for one last look out in the heat, to take a look at the crowd and soak up some atmosphere before watching the race.
5:15 p.m. -- A guy wanders into the press room, wipes the sweat from his forehead, looks down at Mark Story and me sitting behind our laptops and says, "Man, it's hot." The man is Gov. Steve Beshear, and besides the heat, he says he can't find much to worry about. He said he helicoptered around the track before landing and said, "The traffic seems to be flowing smoothly." He said the better trip for fans into this year's race is justification of the state spending $3 million to improve roadways surrounding the track. For more photos, be sure to check my Facebook page and the WDRB Sports page. Just a couple of hours till race time.
4:00 p.m. -- SMI owner Bruton Smith proclaimed last year's problems "fixed," from concession shortages to parking and traffic problems. At the moment, there's little evidence to say he's wrong. Just got a report from a couple of friends driving up from Louisville that I-71 remains open through Carrollton and no major backups are reported anywhere. Smith said he expects a crowd of at least 100,000 for tonight's race, but acknowledged, "It won't be sold out in my opinion." When asked if he wanted to reconsider his statement that his race would be bigger than the Kentucky Derby, which drew a record crowd over over 165,000 this year, Smith only would say, "What I'd like for them to do is come forth and swear them in and let them give us a sworn statement that they had that many people. If they'll do that, then we'll continue the argument." Smith conducted a lengthy press conference, then kept talking with reporters for about 20 minutes afterward. I ducked out when the first question of the informal gathering was, "What would you do to fix the economy, Bruton?"
3:30 p.m. -- Sitting right next to SMI owner Bruton Smith, who for a time was chatting with Kentucky Speedway founder and former owner Jerry Carroll. Oliver North of Fox News is speaking in the media center at the moment, announcing that the Sprint Cup race in Atlanta on Labor Day will be sponsored by the National Rifle Association and will be named the NRA American Warrior 300. North began his remarks by saying, "I would like to thank Fox News for allowing me to be here instead of Kandahar, though I think Kandahar might be cooler."
3:00 p.m. -- Just heard from Columbia, Ky., native and Medal of Honor winner Dakota Meyer, who says he's a big fans of three things found here at the Speedway -- NASCAR, country music and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Meyer spends his time these days touring the country speaking on veterans issues and urging people to support the troops in various ways. "Receiving the Medal of Honor definitely wasn't something that I asked for or that I wanted. When I heard I was going to receive it, you know, I didn't want it. I felt the furthest thing from a hero. I felt like a failure, because I didn't bring my guys home. So knowing that, the President told me, and some other mentors, 'It's bigger than you, Dakota.' So I try to go out now and show people what soldiers are out there doing for us so that we can be free, and to say that we are the greatest country on the face of the earth, especially during these hard times we are having."
Meyer talked about the firefight experience that won him the award.
"I heard on the radio that my team was trapped in a fire sack about a thousand, 1500 meters away, the rest of my teammates and some other soldiers, so me and another staff sergeant went in to try to get them out. We were carrying some bodies out, but once we got in there, my whole team had all been killed, and it took about six to eight hours to get them out. It's about doing what's right. Really, accountability and responsibility is what carried me into the fire zone to get those guys. My teammates were the closest people I've ever had to me in my life, and that's who it was about."
Meyer's Medal of Honor citation includes the following:
"During a six hour fire fight, Corporal Meyer single-handedly turned the tide of the battle, saved 36 Marines and soldiers and recovered the bodies of his fallen brothers. Four separate times he fought the kilometer up into the heart of a deadly U-shaped ambush. During the fight he killed at least eight Taliban, personally evacuated 12 friendly wounded, and provided cover for another 24 Marines and soldiers to escape likely death at the hands of a numerically superior and determined foe."
2:30 p.m. -- Just returned from two laps around the Kentucky Speedway oval in the Ford Escape pace vehicle (assembled at the Louisville Ford Assembly plant, by the way). I think our top speed was maybe 110 or 115, a long way away from the 200 mph neighborhood they'll hit tonight. It's interesting to me that once you're up to speed, you can very much feel the bumps and play of the track, even though the suspension in that car was probably a lot sturdier than what you might find in a stock car. I can only imagine what it feels like to Sprint Cup drivers -- with 39 other cars on the track going just as fast. Anyway, photos from that, and from around pit road, are in the gallery I'm updating onmy Facebook page and on the WDRB Sports page. More in just a bit.
1:40 p.m. -- Traffic reports are still good. Alicia Wincze of the Lexington Herald-Leader just rolled in and said she left her home in Lexington two hours later than last year and got here 20 minutes earlier. Said she didn't tap the brakes until she reached the track entrance, about a 90 minute trip. Inside the track, the only glitch I've seen so far is that some tunnel escalators up to the grandstand went out. And if you've seen the three flights up stairs up to the top, you know that's no big deal. But the problem was fixed, and some people got some great cardio workouts. I'm now in the infield media center. Medal of Honor winner Dakota Meyer will hold a press conference at 2 o'clock. Lt. Col. Oliver North (retired) will hold one at 3:30 to promote his new Fox News show "War Stories." But in a few, I am out to take a ride on the track in the pace vehicle. Have also posted more pictures from the track. Check out the links in the post below. More soon.
12:10 p.m. -- Here they are, your first race stats of the day. Driving time from Louisville (I-71 and the Gene Snyder) to the front gate of Kentucky Speedway: 42 minutes. Left at 10:20 a.m. Took 32 minutes to get to Carrollton, stopped for 20 minutes for some stuff at Walmart (where gas was $2.98 per gallon, not the $3.29 I paid in Louisville), then took another 10 minutes to get to the track gates. Once inside the gates, it took 10 minutes more to park in general parking (no media parking pass for this one). Parked about a half-mile from the track, and walked on in with little problem (though I'm sure there was a shuttle somewhere.) The longest line I've encountered yet was the line to get to the infield escalator, so I've set up shop in the Kentucky Speedway press box for a bit. I'm going to be updating this blog all day, so feel free to keep checking back. I'll also be shooting photos all day, so if you're interested in how things look -- including the experience of covering a race like this, the press box, infield media areas and other inside glimpses, the best place to look is a gallery I'm updating regularly on my Facebook page and on the WDRB Sports page. While you're there, feel free to subscribe or hit a friend request to me, and by all means, hit "Like" on the WDRB page. I like to do these kinds of inside photo galleries whenever I'm covering something. Also be sure to follow me on Twitter @ericcrawford for notices on the latest updates to this blog.
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