Kenseth runaway serves as killjoy to a cool night

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Monday, April 11, 2011
— Trying to figure out if the experiment of switching the Samsung Mobile 500 to a night race succeeded is a tricky endeavor.

In every measurable aspect leading up to Saturday’s night Sprint Cup race, the event was a resounding success.

That lasted all the way until the green flag dropped.

Once that happened, the three-plus hours of racing at Texas Motor Speedway paled in comparison to the rest of the three-day weekend. And if that’s the only downer, then you have to give kudos to the weekend, because the one thing the track can’t control is the quality of the race.

“There are blowouts,” track president Eddie Gossage said. “It was a spectacular weekend. I turned around during driver introductions and my stomach jumped. I was so excited to see the crowd full. It’s so hard today to get that many people to buy tickets to the event.”

Whether the race was a clunker or not, and it was, the event still drew an estimated crowd of more than 168,000. Judging by the music that was blaring before the race and the amount of empty beer cans in the stands after the race, the spectators were happy with the proceedings.

The weekend certainly had a different feel than the traditional April Sprint Cup date at TMS. Festive would be the best way to describe it.

Whether it was the addition of the new tailgating area outside the track or the No Limits party in the Nationwide Series garage, the No Limits approach is working. The track is succeeding in its bid to go younger.

The unspoken word at the track is that as a writer, you show up four hours before a Sprint Cup event and you normally don’t have to worry about traffic. Four hours before Saturday’s race the area surrounding the track resembled that of a college football game.

That’s the benefit of having an entire day to get ready for a race. When the Samsung Mobile 500 was a Sunday afternoon race, fans normally wouldn’t show up until after breakfast or after church. Starting the race after 6:30 p.m. gives fans an entire day to prepare in whatever way they want for the race.

Gossage said the track may have paid a little bit of a price for having its Nationwide Series race Friday night, because the crowd of 70,000 didn’t live up to the standards the track has set for itself, but the reward for that came Saturday.

Gossage loves the idea of racing under the lights. The sky looks cooler.

The cars look cooler. The sparks on the track look cooler. The temperature is cooler. It’s a great combination, if you have a good race.

But Matt Kenseth didn’t cooperate. He dominated instead, leading more than half the laps. And it’s nothing against Kenseth, but if someone is going to dominate, fans would rather that dominator have a name like Johnson or Busch or better yet — Earnhardt.

If Kenseth is going to be the man, then there needs to be side-by-side action, bumping and banging or a catfight like the one Jeff Burton and Jeff Gordon staged last year.

Saturday’s race ended with Kenseth cruising and Tony Stewart running out of gas. Kind of fitting for the race itself. But at least Gossage, who gets blamed for everything from the track to the traffic, tried his best.

“At one point I said to Matt that he had an eight-second lead,” Gossage said. “He said, ’I thought about you, and Eddie isn’t going to be happy about this.’ But he’s supposed to go as fast as he can and win by as much as he can.”

The track tried to win by as much as it could, too.

Last updated: 5:00 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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