Sixth Speedway Season Deemed A Success
All-time event attendance soared past the 1.8 million mark as more than 240,000 fans flocked to Kentucky Speedway for nine race events and a blockbuster stand-alone concert with country music superstar Tim McGraw during the 2005 season.
Speedway race headlines were dominated female drivers, repeat race winners and ultra close finishes throughout the spring and summer.
The ARCA RE/MAX Series made its traditional opening weekend appearance on May 15. Five-time series champion Frank Kimmel drove to his fourth Kentucky title when he stormed from the 17th starting position to lead the final 34 race laps. He bettered race runner-up and polesitter Chad Blount by 2.235 seconds at the finish line. Kimmel owns a total of eight top-five and nine top-10 finishes through 11 speedway starts. Brett Rowe opened the 2005 race action with his first ARCA Lincoln Welders Truck Series victory at the speedway.
An overflow crowd of 70,114 was on hand for the June 18 "Meijer 300 Presented by Oreo" NASCAR Busch Series race and witnessed Carl Edwards' signature backflip following his second career Kentucky Speedway win. The 43-car field also included NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series regulars Greg Biffle, Sterling Marlin, Rusty Wallace and Michael Waltrip. The race was the first major event at the speedway with the new $1 million SAFER Barrier in place. Edwards led 100 of 150 race laps, but needed help from three caution periods in the closing 13 laps to beat Martin Truex, Jr., by 0.690 of a second. Edwards made a late pit stop, charged from the 11th position on a caution restart and took the lead on Lap 199 of 200. Edwards also recorded a new NASCAR Busch Series track qualifying record with a 181.287-mph (29.787 seconds) lap a day earlier. He took his first speedway win in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in 2003. Two-time NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division Southeast Series champion Jeff Fultz set the stage for the exciting main event when he nipped J.R. Norris by 0.300 of a second in "The Insight Media 150"on June 17.
Pole winners captured the headlines during the July 8-9 weekend when Evernham Motorsports development driver Erin Crocker qualified in top spot for the ARCA RE/MAX Series "Channel 5 150" and NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series (NCTS) driver Bill Lester became the first African American to win a Kentucky Speedway pole award. Crocker became the second female driver to win a Kentucky Speedway pole and nearly became the first to win a speedway race. She challenged Chad Blount for the late race lead, but finished 1.175 seconds behind in second place to tie Shawna Robinson for the best speedway finish by a female. Blount claimed his second ARCA RE/MAX Series win at the track and his fourth top-two finish in as many Kentucky starts. After Lester set a new NCTS track qualifying record with a lap of 178.141 mph (30.313 seconds), Dennis Setzer nailed down his first Kentucky Speedway win the next evening in "The Built Ford Tough 225 Presented by The Greater Cincinnati Ford Dealers" by taking advantage of Terry Cook's late race misfortunes. Cook, who led 78 of 150 race laps, was well in command on Lap 145 when his No. 10 Ford F-150 cut a right front tire and connected with the backstretch wall. The incident ended his night and forced him into a 25th-place finish.
All eyes were on Rahal Letterman Racing rookie Danica Patrick when the Indy Racing League IndyCar and Menards Infiniti Pro Series visited the speedway August 13-14. Patrick became the third female to start a Kentucky Speedway race from the pole position and joined Sarah Fisher as the only other female to start a speedway IndyCar Series event from the point. Patrick won top honors on the merit of her practice speeds when rain washed out qualifying. She bowed out of contention for a win due to mechanical problems and gave way to classic three-way series battle between race winner Scott Sharp, 2005 series champion Dan Wheldon and Vitor Meira. In the end, Sharp beat Meira by 0.0779 of a second in "The AMBER Alert Portal Indy 300 Presented by GPS Industries." Wheldon led a race-high 104 laps but walked away with a third-place finish. Menards Infiniti Pro Series driver Travis Gregg opened the weekend by winning his second Kentucky Speedway pole and his first race at the track. Before the weekend's main event, more than 300 families received free AMBER Alert Digital Child IDs courtesy of Meijer and Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher officially launched the statewide AMBER Alert Portal System to help law enforcement protect children.
Fultz concluded the speedway season on a high note when he became the first five-time winner in track history on September 18 during "The Charlie Daniels Fall Classic." The one-day event featured the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division Southeast and Midwest Series along with the USAC Ford Focus Midget Series. Jimmy Light opened the weekend by taking his first USAC feature race win at the speedway. The event also included a prerace concert with music legend Charlie Daniels.
Daniels wasn't the only well-known artist entertaining fans at the speedway. Superstar Tim McGraw played to more than 16,000 fans during a stand-alone concert in July with fellow Curb Records artists Trick Pony and Billy Dean. Travis Tritt, SHeDaisy and the Kentucky Headhunters also performed prerace concerts before main race events.
The 2006 speedway schedule will be released in the coming weeks. Visit www.kentuckyspeedway.com frequently for event and ticket information.
Story by Mike Schmaltz
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