"We're sorry for the fans touched by this," Helton said. "We will not let this fall to the wayside." He noted that NASCAR and Kentucky have been in constant contact since the events took place, and NASCAR is seeking explanations for how a track that has operated just fine for 10 years had so many problems on the weekend it moved to the big leagues.
"We have had inaugural occurrences [at other tracks] that I wouldn't define as acceptable, but we have had them," he said. "This was not our first race at Kentucky. We've had several years of Nationwide and Trucks races there." Helton indicated that NASCAR is questioning whether "overconfidence" on the part of the track could have contributed to the problem.
He noted that Kentucky presented very detailed entry and exit traffic plans, with indications that the entry plans were mailed to ticket holders and the exit plans were also available leaving the track. The question now, Helton indicated, is how well those plans were followed.
While NASCAR considers events like this to be primarily the responsibility of the track, obviously NASCAR itself suffers from the negative publicity. For that reason, Helton said, the investigation into what exactly happened, and how it could be prevented, will continue for some time.
One element of the press conference that could raise an eyebrow or two: when asked directly if the traffic issues put Kentucky at risk of losing its 2012 date, Helton didn't exactly offer a ringing endorsement of the Bluegrass State: "I don't want to speculate, but you look at the history of our sport, we've had issues that happen and we generally figure out how to work through them," he said. "Where we are now is to figure out what happened in Sparta."
Certainly, in all likelihood the race will return to Kentucky without incident, but that non-answer answer has to leave Kentucky Speedway advocates' stomachs in knots.
Overall, however, Helton indicated that he believes the incident at Kentucky will be a minor blip on an otherwise strong NASCAR season. And without a doubt, this issue isn't over from NASCAR's perspective.
- Mike Helton