Track's suit centers around antitrust laws

FRANKFORT, Ky. -- Kentucky Speedway filed suit Wednesday against NASCAR and International Speedway Corp., alleging the companies have violated federal antitrust laws by illegally restricting the awarding of Nextel Cup races.

The speedway, located in Sparta in Gallatin County, currently has NASCAR Busch and Craftsman Truck series races on its schedule. It's one of several tracks that have unsuccessfully sought a race in the elite Cup series.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky at Covington, also alleges antitrust violations relating to various restraints of trade involving the Busch and Craftsman races.

NASCAR sanctions and oversees its racing series, while ISC owns or controls 12 of the 22 tracks at which the Cup cars currently race. Both companies are controlled by the France family.

"We have alleged that NASCAR and ISC have violated the federal antitrust laws," said Stan Chesley, an attorney representing the Kentucky track. "In my opinion, the facts clearly support a conclusion that NASCAR and ISC have colluded to exclude competition in order to financially benefit themselves."

"By doing so, they have harmed not only Kentucky Speedway but also all stock car racing fans nationwide. Stock car racing is the most popular spectator sport in the United States, and we intend to do our best to see that fair play and fair racing is re-established," Chesley said.

NASCAR spokesman Jim Hunter did not immediately return a phone message left Wednesday afternoon at his office by The Associated Press.

The speedway wants the court to require NASCAR to award the track a 2006 Cup date and implement a competitive bidding process "to permit full and fair competition for the right to host a Nextel Cup race," according to the lawsuit.

The speedway also asks for $400 million in damages, an amount that could be tripled if the track wins the case.

The 1.5-mile oval track opened in 2000, nestled in the northern Kentucky countryside just off Interstate 71. It's a 30-minute drive from Cincinnati and a 90-minute drive from Kentucky's two largest cities, Louisville and Lexington. Track officials also say it draws fans from two other major Ohio cities, Columbus and Dayton.

The track, which seats 66,089, has sold out its Busch race for five straight years. Mark Cassis, the track's general manager, said earlier this year it could expand to 100,000 seats for a Cup race and that NASCAR's refusal to award the track a date "is almost inexcusable."

Cassis said Kentucky Speedway is the largest facility in America that doesn't have a date.

The $152 million track was independently financed. Jerry Carroll, the leader of the track's five-man ownership group, has said the track's status as an independent hurts its standing with NASCAR. Only four independent tracks -- Dover, Pocono, New Hampshire and Indianapolis -- host Cup races.

Last month, Bill France Jr., now retired after decades as NASCAR's president, told The Associated Press he's tired of hearing Carroll campaign for a Cup race.

"You've got the guy whining over there who was told years ago when he built the place there wasn't a Cup race in his future," France said. "Yet he's down there crying wolf. I guess that's what life is. That's the America we all know and love."

Carroll, through track spokesman Tim Bray, declined comment Wednesday. Bray referred questions to Chesley.

A lawsuit against NASCAR by Francis Ferko, a shareholder in Speedway Motorsports Inc., which controls six tracks on which Cup cars race, was settled out of court last year. That suit contended NASCAR breached agreements by not awarding a second Cup date to SMI-owned Texas Motor Speedway.

As part of the settlement, SMI paid $100.4 million to buy North Carolina Speedway from ISC, closed the track and put its only remaining Cup race in Texas.