LOUDON, N.H. — Track owner Bruton Smith sees controversy swirling around NASCAR and has one question: What's the big deal?
Michael Waltrip Racing's attempt to manipulate the outcome of the Sept. 9 race at Richmond to get Martin Truex Jr. into the Chase spiraled out of control, costing the driver his spot in NASCAR's playoffs and his NAPA sponsorship. At least one other instance of race manipulation was uncovered, putting Jeff Gordon in the field and giving NASCAR 13 drivers in its version of the playoffs for the first time.
NASCAR's credibility was at stake.
Or is it?
Smith, owner of Speedway Motorsports Inc., said die-hard fans simply don't care about the accusations, and the attention from the fallout gave NASCAR the spotlight to kick off the Chase at just the right time in a crowded sports landscape.
"I think it gives the sport a tremendous amount of publicity," Smith said. "We might win more than we lose. We've had huge publicity all week, or at least since Richmond."
He also said the infractions are tame compared to some of the scandals that rock other sports leagues, such as the NFL and former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez. Hernandez is charged with murder in the shooting death of 27-year-old Odin Lloyd
"If you want to be detrimental to a sport, have your athletes going to prison," Smith said. "One of them for murder. He's still in jail for murder. That is terrible. I believe we have the cleanest sport there is. I think we are very lucky. I think NASCAR is doing a great job."
Smith continued his push for NASCAR to add a second date in Las Vegas, and says he "can't be optimistic" anymore about that possibility.
Also on Friday, New Hampshire Motor Speedway general manager Jerry Gappens said the track has requested a night race for 2014. NASCAR has not released the schedule.
"I haven't gotten a response back from NASCAR," he said. "I plan to address it with them this weekend."
While many NASCAR venues have struggled with dwindling attendance woes, Gappens said New Hampshire was close to selling out the 93,500-seat track on Sunday.