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Sarah Cornett-Ching Making Racing Comeback After Concussion

Sarah Cornett-Ching, a popular driver who has been competing in the ARCA Racing Series, is ready to get back to racing after being sidelined with a concussion back in September.

Cornett-Ching, 25, from the British Columbia province in Canada, was involved in an accident on Lap 22 in the Crosley 150 ARCA Racing Series event at Kentucky Speedway last September.  The symptoms of her concussion caused her to remain sidelined, but now she has been cleared to compete again.

Cornett-Ching was set to make her return in a Pro All Stars Series (PASS) Super Late Model race at Dillon Motor Speedway in South Carolina earlier this month, but mechanical problems in practice forced her and car owner Tony Blanchard to pack up.  Since then, she’s tested a Super Late Model at Southern National Motorsports Park in preparation for a PASS race on March 4th.

“We didn’t get to race at Dillon which was unfortunate because I was looking forward to seeing how I felt in a group of cars where you have to make quick reactions and things like that which is different than just practicing,” Cornett-Ching remarked.  “Obviously, a longer race, it was going to be 200 laps.  Bummed we didn’t get to run that race but I’m better every day.”

The journey back has been a long one and sometimes frustrating for the 25-year-old who feels she’s mentally ready to race again.

“It’s been pretty frustrating,” Cornett-Ching said.  “Just a long process, really, really slow, little bit better every day but never really noticeably better.  It was just frustrating.  I mean, it’s good to be back testing now.  We’ve tested a few times now.  The most frustrating part is that, when you’re trying to make progress and build as a driver and then you have to take so much time off, it’s just heartbreaking.”

Cornett-Ching recalled the Kentucky accident and how she felt in the days after.

“It sucked,” she commented.  “I mean, we were going around a couple lapped cars and the spotter just didn’t key up quick enough to say the leader was on the outside.  The leader did not decide to lift so he turned us around.  It was a hard hit.  Hit the outside wall and then the inside wall.  I don’t remember too much about the wreck and that.  I was pretty sick for a while, just out of it.  Sleeping, headaches, nausea, just really sick.  Memory and all that stuff was really affected.”

Now, a little over four months later, Cornett-Ching has been cleared to compete, but she still isn’t back to where she was physically before the accident.

“It’s been a long time getting back and it’s still not, I still don’t feel like I am as a driver where I was before it happened,” Cornett-Ching explained.  “I’ve been cleared though by the doctor and everything else with all the tests they do to get back in the racecar and be racing again so I’d like to run some Super Late Model races, get out there and see how I feel in those situations.”

Concussions in sports have been a hot topic in recent years, and auto racing has not been exempt.  Last July, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. stepped out of the car with concussion-like symptoms before a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Loudon, New Hampshire – the second time NASCAR’s most popular driver has had to do so due to concussion symptoms.  He has not been in the car since but is set to return at Daytona Speedweeks.

While there has been more talk about concussions since Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s abrupt decision to step aside, Cornett-Ching says his decision had no influence on her decision.

“For me, I was so sick that it wasn’t even a choice,” Cornett-Ching elaborated.  “Everybody brings that up because Dale Jr had a concussion at the same time and they ask.  You can say that it was, I don’t know, whatever.  It definitely did not make my decision.  My decision was made purely on how I felt, which was terrible.  It was around the same time and I’m glad he’s back and hopefully we can be back soon too.”

While Cornett-Ching isn’t where she was before, she feels she is ready to return and at least compete in a Super Late Model event.  The main issue for her has been recurring headaches later in the day, something that hydration plays a role in.

“Most times, when we run laps like this, right now I feel fine,” Cornett-Ching said.  “Towards the end of the day, I get a headache just as things are winding down and the doctor says hydration plays a role in that so I try to stay hydrated.  I feel fine.  Like I said, when you’re testing, it’s one thing but I do want to get back into a race situation where you make split second decisions and have to react to things happening on the track and that’s something we haven’t really been able to do yet.”

Cornett-Ching had planned to compete in the ARCA Racing Series event at Daytona International Speedway on February 18th, but is still unsure of her plans after the setback at Dillon Motor Speedway.  While her plans for the season have not been finalized, she intends to compete in more short track races this year – something she enjoys doing.

“The short track stuff is so much fun.  I guess it’s just more exciting.  The big tracks are so cool when you first go there but it’s really hard to do any door-to-door racing and it’s all just about running the perfect lap every time and trying to be as fast as you can be so you’re not losing time to the leaders.  Out here on the short tracks, you’re just beating and banging and really racing so it’s definitely a lot of fun.  I’m glad to be back at it and hopefully we can run more big races too.

“We haven’t set our schedule as far as that goes and I don’t want to rule anything out but I am excited to get back to the short track scene.”

E-MAIL ANDY AT  andymarquis@gmail.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Kentucky Belongs to Generation Now

Kentucky Speedway opened with an ARCA race in 2000. Since then, NASCAR has held races in various series at the track. Greg Biffle won the inaugural Camping World Truck Series race at the track and Kevin Harvick, the first XFINITY race.

The history of the Sprint Cup series at Kentucky, meanwhile, is actually quite limited. With only six Cup races held at the Sparta track, there are but three drivers with Kentucky wins on their resume: Matt Kenseth, two-time winner Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski, who became a three-time winner this past weekend. It would be safe to assume (barring any major complications) every Kentucky winner will return to compete in next year’s race.

When the Cup series returns to the 1.5-mile track in 2017, those three winners should be joined by every driver with more than one top five at Kentucky, every driver who has recorded double digits in laps led and every driver who has sat on the pole. There is probably not another track that will be able to say the same.

Kentucky may lack in longevity, but there is an opportunity for this generation of Cup drivers to make this track their own. They need not worry about living up to the standards set by Richard Petty, David Pearson, Dale Earnhardt or Darrell Waltrip. Even Jeff Gordon failed  to win at Kentucky before retiring last season.

Instead, they will be the ones setting the standards and to do so, they will compete against the drivers next to them, rather than the legends they know only from studying NASCAR history.

The history of the Kentucky Speedway may pale when placed alongside Daytona, Talladega or Darlington, but if it is to be raised to sit alongside those tracks in esteem and prestige, it will be because of the exploits of those drivers we are watching on TV or at the track every week.

Right now, Brad Keselowski would be considered the man when it comes to Kentucky, the way Petty is considered “The King” of Daytona or the way Waltrip ruled Bristol. If there is a driver who knocks Keselowski off his Kentucky throne, it will be one of his current or future competitors.

Cup history in Kentucky may not be long, but it is being written before our very eyes.

EMAIL: john.milner@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

RAPID REACTION: Truex Makes a Race-Losing Pass

Kentucky Speedway has hosted six Sprint Cup Series races since its inaugural Cup event in 2011, and Brad Keselowski has won half of them.

The 2012 and 2014 Kentucky winner did it again on Saturday night in a fuel-mileage battle with Carl Edwards in the closing laps. Keselowski had a nine-second lead over Edwards with five laps remaining but barely held off the charging No. 19 when the checkered flag waved to capture his fourth victory of 2016. Keselowski, who also won at Daytona last Saturday, sits atop the Chase standings after consecutive victories.

“Happy” Not Happy; Truex Passes to Lose

Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. looked like the cars to beat all night. Harvick led 128 laps in the Quaker State 400 but finished ninth. The No. 4 driver gambled by pitting for fuel with 17 laps to go, but the strategy failed to pay off as other racers were able to conserve enough gas to the finish.

Truex Jr. led 46 laps and was in the top five all night until he was penalized on pit road for passing Harvick while driving into his stall. The No. 78 lost track position and aggressively tried to drive his way to the front as the race winded down, but it was too late, and he ended up 10th.

It’s been a common theme for both racers this season; dominating a race and then having bad luck when it comes down to the wire. Harvick led the most laps earlier this season at Atlanta and Auto Club Speedway, but late misfortunes cost him the win both times. Same for Truex, who led the most laps at Texas and Kansas, but won neither events. Both certainly had winning cars in the Bluegrass State, yet didn’t get the results they deserved.

Kentucky (Demolition) Derby

Before reaching the quarter-way mark, two favorites were knocked out of contention. On Lap 33, Jimmie Johnson spun coming out of Turn 4 and backed his No. 48 into the frontstretch retaining wall. He later rejoined the race 41 laps down and finished 32nd while Joey Logano slammed into the Turn 3 wall after a cut tire on Lap 54. Logano’s night was already in jeopardy after scraping the Turn 4 fence earlier in the race, which affected his car’s handling. The 26-year-old didn’t return to the track and the No. 22 team settled for a 39th-place finish.

On Lap 88, Rookie of the Year contenders Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott spun out and hit the outside wall in Turn 3, bringing out the sixth caution. Blaney got loose entering the corner and slid up the track while Elliott, who was in front of him, checked up because of traffic and got turned by the No. 21 as a result.

On the ensuing restart, Brian Scott got loose on the exit of Turn 2 and spun out on the backstretch. The Richard Petty Motorsports rookie collected Chris Buescher and A.J. Allmendinger in the wreck, while Danica Patrick and Ty Dillon suffered minor damage.

Stayin’ Alive

For Chase hopefuls, some much-needed top 10s were scored tonight. Ryan Newman, who entered Kentucky 15th in the Chase standings, finished third and gave himself a huge points boost. He moved up two spots and is 34 points above the 16th-place cutoff. Without any wins, this gives the Richard Childress Racing veteran a little bit of breathing room, for now.

Tony Stewart finished fifth, also equating to a strong points night. Although Stewart has a victory, he needs to get as far above 30th in the standings as possible because if he were to fall below 30th, he would not be eligible for the Chase. Smoke is only 31 points to the good above Scott, who is 31st in points, so the three-time champion has virtually no room for error with eight races until the playoffs.

Jamie McMurray finished seventh and currently occupies the final Chase spot. McMurray only has four top 10s on the season, so if he wants to make the Chase, he needs to continue to have finishes like he did at Kentucky. The same can be said about Greg Biffle, who finished sixth. Biffle is 22nd in the points, so he has quite a bit of ground to make up. Time is ticking on the 16 team; he might need to shift into desperation mode and win a race to clinch a Chase berth.

KFP: Kentucky Fried Pickup

During the fifth caution, television cameras caught sight of a white pickup truck with a large grill on the bed in flames in the parking lot outside the track. A cloud of smoke rose up behind the main grandstand, drawing the attention of some spectators. Firetrucks reported to the scene and put out the fire — there were no injuries. And the Colonel was nowhere to be found.

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
XFINITY

Preece Eager for NHMS Weekend Following Kentucky Rebound

After a blown tire and a 32nd-place finish in Iowa followed by an engine failure at Daytona, Ryan Preece appeared to be stumbling into the summer stretch. But with a 15th-place finish at Kentucky and his home track next on the schedule, the Connecticut native feels his luck is about to turn for the better.

Preece’s result in the Alsco 300 on Friday night tied his best finish of the season, which came at Talladega in April. The XFINITY Series heads to New Hampshire Motor Speedway next — a track that brings positive memories for the JD Motorsports rookie.

“It was definitely a good week to have a good run,” Preece told POPULAR SPEED. “Especially heading into a place like New Hampshire, which I consider to be my home track among the three [national] series.”

Preece has five top fives and a pole at New Hampshire in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, amidst his career totals of 80 top 10s and 14 poles in the series. The 2013 Modified champion also made his Sprint Cup Series debut there in 2015 driving for Tommy Baldwin Racing in the No. 98 Chevrolet.

Preece called the first half of his season “a tough pill to swallow.” He and team owner Johnny Davis want the No. 01 to be a top-20 car every week, and have scored six of them in 16 races. 

“There’s been a lot of misfortune,” Preece said. “But I had a good feeling about this weekend, in terms of a really good car. We’ve been looking for a feel in the car, and I think we found it tonight.”

The 25-year-old will compete in two Modified events before the XFINITY race at New Hampshire — the Modified All-Star Shootout on Friday and the New England 100 on Saturday. He hopes the extra track time will benefit him for the AutoLotto 200, which will take place after Saturday’s Modified race.

“We’re all making good progress,” Preece said. “I’ve learned that I can’t drive a tight racecar — I need it a little free. I had a car like that tonight, and it’ll work really well there, too.”

Preece sits 18th in the XFINITY standings. He is 19 points behind his rookie teammate Garrett Smithley and 100 points outside the Chase cutoff with 10 races left until the series’ inaugural playoffs begin.

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
News

Kyle Busch holds off Austin Dillon for XFINITY win at Kentucky

By Reid Spencer (NASCAR Wire Service) – SPARTA, Ky. – It was a race Kyle Busch won with a dramatic run around the outside lane at Kentucky Speedway.

It was a race Erik Jones lost when he hit the wrong switch on his dashboard, killed the engine and slowed under caution late in the race.

But, interestingly, it was a race where Jones showed Busch, the pole winner, the key to victory, demonstrating to his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate that the outside line was viable when racing side-by-side with an opponent.

Clearing Austin Dillon off Turn 4 in the first lap in overtime in Friday night’s Alsco 300 NASCAR XFINITY Series race, after caution slowed the race for the fifth time, Busch pulled away to beat the Richard Childress Racing scion to the finish line by .455 seconds.

Daniel Suarez finished third after chasing Busch to the final yellow flag, then losing the runner-up spot to Dillon on the last restart. Jones came home a disappointing fourth after outdueling Busch for the lead on Lap 175, only to give it up when his car wouldn’t refire under caution and failed to keep up with the pace car, costing Jones two positions.

Busch led 185 of the 201 laps in winning for the fifth time in nine starts this season, the second time at Kentucky and the 81st time in his career, extending his own series record.

But it was the run around the outside lane, after Dillon pulled even on the backstretch on lap 200, that proved decisive.

And that’s exactly how Jones had passed Busch for the lead on Lap 175.

“I didn’t think he’d be able to hold it through (Turns) 3 and 4 like that,” said Dillon, who thought he had the preferred position on the inside. “But he did a great job of holding me down. I wish we could have got it done for (sponsor) Rheem, but it was a really close race.”

Busch was roughly a half-second ahead of Suarez and appeared to have the race in hand when caution flew on Lap 195 with smoke billowing from Mike Harmon’s car.

“We always get the Kyle Busch cautions,” Busch said. “Apparently this time it was true. There was some problems with another car smoking. You always have to make your money’s worth, I guess. Always have to give the show to the fans and their money’s worth.

“Certainly means a lot to us to win here and bring our Camry home to Victory Lane again at Kentucky Speedway.”

Jones said he hit the wrong button when he was rolling under caution and fell behind the pace car, allowing Busch to pass him. NASCAR rules require a driver to maintain pace car speed in order to keep his or her running position.

“I think we had the fastest car here once we got out front,” Jones lamented. “It’s just hard to get back up to the front when you get back in traffic.”

But before he fell back, Jones had already given Busch the road map to victory.

“When Erik drove into Turn 3 with me, I started to roll out just a little bit, because I knew I needed to in order to run the bottom,” Busch said. “And he drove right on past me, and I was like, ‘Well, all righty then.’

“I was waiting for him to slip and to not be able to control his car in the black, in the rubber. And it stuck for him and he made it work. I definitely learned that there was a little bit of speed up there, at least for one lap, for one corner.”

And that one corner made all the difference on Friday night.

NASCAR XFINITY Series Race – Alsco 300
Kentucky Speedway
Sparta, Kentucky
Friday, July 08, 2016

1. (1) Kyle Busch(i), Toyota, 201.
2. (4) Austin Dillon(i), Chevrolet, 201.
3. (2) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 201.
4. (3) Erik Jones #, Toyota, 201.
5. (11) Darrell Wallace Jr, Ford, 201.
6. (5) Elliott Sadler, Chevrolet, 201.
7. (23) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 201.
8. (6) Ryan Blaney(i), Ford, 201.
9. (14) Brennan Poole #, Chevrolet, 201.
10. (10) Brad Keselowski(i), Ford, 201.
11. (17) Brandon Jones #, Chevrolet, 201.
12. (16) Justin Marks, Chevrolet, 200.
13. (18) Brendan Gaughan, Chevrolet, 200.
14. (9) Blaake Koch, Chevrolet, 199.
15. (21) Ryan Preece #, Chevrolet, 199.
16. (19) Jeremy Clements, Chevrolet, 199.
17. (15) JJ Yeley, Toyota, 198.
18. (20) Dakoda Armstrong, Toyota, 198.
19. (29) Ray Black Jr #, Chevrolet, 198.
20. (12) Ryan Sieg, Chevrolet, 197.
21. (26) David Starr, Chevrolet, 197.
22. (24) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 197.
23. (30) BJ McLeod #, Ford, 196.
24. (22) Garrett Smithley #, Chevrolet, 195.
25. (33) Travis Kvapil(i), Ford, 194.
26. (28) Alex Guenette, Chevrolet, 193.
27. (32) Joey Gase, Chevrolet, 193.
28. (34) TJ Bell, Chevrolet, 189.
29. (7) Ryan Reed, Ford, 187.
30. (37) Mike Harmon, Dodge, 187.
31. (13) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 182.
32. (8) Cole Custer(i), Chevrolet, 138.
33. (27) Jeff Green, Toyota, Transmission, 70.
34. (39) Todd Peck, Ford, Electrical, 63.
35. (36) Derrike Cope, Chevrolet, Transmission, 57.
36. (35) Dexter Bean, Chevrolet, Fuel Pump, 47.
37. (31) Morgan Shepherd, Chevrolet, Suspension, 43.
38. (38) Harrison Rhodes, Chevrolet, Oil Pump, 17.
39. (40) John Jackson, Toyota, Vibration, 9.
40. (25) Matt DiBenedetto(i), Toyota, Rear Gear, 3.

Average Speed of Race Winner:  144.258 mph.
Time of Race:  02 Hrs, 05 Mins, 24 Secs. Margin of Victory:  0.455 Seconds.
Caution Flags:  5 for 22 laps.
Lead Changes:  11 among 6 drivers.
Lap Leaders:   K. Busch(i) 1-27; R. Black Jr # 28; J. Green 29; K. Busch(i) 30-54; R. Chastain 55; K. Busch(i) 56-106; T. Dillon 107-108; K. Busch(i) 109-158; T. Dillon 159-166; K. Busch(i) 167-174; E. Jones # 175-177; K. Busch(i) 178-201.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led):  K. Busch(i) 6 times for 185 laps; T. Dillon 2 times for 10 laps; E. Jones # 1 time for 3 laps; R. Black Jr # 1 time for 1 lap; J. Green 1 time for 1 lap; R. Chastain 1 time for 1 lap.
Top 10 in Points: D. Suarez – 537; E. Sadler – 528; T. Dillon – 518; E. Jones # – 480; B. Gaughan – 477; J. Allgaier – 472; B. Jones # – 459; B. Poole # – 454; D. Wallace Jr – 430; R. Reed – 378.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Jimmie Johnson Hits Wall In Practice Session

SPARTA, KY– During the first of two Spint Cup Series  practice sessions at Kentucky Speedway on Friday, Jimmie Johnson spun out and slammed into the wall in Turn 4. Johnson was second fastest at the time.

The No. 48 team rolled out the backup car just before the practice session was delayed due to severe weather.

Johnson has scored five top-ten finishes and one top-five finish at Kentucky Speedway.

 

Categories
Trucks

Truck Race Draws Mixed Emotions from Drivers

SPARTA, Ky – The Buckle Your Truck 225, for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, did not disappoint when it came to racing Thursday night with three drivers competing for the win on the final lap.

Although, if you ask some of the drivers they may have a different opinion.

The prevalent topic of the weekend is the repaving of Kentucky Speedway and what kind of racing it is going to bring to the table.

Drivers were concerned about widening out the bottom groove, so there could be more side by side racing. One of those drivers was Kyle Busch. He stated he was able to make some passes in the second groove.

“The second groove is a little edgy. It wasn’t as bad as I expected [it] to be. We will just have to see how it goes for the rest of the weekend.” 

Busch made these comments after his night ended early on lap 58 when he spun out and crashed into the wall.

Parker Kligerman substituting for the injured John Wes Townley, came home 19th  and gave the track a 5-star rating.  

“I thought it was great. It is one of the coolest race tracks. It is going to age really cool. I love unique race tracks, and that is what this track is.”

When you’re the race winner, there’s not too much to complain about and William Byron gave some positive feedback about the repaving. He also credited that his win came down to strategy.

“It is so hooked up; you are on the track. If you make one little mistake, it is easy for the next guy to get a side draft off of you,” said Byron, “The key for us was to be able to make quick work of traffic.”

Ben Rhodes, a Louisville, Ky. native had high hopes prior to the race.

“I cannot put into words how much a win would mean to me. I kind of feel like Dale Jr. with all the support,” he told POPULAR SPEED. “It was a limited race as far as passing goes. The groove widens out as the race went on, but it was still hard to pass. We just couldn’t get past people to get that track position.”

A win would of have been priceless at his home track, but he settled for a 13th place finish.

BKR driver, Tyler Reddick brought home a tenth-place finish. His biggest demon was gaining track position.

“Unfortunately, the racing was somewhat like we thought it was going to be. Our group tried really hard to get us some track position. Unfortunately it didn’t play out tonight.” Reddick said.

Eighth-place finisher, defending Series Champion, Matt Crafton came home with an 8th place finish, and was less than impressed with the repaving.

“It’s a shame they dug up this race track. All in all, we survived and got out of here with an average finish at best,” he said, “we knew passing wasn’t going to be anything; it was all about track position.”

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race was the first taste of what fans and drivers can expect for the weekend — and while drivers had differing views, you can never argue with an exciting finish.

Emily Spink is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist.

EMAIL EMILY AT emily.spink@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
Information

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart Caught up in Early Crashes

SPARTA, Ky. — Two of the most popular drivers in NASCAR were involved in two of the earliest cautions on Saturday night in the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart both had frustrating weekends in the Bluegrass State and were damaged when both got caught up in crashes on Lap 136 and 143 respectively.

Earnhardt had complained about his lack of brakes from the Lap 30 competition caution up until he drilled the Turn 4 just over 100 laps later. He immediately came over the radio and complained to his crew that he couldn’t stop and was unable to keep it off the wall.

Meanwhile, Stewart was once again bit by his inability to escape the back of the pack and got caught in an incident between Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Jeb Burton. Stenhouse got loose under Jeb Burton and spun him out in Turn 2 right in front of Stewart.

The three-time Sprint Cup Series champion had nowhere to go, slammed on his brakes and was run into and spun lightly into the wall by Matt DiBenedetto.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. entered the weekend second in the standings and is solidly in the Chase for the Championship by virtue of his two victories while Stewart entered 25th and without a win.

Each driver involved in the two cautions remained in the race. This post will be updated after the conclusion of the event.

EMAIL MATT AT matt.weaver@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattWeaverSBN

Categories
Editorial

Kentucky Package Injects Intrigue Back Into NASCAR

SPARTA, Ky. — It has become exceedingly rare in the modern day NASCAR for an event to be completely shrouded in mystery, where no one knows what to expect and anything could happen.

The Sprint Cup Series event on Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway is one such race.

The introduction of the low downforce “Kentucky Package” has created a massive variable right in the middle of the season. In an era where intermediate tracks have become excessively boring, predictable, and sharing the same aerodynamic attributes, Kentucky has fans and observers both fascinated and hopeful.

Featuring a shorter spoiler and a less pronounced splitter overhang, the package was designed to make cars harder to drive in the effort to create more passing.

At least by themselves in practice, NASCAR definitely made the cars more challenging as drivers were seen sliding all the way around the mile-and-a-half intermediate venue located just south of Cincinnati. Team Penske driver Brad Keselowski called the cars ‘a handful’ but then added ‘it’s a race car so it’s supposed to be a handful.’

The mystery now lies in the most important aspect — the race itself.

The high downforce versus low downforce debate is a matter of which one produces the better competition product. Several drivers believe that high downforce stabilizes the cars in the center of the corner and allows them to race side-by-side as a result.

However, higher downforce settings created the dreaded aero push syndrome that prevents a trailing car to get behind or beside the leading car, resulting in the single-file parades that NASCAR fans have grown accustomed to over the past decade.

Lower downforce will make the cars slide in the corners, preventing drivers from racing anywhere near each other while rotating the center or driving off. In theory, races will be won or loss based upon the drivers that are willing to drive deepest in the corner without letting off the throttle or losing control of his car.

With that said, Goodyear still has some work to do to make this package viable.

In theory, cars that are unstable in the corner will make for a fascinating visual but not necessarily additional passing opportunities. The tires really need to wear out more than they do now to allow drivers to manage their tires and create the proverbial comers and goers associated with great speedway racing.

Will that happen on Saturday night with the current tire and the current aerodynamic settings? Maybe.

And that’s the appeal of the Quaker State 400. We just don’t know. Intrigue over the racing product is something that we just haven’t had in recent seasons and NASCAR should be applauded for at least trying and injecting well-needed mystery back into the sport.

Anything can happen one 43 cars drive into Turn 1 on Saturday night and when was the last time you could say that about Kentucky?

EMAIL MATT AT matt.weaver@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattWeaverSBN

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Wood Brothers Get Rained Out of Racing Two Weeks in a Row

SPARTA, Ky. — For the second week in a row, Ryan Blaney and the Wood Brothers Racing Team failed to qualify for a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race and the reasons had nothing to do with speed.

Blaney posted the 16th fastest time in the rain-shortened first practice session at Kentucky Speedway on Friday afternoon but failed to make the Quaker State 400 due to rain washing out knockout qualifying for the second event in a row.

The NASCAR rulebook dictates that the top 36 teams in the owner standings are guaranteed a starting spot each weekend. Then any winning driver or team owner from the current or previous season, as well as past champions, make the field. The remainder of the grid will be set by qualifying attempts this season.

Blaney and the No. 21 team had only attempted seven races entering this weekend and sat 44th in the owner standings. As a result of the weather, the iconic Wood Brothers team will not race at Kentucky on Saturday night.

Eddie Wood, co-owner of the team, took a fatalistic approach when asked about missing the race for the second week in a row due to rain.

“The rules are the rules,” Wood said. “In the event of a rainout they set the field by attempts — which means how many races you’ve attempted to race this year. So us and (Levine Family Racing) have attempted less races than the 43 other guys so we’re the ones that are out but that’s not a new rule.

“It’s been that way for as long as I can remember, and then they set the field by the practice speeds.”

Wood took solace in the fact that his driver was fast enough to make the field. He knows he can’t dictate to Mother Nature and is already planning for their next race, next weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

“Missing races, if you’re slow and you miss a race because you’re not fast enough, is a bad deal,” Wood added. “That just kills your soul, but you can’t do anything about the weather. We’ve been really lucky for the past seven years and haven’t missed one but now the numbers seem to be leveling out.

“I’ve always heard that numbers always level out and that’s kind of what’s going on. We’re going to run next week at Loudon, so we’ll head up that way and hope we don’t get rained out.”

EMAIL MATT AT matt.weaver@popularspeed.com

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