Kevin Rutherford · Friday June 28, 2013
Weep no more, my lady, oh weep no more today! We will sing one song for the old Kentucky home, for the old Kentucky home far away!
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to its newest track this weekend, as Kentucky Speedway welcomes the series for the third time. After an action-packed Sonoma race out of which Martin Truex Jr. emerged victorious for only the second time in his career, it will be tough for the series to top that race in terms of sheer excitement, but darn it, they’re certainly going to try.
It’s night racing in Kentucky. What’s not to like? Get revved up for 400 miles of white-lightning, mile-and-a-half action, and be on the lookout for answers to these questions in the meantime.
1. Will there be payback after Sonoma?
Wasn’t this once more of a thing after a short-track race, not a road course? Last weekend, Kyle Busch in particular felt rather jilted after being spun not once, but twice, while battling for position. One incident was with Juan Pablo Montoya, who ended up running out of fuel while running second on the last lap and ended up 34th. The other? Carl Edwards, the eventual third-place finisher.
Montoya had his share of bad luck by race’s end, so Busch might avoid payback for that reason on the Colombian, but will Edwards, who had a pretty solid points day, be as lucky?
Edwards was quick to offer an apology following Sonoma. “It was a real battle and I feel really bad about the incident with Kyle back there,” he said. “We were racing really hard and I got to the inside of him and I took a gamble that he knew I was there. His spotter called it and I backed out as hard as I could and ended up wrecking him.”
That’s, of course, cool and all, though I’m sure it doesn’t make Busch feel any better. And given his past outbursts and temper issues, it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on the two when they’re near each other — and they most certainly will be; it’s not a huge track or anything.
2. What kind of racing will a night race bring?
It’s summer. It’s nighttime. It’s a mile-and-a-half track.
Perhaps it’s a bit premature to figure that, yeah, this race is gonna be exciting and entertaining on the basis that it’s a summer night race and will probably be hotter than Hades if the last couple days in this area (I’m about an hour north) are any indication, so tempers could certainly flare Saturday night.
Then again, who knows? Last year, the race saw only four cautions, two down from its inaugural event in 2011. Though some of the lower series, especially the Truck Series, are known for being fairly eventful on the accident front, the Sprint Cup races at the track have been relatively tame in comparison.
It’s going to be interesting to see what kind of race Kentucky decides to be. Will it follow in the footsteps of many of the sport’s lower series, or will it simply be about the racing, and nothing more? No accidents, no green-white-checkered finishes?
3. Who will become the speedway’s newest winner?
Though NASCAR has been visiting Kentucky Speedway for over a decade, Saturday’s Quaker State 400 will be only the third Cup race at the track. As such, it’s interesting to wonder who will join a currently elite club of drivers, the membership of which only numbers two: Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch.
As far as average finishes go, the highest average for a Cup driver without winning at Kentucky belongs to Jimmie Johnson. That’s intriguing, because Kentucky stands as one of the five speedways at which Johnson hasn’t won, yet he has shown he can perform at the track, evidenced by a pole, a top five, two top 10s and an average finish of 4.5.
In the same vein, Jeff Gordon hasn’t won at Kentucky, making it one of his only such tracks as well. Though his average finish (7.5) is a bit lower, he also has a top-five finish and two top 10s, which is certainly promising.
Oh, and I suppose that means Hendrick Motorsports hasn’t won at the track yet, either. One has to figure that team will be working hard to change that statistic this weekend. Look out.
4. Can Tony Stewart rebound from a tough Sonoma?
OK, maybe Stewart’s Sonoma race wasn’t that tough, but he still has to be kicking himself a little bit. After having a subpar start to the season, he worked his way up into the top 10 in points (and a Chase berth) prior to the road course last weekend, but a 28th-place finish relegated him to 15th in points, dropping a whopping five positions.
Granted, Stewart does have a win this season, so his spot in the Chase is currently maintained. That said, winning just one race doesn’t make one a sure bet for a wild card spot, so riding around and maintaining 15th isn’t really part of the agenda — or shouldn’t be, at least.
Don’t forget how hard it can be to bounce back from a tough week, too. Coupled with his forward momentum being halted and knocked back a few paces, along with teammates Ryan Newman and Danica Patrick continuing to (mostly) struggle, it’s not that crazy to imagine Sonoma’s 28th-place finish being just the beginning of a downward spiral.
Oh, and Stewart has never finished inside the top 10 at Kentucky. Even if that’s only two races, it’s not very promising.
Stewart needs a big weekend in order to relaunch his Chase hopes. He can’t let a setback like this destroy the progress that had been made. If he does, it’s going to be a slow, uninspired final 10 races of the season for Stewart-Haas Racing.
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