NASCAR Race Weekend Central

4 Burning Questions: Will Anybody Nail the New Kentucky Speedway?

Will Anyone Nail the New Kentucky Speedway?

Though NASCAR nation has been begging for a new addition to the sport’s schedule, it seems they will get it in some way Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway.

Already standing as the newest track in the Sprint Cup Series – joining the circuit in 2011 – the 1.5-miler in Sparta, Ky., has gone through a significant overhaul since the series’ last time there.

Not only was a repave done, but turns 1 and 2 were also reconfigured, increasing the banking from 14 to 17 degrees while shrinking the width of the racing surface from 74 to 56 feet. The NASCAR R&D Center has also put a unique three-step process toward making it a multi-groove track, including an application that removes oil from the pours of the surface to allow easier rubber buildup from the tires.

And that leads to the tires, which will be a fairly hard compound to increase grip throughout the race. Unlike most races this year centered around a softer tire with high degradation, Saturday’s hard tires will mix with the lower low-downforce package, which will be used for the second time this year.

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Sprint Cup cars, including Kyle Busch, tested at Kentucky last month [Photo: NASCAR via Getty Images]
With all this up for grabs during the most competitive portion of the season – with seven straight different winners, five first-time winners in the last six races and all three manufacturers evenly splitting the past six race wins – it could be a complete mystery as to who will stand out and take the win under the lights.

Then Joey Logano walks into the room.

Completing nailing the package at Michigan International Speedway last month, leading the most laps and winning from the pole, Logano is hot off a near-win last summer when he dueled Kyle Busch to the finish. Additionally, Logano is on streak of four consecutive top-5 finishes, which surprisingly is only the second time in his seven-year Cup career he has reached that mark.

The No. 22 may be on track to bring back his late-2015 speed. Watch out.

Will Ryan Sieg Continue Momentum After Third at Daytona?

For Ryan Sieg, last week’s Subway Firecracker 250 at Daytona was another reason to keep looking up.

Despite being a small team in the XFINITY Series, RSS Racing’s No. 39 has separated itself from most smaller teams by competing for top 15s on a weekly basis. With a top-10 result earlier this year at Texas, Sieg has built up 10 top-20 results in 15 races this season – the same as Erik Jones, who drives for one of the haves of the series in Joe Gibbs Racing.

A third place last week at Daytona – bumping the team into the 12-driver Chase Grid – propels the third-year driver into this weekend at Kentucky, a track where he grabbed a 12th at last year.

NASCAR via Getty Images
Consistency has been the name of the game for Ryan Sieg this season. [NASCAR via Getty Images]
With numbers on his side, it’s the character-building experience, however, that has made Sieg one of the fan favorites toward the inaugural XFINITY Series Chase. After his first career top 5 in 2014, Sieg banged out a further four straight top-20 finishes, which stood as his career-high until last season.

Whether or not momentum will play a similar factor on Friday night is yet to be seen,  he and the No. 39 team are slowly building a reputation as a fast, determined race team.

With Kligerman and Moffitt Make Most of New Opportunities?

Thursday night’s Buckle Up Your Truck 225 at Kentucky will be a big race for both Parker Kligerman and Brett Moffitt: With drivers John Wes Townley and Matt Tifft sidelined for separate medical issues, the opportunities have risen for two other young talents.

With Townley missing his first Truck Series race since August 2014 as he undergoes treatment for a concussion, Kligerman is slated to drive his No. 05 Toyota. Kligerman, who started the year off with three straight top 10s in in the part-time No. 92, will return to the Truck Series after sitting out the most recent event at Gateway Motorsports Park. The 25-year-old will have his fair shake at a quick ride.

The same can be said for Moffitt, the 2015 Sprint Cup Series Rookie of the Year, who has not seen a national series ride since Homestead-Miami Speedway last November. Though he hasn’t raced in the Truck Series since 2013, the 23-year-old will do what he must do to keep his name known in the NASCAR world: Race.

Many will ask if a killer Thursday night run could open doors for either driver in the near future. In a sport with many opportunities and countless moments of hope from year to year, they’ll have to do their best to make sure these solid rides are not one-off hits.

What is Next for Mercedes After Austria?

The ground shook on the final lap of last week’s Austrian Grand Prix when leaders and teammates Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton clashed once again.

Part of the quake could be attributed to the desk-pounding disappointment from team boss Toto Wolff, but the turn 2 contact alone was enough to erupt Formula 1 nation for weeks to come.

Whether it be the first lap at Canada, Spain and Spa Francorchamps, pit strategy gone wrong or “Hat Gate,” the Mercedes pair has proven to be unstable when it comes to beating each other.

The rivalry over the past season has simply gone to their heads after what is now three years of F1 media, fans and fellow teams sucking every ounce of friendship between the two since their dominance began in 2014. The eyeballs, criticism and pressure are all mixed with speculation of either driver being kicked off the team following any moment of subordination.

Nico Rosberg during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 21, 2015 in Spa, Belgium. (Credit: Getty Images)
Nico Rosberg during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 21, 2015 in Spa, Belgium. (Credit: Getty Images)

It’s a position every team and driver dreams of being in while having nightmares about how they’ll handle it.

One of the ways being thrown up is team orders. For F1, the use of team orders can come and go throughout any race, as you could hear statements over the radio like, “Let your teammate pass; you’re slowing him down” or, “Do not go for the overtake.”

For race fans, it’s like taking the cheese off your pizza. It’s filling your birthday balloons with oxygen and removing the cotton out of your pillow. It simply and truly takes out the fun in racing

Red Bull team boss Christian Horner, who sat in similar air when Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber battled for championships from 2009 to ’13, thinks the strife between the sport’s top contender is only a good thing for the sport.

“I think it actually creates interest in Formula 1,” he said. “It is good for F1 to have two teammates that may not be the best of mates.”

Lights out in Silverstone will be less than a week removed from the last lap in Austria. In terms of continuing the momentum of excitement for F1 before the summer break in August, this was a well-timed battle with no off-week in between.

With 3.66 miles of track, layered with some of the most legendary corners offering 65 percent full-throttle time per-lap, Hamilton will surely be hot on the wheel for his fourth win at home. That is, if Rosberg isn’t in his way.

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