Saturday, Feb 04
Speedway Digest Staff

Speedway Digest Staff

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Shell-Pennzoil Dodge driver AJ Allmendinger enters this weekend’s Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway looking for a solid weekend on the 1.5 mile D-shaped tri-oval track.  Saturday’s 400-mile, 267-lap battle will mark only the second visit by NASCAR’s premier series to the facility located some 35 miles south of Cincinnati.

“Kentucky is another one of the tough mile-and-a-half tracks,” offered Allmendinger, who started 17th on the Sonoma Raceway road course last Sunday and was relentless in coming through with a ninth-place finish.  “The Sprint Cup Series had never raced there until last year, but I had tested on the track about three years before.

“We saw just how tough Kentucky Speedway can be last season during our inaugural race there,” Dinger continued.  “With qualifying getting rained out last year, we started way back in 23rd.  We fought a loose condition just about all race long and never could get a handle on it.  We wound up finishing 28th.  It certainly wasn’t what we were hoping to put into the record book for the first-ever Cup race there.

 “Our Shell-Pennzoil Dodge Team has shown a lot of strength on the intermediate tracks this season,” Allmendinger offered.  “We’ve had some fast race cars and have been able to qualify really well.  But we’ve had all kinds of problems – like the fuel system issues and mechanical trouble – that have prevented us getting the good finishes.”

In the races on 1.5-mile tracks to date this season, Allmendinger and his Todd Gordon-led No. 22 Penske Racing unit have a 9.5 average start (including a Coors Light Pole Award at Kansas Speedway).  The various issues that Dinger refers to have worked to produce a 29.3 average finish in those races.

“We’re just hoping to be able to go in there this weekend and have a solid performance that starts with practice and qualifying on Friday and continues on through Saturday’s race,” Dinger said.  “It’s a Saturday night race and I really enjoy the night races.”

“I’m really looking forward to getting back to Kentucky Speedway this weekend,” offered crew chief Gordon.  “It’s a tough old 1.5-mile track that has the bumps and a lot of character.  With the low banking, the layout and the track surface like it is, it’s definitely not a ‘cookie-cutter’ track.

“Our Penske Racing Teams have had a very competitive history on that track and we’re hoping we can add to the record this weekend,” said Gordon.  “Last year we showed some good strength all the way around at Kentucky Speedway.  Over on the Nationwide Series side, we dominated with Brad in winning the Friday night race.

“The Sprint Cup Series guys had a really good night there on Saturday night, too,” Gordon said.  “Both cars had really good speed and performed very well.  The 2 car and the 22 car both finished in the top-10 on that Saturday night.”

A quick look at the record book certainly substantiates Gordon’s claim as to the Penske Racing Teams flexing some muscle at Kentucky Speedway last season.  In the Friday Nationwide Series race, Brad Keselowski led three times for 132 of the 200 laps in taking his Discount Tire Dodge to Victory Lane.  In Saturday’s Sprint Cup race, Keselowski led 79 laps and finished seventh in the Miller Lite Dodge, while teammate Kurt Busch led 41 laps and finished ninth in the Shell-Pennzoil Dodge.  Penske cars led 45 percent (120 of 267) of the laps in the Cup race and 66 percent of the laps in the Nationwide race.  Overall, the Penske cars led 54 percent of all the laps during last year’s NASCAR weekend at Kentucky.

“Penske Racing as a whole has been strong on the flat mile-and-a-half tracks and it will be a fun challenge there at Kentucky this weekend,” Gordon added.  “After a solid top-10 run at Sonoma last weekend, we’re hoping we can get the consistency that we need going there and continue it on down the line.”

Allmendinger, Gordon and crew will be racing their “PRS-823” Shell-Pennzoil Dodge Charger this weekend at Kentucky.  This car made its debut for the team in Kansas back in April.  Dinger won the Coors Light Pole Award and led 44 laps before secondary linkage woes put him 10 laps down and relegated him to a 32nd-place finish.  The “PRS-819” chassis will serve as the backup Shell-Pennzoil Dodge for this weekend.  This was the car Dinger drove to a second-place finish in the April Martinsville race.

TRPR

No. 56 NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota driver Martin Truex Jr. would like nothing better than to celebrate his 32nd birthday this weekend at Kentucky Speedway with another victory for Michael Waltrip Racing. Truex led 15 laps and MWR teammate and race winner Clint Bowyer led 71 of the 112 laps on the road course at Sonoma last weekend. Brian Vickers finished fourth in MWR’s third Toyota.

Bowyer and Truex are seventh and ninth in the standings while the No. 55 is 12th in owner points. Truex owns a 41 point advantage over 11th place for one of the 10 points berths in the 2012 Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Martin Truex Jr. on MWR’s win at Sonoma: “Sunday’s win was huge with Clint. It’s a really cool deal for Michael, (co-owner) Rob (Kauffman) and everyone at MWR who have worked so hard over the years. All three MWR teams have been so close to winning all season long. It was just a matter of time for one of us to finally get there. To get it out of the way was really cool. I am so proud to be a part of this organization. Now, we just have to go out and do it with the NAPA AUTO PARTS team.”  

On Kentucky: “Kentucky Speedway has been a mixed bag for me. It has really changed so much over the years. Last year, we didn’t really run very well there. In the past, I have had good runs there in a Nationwide car. I’ve had several top-fives so I’m not stressing over last year at all. With the way our teams have worked together and the way our Toyotas have been running, I look forward to the challenge. It’s a pretty neat track. It’s really fast. It’s crazy bumpy. It’s a huge challenge for everyone to get these cars around it. The key will be to keep the splitters off the ground.”

On racing’s ups and downs: “It’s been a tough couple of weeks for the NAPA team. We’ve had fast cars. We just don’t have a lot to show for it after getting caught up in some wrecks. At Pocono, it happened on the first lap and at Sonoma, it happened on the last lap. Go figure. It is what it is. We are not in bad shape by any means especially with the way our entire organization has been running. It’s a matter of us being able to shake this monkey off our back. I am just so happy to still be in the top 10 in points. We have a little bit of a cushion. I really see road courses like superspeedways. If you can get out of there, you have the potential to make big gains. If we would have stayed the course on Sunday and finished sixth, seventh or even eighth at worse, we’d be in fifth place right now. It’s frustrating, but I still feel good with where we are as a team. We are performing well. We just need to go back to where we started the season and finish up in the top five and stay out of harm’s way.”

MWR PR

For the first of three NASCAR Sprint Cup events this season, the Eckrich colors will adorn the hood and sides of the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford this weekend at the mile-and-a-half Kentucky Speedway.  But, that will not be the only logo that driver Aric Almirola will race with. In a partnership with Eckrich, the Operation Homefront logo will also be on the car. Eckrich, part of the John Morrell Food Group, a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods, has partnered with Operation Homefront to support military families by donating five cents from the purchase of specially-marked products, up to $200,000, from now through July 4.

 

In addition to the awareness on the car, Almirola and his Petty team will be hosting a military family at the track this weekend.  The team will also hold a media function Friday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. local time outside the No. 43 team transporter.  At this time, Richard Petty, Almirola, Operation Homefront and the military family guests will unveil and discuss a unique way for fans to help support Operation Homefront and military families.

 

Almirola comes to Kentucky for the first time in a Sprint Cup Series car, but can rely on his experiences in the Camping World Truck and Nationwide Series.  There he has a total of five starts with two top-five finishes and one top-10 finish.

 

Comments from Eckrich/Operation Homefront Ford Fusion Driver Aric Almirola:

 

"Kentucky should be a lot of fun for us.  Mike Ford has really helped us elevate our entire race program, but especially our mile-and-a-half packages.  After winning the pole at Charlotte, that has really given us a lot of confidence at the tracks we race at the most.  We still have work to do, but we feel confident when we get there.   

 

"It's cool to have Eckrich and Operation Homefront on the car this weekend.  We met them at the Prelude to The Dream, but it's really special to have everyone here at Kentucky for a Cup race.  I was born on an Air Force base in Florida where my father worked, so I know that our service men and women sacrifice a ton, especially their families. The partnership between Eckrich and Operation Homefront is very special and I really support their efforts.  We'll also be hosting a military family as our guests and hopefully we can show them a good finish Saturday night.

 

Comments from Crew Chief Mike Ford on Kentucky:

 

"Kentucky Speedway has a lot of character.  It's got some bumps you have to work through and a couple different grooves you can use, so we'll definitely be using that first practice session to get Aric acclimated to the track and comfortable behind the wheel, and then focus on getting as much speed out of the car as we can for Friday night qualifying. 

 

"Of course, this is only the second time that the Cup series is racing at Kentucky, so it's not like everyone else has really extensive notebooks to lean on.  We're all still learning the track together.  But I feel good about our mile-and-a-half program and what we're taking there.  We're actually taking the same car we had at Charlotte, where we qualified on the pole.  I think this can be another good track for Aric and that we can run at the top of the board again."

 

RPM PR

C.E. Falk III’s early racing journey has spanned Virginia and the Carolinas, winning races at most every track he visits and constantly improving with every lap he takes. The multi-time Late Model track champion’s journey takes him to Kentucky for the first time as he makes his 2012 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut with Hillman Racing in the June 28 running of the UNOH 225 at Kentucky Speedway.

“To go to Kentucky is really awesome; I’ve never even been in the state. To go race is pretty sweet,” Falk said.  “To be on a 1.5-mile [track], it’s going to be the biggest track I’ve ever been on and I’m really looking forward to going wide open in qualifying.  It’s a huge opportunity for me to run well and run on speed. I just hope we have a lot of fun.”

The 24-year-old Virginia Beach, Va., native is no stranger to the national racing scene. He currently sits second in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national standings with nine victories. Falk has won multiple times on the three Virginia short tracks he’s competed on this season — his home track of Langley Speedway, South Boston Speedway and Motor Mile Speedway.  Since the 2007 season when he joined the Late Model ranks on a full-time basis, Falk has won 45 times, recording 109 top-five and 128 top-10 finishes in 152 starts. He has made starts at most every NASCAR-sanctioned short track in Virginia.

“It’s all about gaining experience. You always learn something new every time you go race,” Falk said. “I think that’s why you see guys like Kyle Busch and some other ones who run so well all the time because they’re always in a car and they’re always learning.  Just because we’re not racing a truck here at South Boston doesn’t mean I’m not going to take something I learn here and go take it to Kentucky with me. You always want to keep getting better as a driver; you’re always going to make mistakes.”

Falk gained his first taste of national recognition with his victory in the star-studded 2010 Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown at Southside Speedway outside of Richmond, Va. He outraced several of the top Sprint Cup Series drivers — host Denny Hamlin, three-time Cup Series champion Tony Stewart and others — to win the charity Late Model race. 

“To run all these races and be in the position I am, I’m glad I’m not 18 and going into this race,” Falk said. “I’m glad I’m 24 and I’ve had this experience, I’ve been through the ups and downs of this sport.  I just think it’s made me a better driver and we’ll get a better result.  The truck race is going to be fun — you’ve got to race them hard. There’s a lot of guys out there young like me and a lot of veterans too who don’t want to give spots away. It’s definitely going to be give-and-take out there. It’s really huge and I can’t wait for next Thursday.”

Falk is racing the No. 27 Chevrolet for Hillman Racing. The organization, in its first season fielding a truck, sits 19th in the Truck Series owner standings after fellow Virginians Ward and Jeb Burton piloted the Silverado at the start of the season. Ward Burton, the 2002 Daytona 500 champion, finished eighth in the season opener at Daytona and Jeb followed with finishes of 19th or better in four of the next five races.  The younger Burton finished eighth at the 1.5-mile Charlotte Motor Speedway, which gives the team something to build off of for Falk’s debut at Kentucky.

“I’ve followed C.E.’s racing career and I’m glad that we can provide him with the opportunity to showcase his talents in one of NASCAR’s national touring series,” said team owner Mike Hillman, Sr.  “We’re all confident in C.E.’s ability and we’ve got a great group of guys at Hillman Racing that know how to work with young drivers to get them comfortable making the transition from Late Models.  I’m looking forward to watching C.E. on Thursday and seeing him take the next step in his NASCAR career.”

Hillman Racing PR

Mike Wallace is hoping to continue his successful runs at Kentucky Speedway this weekend in the No. 01 G&K Services Chevrolet for JD Motorsports. His teammate, Danny Efland, will return to action in the No. 4Tradebank Chevrolet for Friday night’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race at the1.5-mile oval.

Friday night action is always a highlight for drivers and fans alike. Having it in the racing-rich country of the Bluegrass State heightens the level just a bit more for everyone.

The No. 01 team, led by Newt Moore, has enjoyed some solid runs lately and is hoping to continue that roll. Efland will be adding another start to his resume in the No. 4 Tradebank Chevrolet as he continues the upward curve of his learning experience.

Mike Wallace Notes:

·        This will be Wallace’s 431stcareer NNS start and 15th of the 2012 season

·        To date, the St. Louis native has earned seven top-20 finishes this year.

·        The last four have taken place consecutively

·        He’s completed 2,376 of 2,518 (94.4 percent)laps contested

·        Wallace has led four races this season

·        Currently 13th in Driver’s Points, he trails 12th by only nine points

·        His achievements in eight previous starts at Kentucky include two top-five and two top-10 finishes.

·        He’s completed 1,534 of 1600 laps contested(95.9 percent) and led two races

·        His best start and finish took place in the 2008event when he took the green in 16th and the checkers in third

Mike Wallace Quotes

“This team has been on a solid run lately and we’ve been enjoying the results of our hard work. Newt and the team have been working really hard on our No. 01Chevrolets and it’s starting to show on the race track more and more each week.

“I love Kentucky and the way that it races or, maybe it’s the way I race there that I like so much. Either way, this has always been a good track for me in the past. We’ve been working on our handling and this is one track you’re going to need the practices to get dialed in just right.”

“We’re racing under the lights on a Friday night. The fans there are great, they love to see their NASCAR racing and we’re looking forward to putting on a great show for them.”

“On Saturday morning, I’ll be at the NASCAR Hall of Fame with three other drivers making an appearance from 11 a.m. to Noon doing some autographs and taking part in a Q&A. So, come on out, see the Hall and say hello.”

JD Motorsports PR

After coming off another top-10 finish in Texas where it felt like one slipped away, Justin Lofton used the off week to take advice from his sponsor CollegeComplete.com and take some classes.  To be more specific, he attended Rally Driving School in New Hampshire, learning skills that will help him both on the track and in his off-road racing.

This week Lofton  visits Kentucky, as he leads the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS) point standings with his No. 6 College Complete (http://www.collegecomplete.com or 877-543-2655) ESR team by the way of a race win, three top-five, and seven top-10 finishes.

"The last year has been great," Lofton summarized. "Since returning to ESR, everything has continued to get better. The support of Chevrolet, Richard Childress, ECR (Earnhardt Childress Racing), and of course the group that we have built at ESR is amazing. The guys work hard, and it's all paid off."

Lofton has been working tirelessly this season promoting the Free Education Advice that his sponsor CollegeComplete.com offers.   As yet another break in the season came about, he decided to fill his time expanding his knowledge and show once again that there is always room to learn more.

With his reaction skills improved after 4 days at Rally School, Lofton is heading to the 1.5-mile Kentucky Speedway this week.  He will be driving the same No. 6 College Complete Chevrolet that he pulled into victory lane at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

"Kentucky is one of those places that you have to be on the wheel. It is a lot of fun to drive. It's fast and flat. We've had the speed all year, so it should be another good one for us."

Justin Lofton PR

Phoenix International Raceway will be featured in the July 2 episode ofThe Bachelorette. The episode will cover a unique individual hometown date with the newest Bachelorette, Emily Maynard, the first single mom to ever star on the series, who first captured America’s heart on the 15th season of “The Bachelor.”

As the premier motorsports venue in the Southwest and a mainstay in the sport of NASCAR, Phoenix International Raceway is excited to branch out into primetime television with the track’s debut on The Bachelorette. “We are thrilled to host Arie and Emily on part of their hometown date,” said track President Bryan R. Sperber,“Race fans should keep an eye out for the blue wall of their favorite race track on July 2 and cheer on their hometown.”

PIR PR

The biggest obstacle for Jeff Gordon in the inaugural Kentucky Speedway event last year? Traffic.

"If you could have picked [the No. 24 car] up (from 20th-place in the running order) and placed it in the top seven or eight, we could have stayed there and maybe battled with the leaders," said Gordon after last year's event. "We just needed track position."

Gordon finished 10th in that event, and the No. 24 Drive To End Hunger team will attempt to better that - and the competition - during Saturday night's Quaker State 400.

"The track is very challenging," said Gordon, who has gained four positions and moved up to 18th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings over the last two weekends. "It's the same thing that makes it difficult to pass any race weekend - usually because it's a one-groove race track.

"There are pretty severe bumps getting into turn three, so it's hard to run side-by-side because you get really loose underneath somebody. And the pace is pretty fast - you carry good speed through the corners here.  

"It's just hard to get an edge on the competition."

Since Gordon did not win the inaugural event, Kentucky Speedway joins Homestead-Miami Speedway as the only two tracks where Gordon has yet to visit Victory Lane. Kentucky is also one of four tracks where Gordon has yet to win a pole (Las Vegas, Kansas and Homestead-Miami being the others).

But while qualifying well would mean less traffic for Gordon at the start of the race, traffic outside the track is a major talking point heading into the weekend.

"[Traffic] certainly dominated the conversation on Twitter," said Gordon. "I think (Speedway Motorsports, Inc., chairman) Bruton (Smith) and that group have a lot of pressure on them this year to make sure that doesn't happen again.

"I don't know if you can fix it all at once, but I feel confident that they are going to make some huge strides.

"I think it is going to be a much better experience for all of the fans."

PPRP PR

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will make its second trip to Kentucky Speedway for this weekend's Quaker State 400. Travis Kvapil, driver of the No. 93 Burger King/Dr Pepper Toyota, is excited about heading to the rough-and-tumble 1.5-mile race track. His past results, combined with his team's progression at intermediate tracks, have all the makings of a solid performance.

 

Kvapil started 37th and finished 29th in the Sprint Cup Series' debut at the track last season. He has six Truck Series starts at Kentucky. Four of his finishes were inside the top-10 and two were inside the top-five. His best finish is second place, which he scored in 2007. He's led three laps and completed 99.8 percent of the laps of the events he's competed in.

At the four 1.5-mile tracks that the Sprint Cup Series has traveled to this season, Kvapil's best finish is 25th place (Kansas). The No. 93 team averaged a 39th-place finish at the first two events. They picked up the performance to average a 27th-place finish in the last two events.

Comments from BK Racing Driver Travis Kvapil heading into Kentucky:

"Kentucky is a little bit different than most of the mile-and-a-half tracks that we go to. Its surface really sets it apart. It has some bumps and the asphalt is really rough. The years have seasoned it well. It can make your car a handful. We've just finished some races at Pocono and Michigan, where the surface was new and very smooth. Kentucky will be the antithesis of that. It's going to be a rough ride.

"We have a few intermediate tracks under our belt now. Our program is starting to gain some momentum and we're getting a better handle on how we need to prepare our cars for the mile-and-a-half tracks. Each time we unload, we're a little closer to the setup that we need than we were the time before. Charlotte and Kansas were our best two finishes at mile-and-a-half tracks. It's encouraging that they're the most recent mile-and-a-half tracks we've been to. Hopefully that's a sign that we've gotten better as the season has gone on.

"I have a few starts at the track. I raced there a few times in the Truck Series before the Cup Series started going there and had some good runs. I feel like I know what the car needs to feel like for us to be successful. I'm excited for the chance to show how far we've come as a team."

BK Racing PR

Landon Cassill is champing at the bit for this weekend's Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway. He piloted his No. 83 Burger King/Dr Pepper Toyota to an 18th-place finish at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May. It was BK Racing's best performance at a 1.5-mile venue and the organization's only top-20 finish at a 1.5-mile track since it began in February. Cassill's aiming to set a new standard for his team this Saturday.

 

Cassill started 30th and finished 23rd in the inaugural Sprint Cup Series race at Kentucky last season. He made one Nationwide Series start at the track in 2008, which he started eighth and finished 11th.

At other 1.5-mile tracks this season, Cassill finished 36th at Las Vegas, 30th at Texas and 34th at Kansas. He sees his finish at Charlotte as an affirmation that his team is progressing and wants to show how far it's come this weekend.

Comments from BK Racing Driver Landon Cassill heading into Kentucky:

"I'm excited to get back to Kentucky. I like it a lot and I'm glad the Cup Series has made it a fixture on the circuit. It's a really good race track. It's got a lot of room and a few good grooves. It will be a good race.

"Kentucky is a lot wider than the other mile-and-a-half tracks. It's extremely rough and has a lot of bumps. The pavement has settled. It's created a lot of rough spots on the race track. As wide as it is, it's really fast and it has a lot of grip, but the roughness makes it hard to hang on to. I think it's a great race track with a lot of character.

"Our intermediate track program has come a long way. We finished 18th at Michigan. We finished 18th at Charlotte. That's really honorable. I think it shows that there's no fluke in our top-20 finishes. I hope we can go to Kentucky and back that up."

BK Racing PR

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