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The Best Seat at the Track, The Best View on the Net!
June 30th, 2014
Volume VIII, Edition CIII
Sprint Cup Race Recap: Bluegrass Beatdown, Keselowski Wins at Kentucky
by Justin Tucker
Brad Keselowski made a statement early on Friday by capturing the pole for Saturday night's Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway and put an exclamation point on the weekend by dominating the field on Saturday to earn his second victory of the 2014 season.
Keselowski, the 2012 winner at Kentucky, led a race record 199 of 267 laps en route to his 12th career win in the Sprint Cup Series and second at the track, making him the first repeat cup race winner in track history. After a restart with about 50 laps to go, Keselowski surged from sixth to the lead with 19 laps to go after passing then race leader Kyle Busch. From there, it was race over as the Team Penske driver cruised to a 1.041 second victory over Busch.
"I knew it was going to be a dogfight to get back to Kyle and then race him," Keselowski said. "We got there with a really fast car, and I hit the perfect run on him with traffic. Next thing I knew, we were there. It feels really good to get that second win."
Keselowski's night however took a weird turn in Victory Lane when a champagne bottle exploded in his hand, requiring him to get four stitches in his hand before finishing all of his post-race obligations.
Kyle Busch snapped a long top 5 drought by finishing second on Saturday night. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver came into Saturday's race on the heels of finishing 25th or worse in three of the last four races. Busch's second-place finish was his first top 5 since Richmond in April. Busch marveled at the Penske cars post-race.
"I felt like we were better than Newman but nowhere near as good as Keselowski or Logano," Busch said. "Those guys were really stout."
Rounding out the top 5 in Saturday's Quaker State 400 were: Ryan Newman with a season best third-place effort, 2013 race winner Matt Kenseth in fourth, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. rallied from a 29th place starting spot to finish fifth. Jeff Gordon finished sixth, followed by Kevin Harvick and Kasey Kahne with another good run in eighth. Joey Logano finished ninth and Jimmie Johnson battled to a tenth-place finish after a poor qualifying effort led to a poor pit stall pick.
Keselowski's dominating win wasn't the only thing grabbing post-race headlines. The bumpy frontstretch of the Kentucky Speedway and lack of passing also made headlines. The rough track surface drew the ire of many of the drivers, including Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
"It sucks, man," Earnhardt Jr. said of the rough frontstretch. "God almighty. It's so brutal. It's just terrible, man. And I hate it for the speedway, because they just got their date (four years ago). But man, it's the most miserable thing out there. Ain't nothing about that I want to do over again. I'm glad it's over."
Kyle Busch shared Earnhardt's sentiment regarding the track.
"If you fix the start/finish line, just pave the straightaway there where it is the roughest and just calm that down some, I think we'd all be very grateful," Busch said with a chuckle.
David Ragan, who finished 31st, expressed his thoughts on the track after the race on Twitter.
"Well, I feel like I had a fight with a concrete jack hammer for four hours!," Ragan tweeted. "Glad we have Sunday off, and only 1 Kentucky race. Time 2 move on".
Passing was at a premium at Kentucky as well. Only three drivers lead the race along with 12 lead changes left many fans to consider the race boring and uneventful, but Matt Kenseth says there are two contributing factors to the issue.
"As soon as you'd take off on stickers (new tires), you had to do all your passing on restarts," Kenseth said. "Once you got about five laps on tires and we got spaced out, it's just so hard to pass."
"There's so much downforce on the cars with such a big spoiler, there's just so much air on them that once you get in somebody else's wake it's just so hard to pass," the 2003 champion continued. "It's a great track, it's really wide. The cars, at least my car, was really aero-sensitive. I could run guys down, but when you got about 6-7 car lengths away from them your car would stall out and you couldn't make up much more ground."
Next weekend, the Sprint Cup Series heads to the World Center of Racing the Daytona International Speedway for the traditional fourth of July weekend Coke Zero 400. The green flag is set for 7:50 P.M. ET next Saturday night.Justin Tucker is a Newsletter Contributor at Frontstretch. To reach Justin, please contact Newsletter Manager Phil Allaway at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chasing the Chase: Gordon Expands Lead Over Teammates
Phil Allaway is the Newsletter Manager and a Senior Writer for Frontstretch.com. He can be reached via email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Critic84.
Never Fear, The Underdogs Are Here: Kentucky Edition
by Amy Henderson
Are you a fan of a driver from a smaller team? Do you ever see one of these guys on the race results and wonder how he got there? NASCAR's small teams may not get much airtime during the race broadcast, but that doesn't mean there's nothing to talk about. Each week, we take a peek into how the little guys fared in the race.
Underdog Selection No. 1: Michael Annett for Tommy Baldwin Racing; started 32nd, finished 18th
Annett came to TBR with secured sponsorship, which was no doubt what initially attracted the team to the rookie driver. And with some funding, this team is making some improvements this year. Annett is also slowly starting to get some decent finishes—he's beginning to make a statement that it's not only money that he brings to the team. He's run well at Kentucky in the Nationwide Series, and his Cup debut at the track was impressive.
"Can't thank all my @TBR_Racing guys enough!!! This @PFJRacing team keeps getting better and better. These nights are a lot of fun," Annett tweeted after the race. It has to be fun to see the improvement that his team is making, and while they're still hampered by their budget, the TBR organization has to be enjoying their year so far as they continue to grow.
Underdog Selection No. 2: Casey Mears for Germain Racing; started 26th, finished 20th
Mears still needs to find some better days, but this weekend's finish doesn't tell the story for the No. 13 team. Mears lost a lap early because of a flat tire, but got the free pass later and was moving forward after the team made some adjustments on what started the weekend as an ill-handling car. Mears finally cracked the top 20 late in the race…only to have a rear shock mount break. Mears stayed in it, though, and hung on despite the issue to finish 20th, all in all a pretty impressive feat. While this team needs to find a few top-15 runs this year, this week they made some big steps toward that goal.
Underdog Selection No. 3: AJ Allmendinger for JTG-Daugherty Racing; started 15th, finished 22nd
Mears' finish doesn't reflect what his team overcame, and Allmendinger's doesn't reflect how good he was at Kentucky. The no. 47 ran in the top 15 for most of the first 200 laps of the race with a good portion of that in the top 10, only to have a tire go down and then get caught by the yellow flag when the caution flew. After the race, Allmendinger tweeted that he felt "gutted" by the 22nd-place result on a night when he could have easily finished 10 spots higher. The No. 47 has lost a little momentum lately-since their fifth-place finish at Talladega, which left them 15th in points, Allmendinger's best finish has been 21st (Dover and Pocono) and he's fallen to 22nd in points.
Underdog Pick of the Week-Daytona: Casey Mears for Germain Racing
My pick for Kentucky was Casey Mears –close but no cigar as Michael Annett beat Mears by two spots for the top finish among the small teams.
Coming up this week is Daytona, one of the few tracks where a small team can contend for not only a strong finish, but a race win. I'm sticking with Mears this week because he's a strong plate racer who's got a little positive momentum on his side the last couple of weeks. Mears has Earnhardt Childress power on his side and four top-10 finishes on his resume. He's been burned by bad luck more than once, or that number could well be higher.
Is your favorite driver among NASCAR's underdogs? Are you frustrated with the lack of coverage they receive during the race broadcasts? Amy has all the small teams covered each and every week in The Big Six. Be sure to check it out to see how your favorites fared!
Letter of the Race: Saturday night's Quaker State 400 was brought to you by the letter "B," for Butt Kicking. Brad Keselowski had the field covered on Saturday night, leading 199 of the 267 laps. In addition, there was a distinct lack of passing towards the front of the field in general. Sadly, it was probably not the best race for fans to watch. - Phil Allaway
Sidebar Stories: Kentucky
by Phil Allaway
"What a really fast car. It just kind of came together for us, really across the weekend from qualifying to race practice and then in the race. It looked like they were gonna come unraveled at the end there with that yellow right in the middle of the pit sequence, which was really scary. That's part of the deal and it came down to me starting sixth there with 51 or 52 to go. I knew it was gonna be a dogfight to get back to Kyle and race him, but we got there with a really fast car and got a perfect run on him with traffic and the next thing I knew we were there, so it feels really good, obviously, to get that second win. I think we've been so close and we kind of hadn't put it together there at the end. Richmond comes to mind. Texas comes to mind and then Pocono. We kind of had some heartbreakers there and you start to wonder in your head, 'Is this ever gonna work out,' but I think it showcases the strength of our team. We've got a really good stretch run going here over the summer, so it's very exciting for me and very rewarding. I feel like we're in such a strong spot, so a lot of momentum and this was really a big night for us in so many ways." - Brad Keselowski, race winner
"We were playing around with some champagne bottles and as I told my good friend, 'We should have stuck with beer.' We were having too much fun with champagne and one of the bottles broke and I cut my hand open. It's no big deal." - Keselowski, on his mishap with the champagne bottle in Victory Lane
"It's a big gain for us and our Caterpillar Chevrolet. All the guys at RCR and ECR got us that first top five of the season. I've got to thank everybody from Caterpillar and Quicken Loans for the opportunity they've given us this year. It was a good run. The No. 2 (Brad Keselowski, race winner) was obviously the fastest car all night. The No. 18 (Kyle Busch) got a little bit better there at the end. We were pretty solid. We never really changed the car. It felt like we were pretty neutral and didn't want to screw it up. So, we ended up where we did." - Ryan Newman, finished third
"Just had a great team. They did a really good job on pit road on the pit stop there and we gained a whole bunch of spots. Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) had some good adjustments in the middle of the race that got us back in the game. It was certainly a positive weekend. We ran a lot better — we've been struggling at these bigger tracks all year and I thought this was a big step forward. I know Denny (Hamlin) had a problem at the beginning and I thought Kyle (Busch) was real competitive — I thought all three of our cars were pretty good all weekend." - Matt Kenseth, finished fourth
"I had a ninth-place finish down a cylinder. That was a good effort by my guys. They kicked some butt on pit road today. I was so proud of them there. We've been struggling a little bit there and they figured it back out, so it's great to have a good group of guys behind me again that were fighting for wins and contending to lead a lot of laps after pit stops. Brad had the best car. Brad was ridiculously fast from the time he unloaded. I can see what he's doing. I can see what he's got in his car and everything, he's just fast. We'll have to kind of go back and see what he's doing, but, overall, I feel like today should have been a Penske 1-2 finish. I think Team Penske dominated Kentucky this weekend, it's just unfortunate we dropped a cylinder there, but it's still a top-10 out of being down one cylinder. We'll take that." - Joey Logano, finished ninth
"We had issues that started on Friday. We didn't qualify well that had us in a terrible spot with track position. I would work my way to the front and get in the top 10, top five and then come down pit road and because of our poor qualifying position we just didn't have a good pit stall. I was between the No. 10 (Danica Patrick) and the No. 18 (Kyle Busch) and they were both fast all night long. I would lose five or six spots on pit road each time. According to lap times what I heard in my ear I think we were a competitive car and we could have been up there and maybe had a look at those guys in some clean air. But we just messed up on Friday and got behind the eight ball." - Jimmie Johnson, finished tenth
"The first wreck one of those lapped cars spun in front of us and when he spun he lit up his rear tires and made a huge smoke cloud. My spotter, Tyler, was telling me to go high and I was kind of in the middle of the race track to see what he was gonna do and at the last minute he was like, 'Go high, go high,' so I veered high and McMurray was out there. I honestly had no idea he was out there and I ran into him, so I feel horrible because our Eckrich Ford Fusion was decent. We weren't where we wanted to be, but we were a solid top-10 car. I think we were running around eighth or ninth there, so that's frustrating to not execute. I did it at Michigan and did it again here, so it's just really frustrating. I'm just mad at myself. I realize circumstances weren't in our favor, but I should have done a better job of getting slowed down and not running into the 1 car." - Aric Almirola, finished 39th (Crashed Out)
"Blew a right front (tire). This is the first time that's ever happened to me in stock car racing. So, big hits. But is sucks. We were hoping for a good points day to pad our points were we are before we go to Daytona where it's a real crapshoot. It's disappointing to have two weekends that didn't end up very well the last couple of races. Oh, well. That's how it goes. We'll try and go to Daytona and rebound and gain some more points." - Kyle Larson, finished 40th (Crashed Out)
"We needed that competition caution one lap sooner. I made sure on the green race track you always want to keep your right front (tire) under you to make sure you don't over use it and you know tire wear is going to excessive. I didn't expect that at all. I just heard it pop and when it did it was very reminiscent of last year. We're starting to get our mile-and-a-half program together — I see our teammates are in the top-10 as well. Joe Gibbs Racing is finishing to take a turn for the better and wish we could have seen how far we could have went tonight, but proud of this FedEx team." - Denny Hamlin, finished 42nd (Crashed Out)
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TODAY ON THE FRONTSTRETCH:
Thinkin' Out Loud – Quaker State 400 – Kentucky Speedway
by Mike Neff
Pace Laps: Tire Problems, Harvick's Nationwide Win and Busch Fails Inspection
by the Frontstretch Staff
The Big Six: Questions Answered After the Quaker State 400
by Amy Henderson
NASCAR Underdogs Had Their Chances
by Tom Bowles
IndyCar Breakdown: Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of HoustonDoubleheader
by Toni Montgomery
by Matt Stallknecht
Q: In 1985, Greg Sacks drove a second DiGard Racing entry to his one and only Winston Cup victory in the Pepsi Firecracker 400 at Daytona. However, Sacks wasn't driving a DiGard car. Where did DiGard get the No. 10 car from?
Check back Tuesday for the answer, here in the Frontstretch Newsletter!
Q: While we're on the topic of the late Louisville Motor Speedway, the track was located just a few miles south of Downtown Louisville, a distance from a sizable city that is not always possible for a race track. What was the track located relatively close to that allowed it to exist where it did for so long?
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Coming Tuesday in the Frontstretch Newsletter:
-- Top News by Greg Davis
-- Fan's View Commentary by S.D. Grady
-- Numbers Game: Quaker State 400 by Phil Allaway
-- Links to your favorite Frontstretch articles, and more!
Tomorrow on the Frontstretch:
Couch Potato Tuesday by Phil Allaway
This past weekend, the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series were all in action at Kentucky Speedway. How good were these broadcasts?
We'll take a look at which drivers are looking good as the summer stretch begins, along with who needs some help.
Racing to the Point by Brett Poirier
Brett returns with another interesting commentary.
Jeff returns with his typical blend of sarcastic humor tilted towards one of NASCAR's controversial issues.
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