Kentucky

NASCAR America — My Home Track: Kentucky’s Ponderosa Speedway

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Kentucky is known for a number of things, including horse racing, whiskey, the late Muhammad Ali, NASCAR’s Waltrip brothers and, of course, racing.

Not only is there great racing at Kentucky Speedway, where the greats of NASCAR race, but there also is some great grassroots racing in the Bluegrass State.

Places such as Ponderosa Speedway, otherwise and proudly known as Kentucky’s baddest bullring.

The state of Kentucky, with a special feature on Ponderosa Speedway, were highlighted as part of the 50 States in 50 Shows series currently under way on NASCAR America.

Back to racing with regular downforce package, Truex eyes repeat win at Pocono

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Just like the rest of his peers in the Sprint Cup Series, Martin Truex Jr. has gone through three different aero rules packages in the last three races: Kentucky, New Hampshire and Indianapolis.

“It hasn’t been that big of a deal driver-wise, adapting to the packages,” Truex said Friday at Pocono Raceway during his weekly media availability. “It’s all relative. When they take downforce off everyone, the good cars still seem like the good cars.”

Now comes a return to NASCAR’s regular downforce package in this weekend’s race at Pocono. And it’s an event that’s all the more important for Truex, as he won there in early June, all but assuring his spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

“It feels a little different coming back this time,” said Truex, who will also be driving a new race car in Sunday’s race. “It feels good, for sure. It was definitely a huge weekend for us.

“Hopefully, we can repeat what we did last time. It’s not going to be easy, but we’re up for the challenge.”

And challenges are something Truex has had to endure quite a bit of late. Since winning at Pocono in early June, he was third at Michigan and then things went downhill in a hurry.

He wrecked at Sonoma (finished 42nd) and Daytona (38th) before things started going back in a positive direction at Kentucky (17th), Loudon (12th) and his fourth-place finish last Sunday at Indianapolis.

“We definitely ran into a string of bad luck there in Sonoma and Daytona, getting caught up in crashes,” Truex said.

“I felt like we had a real good car at New Hampshire, one of the better ones we’ve had in years, and then got caught a lap down by the caution. And then last week at Indy, we had a pretty good car but we didn’t have the speed to lead, but it was a good top-five.

“So it’s been kind of up and down here lately, but I still feel we have speed in our race cars. We haven’t been at any tracks where we feel like we’ve really performed well at. I think we’ve got some more good tracks coming up and still feel like we have that momentum, we’ve just had some bad luck along the way.”

Truex hopes to pick up where he left off at Indy when it comes to momentum and success. He feels confident he can double-up and win both of this season’s races at Pocono, much like former teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. did last year.

“We have that bit of a safety net, so to speak and I think we can tend to take chances a little bit more, but we’re still here to win and get the best finishes we can,” Truex said. “I definitely feel a little more pressure because we were so good here the last time, but at the same time, you don’t want to screw it up.

“But at the same time, the track’s a little bit different (with the bumps over the tunnel turn now gone) and everybody’s gotten better.”

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Keselowski: Rule changes will improve racing, but must be prudent

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JOLIET, Il. – If initiatives such as track-specific aero rules packages will improve racing in NASCAR, Brad Keselowski is all for them.

But while the 2012 Sprint Cup champion generally applauded the aero package changes made for this past Saturday’s race at Kentucky Speedway, he’s a bit cautious about more changes still ahead, particularly any that may be contemplated for this season’s upcoming Chase for the Sprint Cup.

“At the end of the day we’re supposed to be the best race car drivers and teams in the world and change is an opportunity to showcase who is the best,” Keselowski said during a break in Wednesday’s open test at Chicagoland Speedway. “I’m not afraid of it (adding track-specific aero packages to Chase races) I guess would be a better answer, but I’m not sure I’m in favor of it either.”

In other words, just because the Kentucky experiment was a success, higher drag or lower downforce at other tracks may not have the same results, Keselowski said.

“I know what I am in favor of is putting on the best races we can for our fans and if we feel like there’s a package on the table to put on a better race for our fans, we’d be kind of foolish to not do that so. As to if that will happen, I don’t know. We’re so early in the process that I think you have to step back sometimes and respect that.”

He then added about last weekend’s race at Kentucky, “That was a pretty big step to even out the field, but one race is a pretty small sample size. Though, in general, I would say that package would definitely even the field out.”

It’s not surprising Keselowski may not favor changes within the Chase, particularly the playoff opener at Chicagoland, a race he has won twice in the last three seasons.

“You always want to get the first punch in the ring, right?” Keselowski said. “That’s what Chicago is. This is the first round of the battle and winning is kind of the first punch.

“That was a real nice weekend for us (last year’s win at Chicagoland), and we’re looking for the same thing. That’s why we’re back here today to test and continuously develop our team and our cars to be as fast as we can, to execute when we come back here for such a critical race.”

When asked by NASCAR Talk what would be the ideal package if he had a say in it, Keselowski chuckled at first before turning serious.

“It’d be lengthy and very hard to explain, is what it would be,” Keselowski quipped. “At the root of it is what do you consider great racing? That’s a topic that’s based not very much on fact, but certainly based on opinion. So my opinion of what great racing is a difficult question to answer, and that’s where you start at.

“I think great racing is seeing cars where drivers can make a difference and determine his own fate and outcome with his unique individual skills. Whether that be as a talent behind the wheel with his finesse, balance and skill driving the car or with his talent with respect to his relationship with the team and almost be a leader, a quarterback of the team and call the right plays.

“Those two are probably the highest on my list because they open up so many other doors and at the end of the day, it’s my opinion that puts on the best racing on a consistent basis.

“But some others might have different ideas than that. I know we get caught up a lot of time in stats of passes and things like that. As a racer whether I’m driving or watching I just want to see the best guy have a chance at winning and I want to see fair competition and mix that all up with some crazy finishes and why not, that’s my opinion on what great racing is.”

But some changes are definitely needed, Keselowski added.

“I think there’s some very good racing that we have had at some tracks, and there’s some racing that we in the industry have acknowledged that we want to see get better – and this is the type of track (1.5-mile) that’s been targeted to try and make better,” he said.

“As to what that is, in my opinion, that means it’s going to take some kind of aero package that takes the leader – who right now has a pretty extreme advantage over the field, whether he’s of quality or not – so I think that the package that’s going to be great is one where the leader doesn’t have that advantage, perhaps unjustly.”

Keselowski said he doesn’t mind changes being made in the middle of a season, like last Saturday’s race at Kentucky, and for upcoming races at Indianapolis next weekend, Michigan next month and Darlington on Labor Day weekend.

“I think stock car racing is not like other sports,” Keselowski said. “I’m okay with rules changing as long as it’s not targeting a team. I think these rules are targeting and creating the best racing we possibly can, and I think that’s what we should always strive to do.”

Whereas lower and less downforce was used at Kentucky to improve the racing, upcoming races at Michigan and Indianapolis will be doing just the opposite, using higher drag and greater downforce.

“It seems so far away, being here in Chicago and trying to prepare for Loudon and (Indianapolis) is just 10 days away,” Keselowski said. “I don’t know what to think. I know Indianapolis has been very much of a struggle for us to put on the type of racing we’d like to put on. I appreciate efforts to try and make it better, but I don’t know what’s going to happen with it.”

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Report: Leavine Family Racing hopes to return to race shop two months after devastating fire

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Leavine Family Racing is going home soon.

The one-car Sprint Cup team hopes to return to its race shop in Concord, N.C., after the July 11 race at Kentucky, driver Michael McDowell told LastCar.com this past weekend at Sonoma Raceway.

That will come just over two months since the team’s 20,000-square foot race shop was heavily damaged by fire May 8.

The team has worked out of Penske Racing’s headquarters in nearby Mooresville, N.C., since the fire.

Four of the team’s 12 race cars were damaged or destroyed in the fire. The cause of the fire is still under investigation, crew chief Wally Rogers told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Sunday.

The team competes on a part-time schedule with McDowell as the driver of the No. 95 Ford Fusion.

“But we’re getting closer to being able to move back into our shop,” McDowell told LastCar.com. “It won’t be like how it was. We lost a good portion of the shop that’s gonna take months and months to rebuild, but we have enough space up front to operate out of our shop again.

“Our plan is to move back in after Kentucky. It’s been a mess and Wally Rogers and all the guys have been working hard on that, too. And I’d say that’s where it’s affected us the most it’s just been a distraction. It’s taking a lot of our key people out of working on race cars and trying to get us back into a shop.”

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Recent Goodyear tire tests will lead to changes for Richmond, Kentucky races

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The recent Goodyear tire tests at Richmond International Raceway and Kentucky Speedway have provided data that will lead to changes in the tire compounds for upcoming races at those tracks.

In the Richmond test on April 7, drivers that took part were A.J. Allmendinger, Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski and Tony Stewart.

Goodyear announced Friday that it will use the same left-side tire that was used in last fall’s final race prior to the start of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

However, the April 7 test results will prompt Goodyear to bring new multi-zone tread right-side tires for next Saturday night’s race at the .750-mile track.

“Even though we were very happy with the way the 2014 tire laid rubber down on the racetrack and with the wear characteristics of the package, input from teams was that a bit more grip was in order,” Goodyear director of racing Greg Stucker said in a media release. “From the results of the test, we feel the new tire combination will deliver that.”

The two-day test at Kentucky earlier this week (April 13-14) featured Greg Biffle, Jamie McMurray, Brett Moffitt and Ryan Newman.

As a result of the data collected, the right-side tires in the July 11 race will be a new tire that “incorporated a different mold shape and construction from what we raced there in the past,” Stucker said.

As for left-side tires at the 1.5-mile Kentucky track, Stucker said: “With the lower downforce of the 2015 rules package, we felt a left-side compound adjustment to increase grip was justified. Both those goals were met, and all drivers involved in the test felt like the new combination was a nice improvement over the package raced in 2014 and prior.”

There is still one more test to come this month, April 27-28 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Teams scheduled to take part are BK Racing, Furniture Row Racing, Hendrick Motorsports and Richard Petty Motorsports.

“The ground track surface at Indy makes it very sensitive to tire set-up,” said Stucker.  “The focus of the Indy test will be to make sure we have the correct tire combination to match the new characteristics of the low downforce, low horsepower 2015 rules package.”

Stucker added that, “to date, we’re happy with the way the 2015 season has gone. We feel like those adjustments we have made to tire recommendations from 2014 have been nice improvements, adding back some of the grip in a mechanical fashion to compensate for some of the grip lost through the aerodynamic downforce reduction. That will continue to be our focus in 2015 testing.”

Additional upcoming tests will be at Iowa Speedway on May 5 (Xfinity Series only), Dover International Speedway on May 11-12 and Darlington Raceway on June 9-10.

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