Mark Story: Keselowski must battle the heat in his driving triple at Kentucky Speedway

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistJune 28, 2012 

SPARTA — Herman Cain would call what Brad Keselowski is trying to do at Kentucky Speedway this weekend the 3-3-3 plan.

Three races, three days, expected three-digit temperatures.

When Keselowski decided to drive in all three NASCAR national touring series races at Kentucky he was not factoring in temperatures in the 100s.

"There certainly would have been easier weekends to do that," Keselowski said Thursday. "But you know what, I don't mind the heat. It's never bothered me."

It's a good thing.

Kyle Busch is the only driver in NASCAR history to win races in the Camping World Trucks, Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series at the same track on the same weekend — he did it at Bristol in 2010. Keselowski won't match that this weekend, he finished second Thursday night, but he's still racing in "fry an egg on asphalt" weather.

When Keselowski qualified 17th for Thursday night's UNOH 225 truck race, the air temperature in Sparta was 101 degrees and the on-track temp was 130.

According to weather.com, it will be 101 degrees when Keselowski drives in the Nationwide Feed The Children 300 on Friday. It will again be 101 degrees Saturday when Keselowski pilots the famous Miller Lite Blue Deuce (the No. 2 car) for car owner Roger Penske in the Sprint Cup Quaker State 400.

There are cooling systems inside NASCAR vehicles including "cool boxes" and specialized vests designed to help keep drivers comfortable. Yet those are only so effective. Elliott Sadler, the former Cup regular who is presently atop the Nationwide Series standings, said Thursday he expects to lose "seven, eight pounds" inside his car in Friday night's race because of the heat.

"I would say it will be anywhere between 110 degrees and 130 degrees inside the vehicles," Keselowski said.

In establishing himself as one of the rising stars in NASCAR in recent years, Keselowski, 28, has long since proven he can thrive amid discomfort.

A year ago the second-generation racer from Rochester Hills, Mich., broke an ankle in a testing accident at Road Atlanta; four days later, he won a Cup race at Pocono.

It's not a surprise that he is undaunted by pulling triple duty in triple-digit heat.

"No, it's not a comfortable environment," Keselowski said. "But as a race-car driver, I think you accept the risk of being in a hot environment that is not very friendly."

Last season, it was Keselowski's career arc that was smoking hot. In the Cup Series, he won three times, earned a berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup for the first time and finished a respectable fifth. In 29 Nationwide starts in 2011, Keselowski drove to victory circle five times. One of those came at Kentucky Speedway.

This season, Keselowski has two Cup wins so far, Bristol and Talladega, and he stands 10th in the points. The two victories make it entirely likely he will again qualify for the Chase as a wild card even if he drops from the top 10 in season points.

Kentucky Speedway and its famously bumpy racing surface have long been to Keselowski's liking.

Over four starts in the Nationwide Series, he's never finished below fourth. In last year's inaugural Cup race in Sparta, Keselowski had one of the strongest cars on the track. He led 79 laps before settling for a seventh-place finish.

"The bumps are very difficult to navigate here at Kentucky," he said. "It provides a racetrack that is, by its very nature, it's hard for a driver to be consistent. ... It requires a little more feel, which rewards some of the more talented drivers."

When he decided to pursue "the triple," Kentucky Speedway was a natural choice for Keselowski.

"Kentucky is a place I picked to run the triple-header because I like the racetrack," he said. "And I like the fan support it gets."

Of course, he didn't know he'd be running in Mohave Desert-style heat.

For the non-race car drivers, Kentucky Speedway General Manager Mark Simendinger said the track has brought in extra water, provided some of its employees with umbrellas to shield them from the beating sun and is monitoring conditions to see if the climactic threshold required to activate a local "no-burning" edict in the Speedway campgrounds is met.

Yet the guy with the most taxing schedule of the weekend, Keselowski, says he won't change one thing from his normal dietary or hydration routine just because he's running three NASCAR races in three days in triple-digit heat.

"It's a little bit of a macho-man thing," he said. "Everybody is saying 'I can take the heat better than you can.' I kind of like that challenge."

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230. Email: mstory@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com

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