Speedway notes: Kentucky-Duke rivalry alive and well on pit row

mstory@herald-leader.comJune 30, 2012 

Whitesburg native J.D. Holcomb is a die-hard University of Kentucky basketball fan. He also spends his weekends as the front-tire carrier for Jeff Burton's No. 31 Chevrolet in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

What makes that especially interesting is that Burton is a Duke basketball season-ticket holder.

Before Saturday's Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway, Holcomb was asked if he gave Burton a hard time after UK won the 2012 NCAA title.

"I didn't say much," Holcomb said.

Pause.

"You have to remember, I run in front of his car," Holcomb said with a laugh.

Last year, Holcomb worked on the pit crew of Kevin Harvick. In the off-season, car owner Richard Childress re-assigned him to Burton's car.

"It's not uncommon in this sport of owners to shake teams up, move crews around," Holcomb said.

Going into Saturday night's race, Harvick was sixth in the Sprint Cup standings, Burton 19th.

Yet that doesn't mean this has not been a memorable year for Holcomb.

Along with front-tire changer Tim Sheets, Holcomb won their individual event in the 2012 Pit Crew Challenge.

For winning, Holcomb got $10,000.

"That's pretty sweet," he said. "But the government (taxes) is taking their fair share, but it was nice to win."

Feel the burn

Former Kentucky defensive tackle Mark Jacobs is the jackman for driver Juan Pablo Montoya in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

Before Saturday night's race, Jacobs said the thing that worried him about the unusually high June heat was its potential effect on his feet.

"I talked to a guy who worked in the pits at the truck race Thursday," Jacobs said. "He told me the track temperature was like 160 degrees. He said it was burning through to his feet."

When his plane landed in Kentucky on Sunday morning, Jacobs said the pilot welcomed passengers to "the face of the sun."

Jacobs, 35, was a starter on Kentucky's 1998 team that went to the Outback Bowl.

'Anxious' homecoming

William Sturgill, the former Paul Laurence Dunbar football standout, was slated to work as a jackman in a Sprint Cup race in his home state for the first time ever in Saturday night's Quaker State 400.

"I'm not nervous," said Sturgill, who works in the pits for driver David Ragan. "I am anxious. It's my home state. I want to have a really strong night in the pits."

An all-city football center for Dunbar in 2000, Sturgill is the grandson of well-known Kentucky coal magnate and political figure William Sturgill.

Glad to be back

Jason Gay only lived in Lexington two years after his birth before an IBM transfer caused his family to move west to Colorado, then back east to North Carolina.

But Gay, 39, still has some Kentucky cred. He knows to pronounce the Garrard County seat, Lancaster, as "LANK-uh-ster," not "LAN-cast-er."

"Almost all my family is still in Garrard County," Gay said last week. "Aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, all right there in Lancaster."

Gay was back in the state of his birth for Saturday's race. The father of five is the front-tire changer for Sprint Cup driver Clint Bowyer.

A week ago in Sonoma, Bowyer went to victory lane, the first road race victory of the driver's career. For Gay, it was the 24th Cup Series victory he has been a part of as a pit-crew member.

"I'm pretty proud of that," Gay said.

During the week, Gay works in the shop as a rear-brake specialist for Michael Waltrip Racing. On race weekends, his job is to change the front tires during pit stops for Bowyer.

Asked the key to his role in the pits, Gay said, "You just need to be clean and smooth. You just need to concentrate on the task but not 'rush,' if you know what I mean."

Gay broke into NASCAR pretty much through happenstance. He was working as a maintenance man for an apartment complex in Charlotte when one of the residents recommended he apply for a similar job with Hendrick Motorsports.

From that foot in the door, he eventually got the chance to start work both in the pits and, eventually, on race cars.

Over the years, Gay has pitted cars/trucks for drivers such as Terry Labonte, Jack Sprague, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne and now Bowyer.

In 2007, he was the champion front-tire changer in the annual pit crew challenge. He was a member of the champion pit crew team in 2005.

Gay, whose wife, Michelle, is from Cincinnati, says Kentucky Speedway is a special venue for him.

"I love that area and it's always fun to go back," he said.

Driver/jailer

Laurel County jailer Jamie Mosley drove the No. 24 Telmate Chevrolet to a 29th-place finish in Friday night's Nationwide Series Feed The Children 300 at Kentucky Speedway.

Mosley was elected to his current position in 2010, defeating 11 other opponents. Before going into politics, he was a longtime Kentucky State Police dispatcher and part-time race-car driver.

The last time Mosley ran at Kentucky Speedway, he finished 29th in a trucks series race in 2009.

For his career, Mosley has run 13 times in the Nationwide Series. His career-best finish in the Nationwide Series is 21st at Nashville in 2003.

Mosley admitted to being anxious before Friday's race.

"It's been a long time since I've been out here with these guys. It's hard to be as competitive as you might like."

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

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