Notes: Lots of empty seats at Kentucky Speedway

Looking back at the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway

jutter@charlotteobserver.comJuly 1, 2012 

Observations

• No, the traffic nightmare that overshadowed last year's inaugural Sprint Cup Series race at Kentucky Speedway was not repeated this year. But also absent were many of the fans. Being generous, approximately 70 percent of the stands were filled Saturday night. It's certainly possible some ticket holders didn't show due to the extreme heat this weekend. However, it's clear it will take time for the speedway to earn back the trust of the many fans it left with a bad memory from last season's debacle.

• Although he repeatedly denies it, it seems clear Carl Edwards is getting frustrated with the performance issues his No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing team is experiencing this season. Another good finish went awry Saturday night when Edwards was forced to pit late for fuel for fear of running out. With no wins, Edwards is in danger of missing the Chase - just a year after coming within one point of winning the series championship.

• No engine issues for Joe Gibbs Racing, and particularly Kyle Busch, in Saturday night's Cup race. But three Toyota teams - including two from JGR - did experience problems in Friday night's Nationwide race. None of those engines come from the same place as JGR's Cup engines but it seems clear there is some sort of problem Toyota needs to deal with and fast. Reliability is key to winning championships in any series.

Notes

Busch turns bad day into good: Kyle Busch was dominant early in Saturday night's race, leading 116 of the first 129 laps. Busch, however, slapped the wall hard once and broke a shock mount, which had to be replaced on pit road. He also had a flat tire.

At one point, he was 21st and the last car on the lead lap. He rallied late and ended up 10th - his best finish since he was third last month at Charlotte.

"It's definitely not any fun -- not as much fun as we were having early. Tough night again, once again," Busch said. "Just had to persevere and try to get through the best we could.

"Broke a shock mount. Then it broke a shock and just all ensued after that. We salvaged a heck of a finish for what all we had to go through."

Edwards: 'We need to go': Carl Edwards is getting tired of seeing potentially good finishes disappear. He was running third late in Saturday night's race when he had to pit under green for fuel for fear he would run out. He ended up 20th.

"We had a pretty good car at the end. Bob (Osborne, crew chief) called me onto pit road. He knew we should have pitted that last time but I was already so far around that (commitment) cone that I just didn't feel right cutting across traffic and slamming the splitter down to make it to pit road.

"We hoped there would be a caution but there wasn't. It is time for us to get it in gear. I am real frustrated, Bob is real frustrated and I know we can do this. We need to go."

Hamlin signs extension: Denny Hamlin has agreed to a multi-year contract extension with Joe Gibbs Racing, the driver confirmed. Hamlin agreed to the extension even though his current deal was not set to expire until the end of the 2013 season.

"If I'm going to win a championship, I'm going to do it with Joe Gibbs Racing," Hamlin said. "They worked hard with me to get the deal signed. I'm lucky to have a team and sponsor (Fed Ex) who want to be with me."

Hamlin, 31, has 19 wins in the Sprint Cup Series in nearly seven full seasons with JGR. He has finished as high as second in the series standings, in the 2010 season. He also has 11 wins in the Nationwide Series and one in the Truck series.

3 keys to victory

1. Brad Keselowski's successful weekend started with a wrecked car in the first lap of practice. His team quickly brought out the backup, got it ready and Keselowski was able to get up to speed and earn a good starting spot in qualifying (eighth).

2. Kyle Busch dominated much of the early-going in the race, but Keselowski showed his strength passing Busch to take the lead for the first time on Lap 34.

3. Keselowski was leading when he pitted for the final time under green on Lap 208. His team was perfect on pit road and he recycled into the lead on Lap 212 when green-flag stops were complete.

Turning point

Keselowski's good fuel mileage allowed him to remain on the track when most other lead-lap cars pitted under caution on Lap 211. He quickly ran out to a big advantage on the restart.

Things would have been different if ...

Kasey Kahne had not had a loose wheel and a second slow pit stop. He would have given Keselowski a tough battle for the win.

Next race

Coke Zero 400

Where: Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach, Fla.

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

TV: TNT

Radio: Motor Racing Network

Last year's winner: David Ragan

More racing news, blogs, photos and more at www.ThatsRacin.com.

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