Mark Story: NASCAR fans in Kentucky get lucky: It's a "Rowdy" Busch vs. "Bad Brad" tripleheader

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistJune 26, 2013 

  • NASCAR week at Kentucky Speedway

    Thursday: Camping World Trucks: UNOH 225, 8 p.m. (Speed) Friday: Nationwide: Feed The Children 300, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN) Saturday: Sprint Cup: Quaker State 400, 7:30 p.m. (TNT)

  • A six-page special section previewing NASCAR's Sprint Cup race at Kentucky Speedway.

SPARTA — To put this in terms the commonwealth can relate to, NASCAR stars Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski are about to turn Kentucky Speedway into a three-day game of one-on-one.

The winners of the first two Sprint Cup races held in Sparta — Busch in 2011, Keselowski last year — begin their own personal duel for Bluegrass State supremacy Thursday night when both drive in the Camping World Truck Series' UNOH 225.

They will face off again in Friday night's Nationwide Series Feed The Children 300, then duel in the main event, Saturday night's Sprint Cup Quaker State 400 Presented by Advance Auto Parts.

As "triple-headers" go, Kyle vs. Kes in Kentucky should give NASCAR followers in the commonwealth a rollicking three-day show.

Kentucky Speedway General Manager Mark Simendinger is pumped.

"They are kind of the young, up-and-coming drivers," Simendinger said. "They hustle, want to win, want to race. I like what those two guys are projecting."

NASCAR legend Darrell Waltrip is stoked.

"I do think it's good," Waltrip said of Busch vs. Brad in the Bluegrass. "It's a challenge to see which can better handle all three races. It just adds an element of excitement to the whole weekend in Kentucky."

Last year, Keselowski, 29, staked his claim as the new king of Kentucky Speedway. Trying "the triple" in Sparta for the first time, the Rochester Hills, Mich., product finished second in the trucks race, seventh in Nationwide and won the Cup event.

That victory at Kentucky Speedway helped launch Keselowski to a surprise Sprint Cup season championship. His success in Sparta in 2012 built on a 2011 victory here in the Nationwide Series.

"What I like out of a race car, how I want it to drive, really fits well with this racetrack," Keselowski said.

Busch, 28, has every reason to think he holds the rightful claim to the Kentucky Speedway throne.

In 2011, the Las Vegas product darned near won "the triple" in Sparta. He was victorious in the truck series, third in Nationwide and won the inaugural Cup event.

Last year, he led the most laps (118) in the Quaker State 400, but a broken shock mount, caused he says by Kentucky Speedway's famous bumps, helped relegate him to a 10th-place finish.

"My guys came here with a really good setup for the inaugural year," Busch said of the 2011 Quaker State 400. "We just tweaked on (the setup) last year, and we led a lot of laps."

Over Kentucky Speedway history, Busch is the only driver to win in four different racing series. Besides his 2011 wins in trucks and Cup, he took the checkered flag in the ARCA series at Kentucky Speedway in 2003 as an 18-year-old, then won the next year in the series now known as Nationwide.

Busch has run 11 races in his career at Kentucky Speedway and has led laps in 10 of them — and he finished third in the one race he never led.

He knows the key to conquering Kentucky. "You've got to communicate a little bit more and tell the crew chief about what (the car) is doing over the bumps so he can help you over the bumps," Busch said.

Trying to run three straight NASCAR races in three days is a physical challenge anywhere. Some say it is especially so at Kentucky Speedway with what, in midsummer, tends to be sweltering weather.

"Those guys are brave doing (the triple) at Kentucky, because it's one of the hottest places we go," said Regan Smith, the current Nationwide Series points leader. "I don't know why, but Kentucky with the asphalt that's inside that facility and the way that facility is shaped, it seems like there is no breeze and it's just brutally hot."

The good news in 2013 is the temperatures for Sprint Cup week racing in Sparta are forecast to be far more temperate than in 2012, when the thermometer was above 100 degrees pretty much the whole time.

According to The Weather Channel, this year's temps will be in the high 80s for Thursday's truck race, the low 80s Friday for the Nationwide event and, amazingly, the high 70s for Saturday's Cup race.

Interestingly, Busch and Keselowski have faced off against each other while attempting "the triple" at the same track once before.

In 2010 in the August races at Bristol Motor Speedway, Busch made NASCAR history with a sweep — winning in trucks, Nationwide and Cup. In the same three events, Keselowski finished seventh (trucks), 14th (Nationwide) and 19th (Cup).

This week we get the "rematch."

Talk about gettin' lucky in Kentucky, it's "Rowdy" Busch vs. "Bad Brad," three times over. This should be fun.


NASCAR WEEK AT KENTUCKY SPEEDWAY

Thursday: Camping World Trucks: UNOH 225, 8 p.m. (Speed) Friday: Nationwide: Feed The Children 300, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN) Saturday: Sprint Cup: Quaker State 400, 7:30 p.m. (TNT)


A six-page special section previewing NASCAR's Sprint Cup race at Kentucky Speedway.

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

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