SPARTA — As has been the trend in recent years, the list of 2011 winners in the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series is littered with the names of Cup Series regulars.
That's precisely why those who make their living in NASCAR's lower-tier national series are grateful for a new rule implemented this season.
This year marks the first time drivers in NASCAR's three series had to elect a single championship to compete for, thus putting an end to the days where Cup regulars like Kyle Busch — the 2009 Nationwide king — had potentially multiple titles to race for at season's end.
Going into this weekend's events at Kentucky Speedway, Cup Series drivers had won all but three of the 17 Nationwide races so far this year, and seven of the nine Truck outings. But because they're not accumulating points in the lower-tier series, that's opened the door for some Nationwide and Truck Series regulars to be in championship contention this year instead of fighting just to maintain a spot in the top 10.
"I think it's turned out good just because it gave the whole Nationwide series kind of its own identity," said Reed Sorenson, the current Nationwide points leader with one win and seven top-five efforts. "The Cup guys are still able to come down and run with us, so I think the fans are still able to enjoy seeing those guys come race. The Cup guys also have respect for us in that they know we're running for points, so I think NASCAR made the right call."
Having the new rule in place could not have come at a better time for a driver like Truck Series rookie Cole Whitt. With his owner Red Bull announcing it is pulling out of NASCAR at the end of the season, 2011 is an audition of sorts for Whitt, who was second in the Truck standings heading into Thursday's race at Kentucky Speedway.
"When the Cup guys come and run against us, they're in millions of dollars teams where we're just a normal truck team trying to make it happen on kind of a budget," Whitt said. "This gives our team a chance to run for a championship, which makes it more exciting for us."
Edwards recalls birth of the backflip
Saturday's Quaker State 400 may be the inaugural Cup event at Kentucky Speedway, but in 2003, the Sparta tri-oval played host to another key launch that is now ingrained in NASCAR.
It is pretty much impossible to imagine a Carl Edwards post-race celebration without his signature backflip. However, it wasn't until his Truck Series win at Kentucky in 2003 that his famed acrobatic victory leap first saw the light of day.
"It was my first NASCAR win and that was huge," Edwards said on Thursday. "So that was really neat, that changed a lot. Seems like a long time ago in 2003."
Edwards has had much practice honing that backflip since, racking up 57 more NASCAR wins, including 19 in the Cup ranks.
Though Edwards had enjoyed his share of strong outings in Kentucky, including a win in the 2005 Nationwide Series race, he has developed a bit of a love-hate relationship with the track. Edwards finished 20th or worst in four straight Kentucky Nationwide races before running second to Joey Logano last season.
"It's been a really good track for me but I've struggled here too," Edwards said. "I've had some really bad races here. But that's an example that this place is really hard. It's a difficult race track to drive."
Ethanol making successful debut
This is the first year all three of NASCAR's national series are running the Sunoco Green E-15 fuel, and the first time ethanol will be used at Kentucky Speedway.
NASCAR has developed a marketing partnership with a consortium called Growth Energy to promote the use of corn-based American ethanol, a renewable fuel with lower greenhouse emissions than unleaded gas.
As an official partner of NASCAR, the National Corn Growers Association is trying to spread the message to NASCAR fans around the country about the role American farmers play in the development of ethanol.