Until Saturday’s Quaker State 400 presented by Walmart, Marty Brennaman had not attended a NASCAR race in 51 years.
“Somebody said ‘Have you ever been to a NASCAR race before?’” Brennaman said. ‘I said ‘Yeah, I went to the World 600 in Charlotte in 1967 when I was working in Salisbury, N.C., my first radio job.
“It was so loud, I made a pact with God: ‘If he let me out of there, I would never go back.’ He did, and I haven’t, until today.”
Brennaman, 75, was on hand to serve as the honorary pace-car driver for the eighth Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race in the history of Kentucky Speedway.
He had a family reason for being there. Brennaman’s daughter, Ashley Shirley, 38, is a communications manager for Kentucky Speedway.
“This is the first time he’s ever come down for a race,” Shirley said of her father. “It’s exciting to get to show him what I do on a daily basis. It’s gonna be emotional, I’ll probably shed a tear.”
On baseball matters, Brennaman said he thinks the Reds’ improved play this season after a horrid start reflects genuine improvement that fans can believe in.
The Reds were 3-15 when Bryan Price was fired as manager in April. They are 39-37 since.
“It’s been fun lately,” Brennaman said. “It’s essentially the same people (from the early season) with amazingly different results.”
Brennaman said if it were his call, the Reds would have already removed the interim label from the title of manager Jim Riggleman.
The interim manager has “installed a level of discipline on this team that I have not seen on this team since Davey Johnson managed the club back in the mid-’90s,” Brennaman said.
When someone asked about the future of veteran starting pitcher Homer Bailey in Cincinnati, Brennaman said ,“You’re bringing up a bad subject now. You’ve got to understand some things: I don’t like Homer and he doesn’t like me.”
Brennaman went on to say that he thought Bailey, currently on an injury rehabilitation assignment to Triple-A Louisville, was near a point in his career where the six-year, $105 million contract he signed with Cincinnati in 2014 would no longer assure him a place in the Reds’ plans.
“I don’t believe (the Reds) are at the point now that, because of what they owe (Bailey contractually), they will continue to run him out there,” Brennaman said.
As for the pace-car duties Brennaman was to perform before the green flag dropped on the Quaker State 400, he said he had been told in a prior practice run at Kentucky Speedway that he would be pacing the field at 55 to 60 mph.
On Saturday, he said he was told to hit cruise control when the pace car hit 45 mph.
“I said ‘Forty-five miles per hour?’” Brennaman said. “’I can walk faster than that.’”
Ben Rhodes’ victory in Thursday night’s Craftsman Truck Series Buckle Up in Your Truck 225 was historic. The win by the Louisville native, 21, was the first-ever victory by a Kentuckian in a NASCAR national touring series event at Kentucky Speedway.
Rhodes earned his second career trucks series victory while carrying the name of Louisville police officer Nick Rodman, who was killed in the line of duty in March 2017, on his vehicle.
Kentucky Speedway General Manager Mark Simendinger said the impact of a Kentuckian winning in Sparta is yet to be determined.
“It could be a huge moment,” Simendinger said. “I think the higher Ben rises (in NASCAR), the better for us. To have a driver from Louisville who is accomplishing what he is accomplishing is a huge deal.
“It creates so much local interest and (gets) eyeballs on what we are doing that, otherwise, wouldn’t even know or care. It’s super exciting for us.”
Knaus signs through 2020
Chad Knaus, the crew chief who has helped Jimmie Johnson and the Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 48 car to a record-tying seven Cup Series championships, announced Saturday that he has extended his contract for two more years. Knaus said that puts the duration of his contract even with Johnson’s.
Johnson and Knaus have been paired together in the Cup Series since 2002. The duo has won 83 Cup races but entered Saturday night’s Quaker State 400 mired in a 41-race winless streak.
Knaus acknowledged that trying to help Johnson win his eighth Cup championship and break the tie at seven with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt the elder motivated his decision to stay with the No. 48 team.
“I would be foolish and lying to not admit the fact that to get eight championships and to put Jimmie on a pedestal by himself at the top of the standings with championships is not a huge desire of mine,” Knaus said.
Mark Story: 859-231-3230; Twitter: @markcstory