Mark Story

Mark Story: For Keselowski, what makes Kentucky Speedway hard also makes it fun

Brad Keselowski ejected spent shells during a promotional clay pigeon shooting event Wednesday at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta.
Brad Keselowski ejected spent shells during a promotional clay pigeon shooting event Wednesday at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta.

SPARTA — Kentucky Speedway is not easy.

As reigning Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski describes it, driving a race car over the famously bumpy track surface at the Speedway is a teeth-rattling experience all the way around the mile-and-a-half oval.

"It's bumpy everywhere," Keselowski said of Kentucky Speedway. "Some tracks, it's just one spot. Here, it is everywhere."

Last June, when NASCAR's top three touring series all ran at Kentucky Speedway, it was hotter than high-noon in the Mohave all week.

"I think it was over 100 degrees last year," said Keselowski, correctly. "Kentucky is certainly one of the hottest weekends of the year for us."

Yet for Keselowski, what makes Kentucky challenging is also what makes it fun. "This place has been one of my best racetracks," Keselowski said. "It's a place I really like."

The 2012 Quaker State 400 champion was back in the Bluegrass State Wednesday to promote the 2013 return of the Sprint Cup Series to Sparta.

After shooting some clay pigeons as part of a public relations outing for the Speedway, Keselowski made some news. He announced that, for the second straight year, he will go for "the triple" at Kentucky Speedway. That means he will run in the Camping World Truck Series in Sparta on Thursday (June 27), the Nationwide Series on Friday (June 28) and then defend his title in the Quaker State 400 Saturday night (June 29).

A season ago, Keselowski's attempt at the "Kentucky triple" yielded a second-place finish in the truck race, a seventh in the Nationwide event and victory in the Cup Series.

"I think if you asked most of the drivers, they would all say that (the conditions) make Kentucky one of the hardest places, if not the hardest, to go for 'the triple,'" Keselowski said. "If you know anything about me, you know I'm the kind of guy who likes the biggest challenges."

Interestingly, the 2011 Quaker State 400 victor was Kyle Busch — who also tried the triple at Kentucky that year. Busch finished first in trucks, third in Nationwide and first in the Quaker State 400.

Given that the first two winners in the Cup Series at Kentucky Speedway each 'shot a trey,' it's a wonder the entire Sprint Cup garage hasn't tried to sign up for triple duty this year in Kentucky.

Mark Simendinger, the Kentucky Speedway General Manager, is hopeful that Busch will join Keselowski in running all three races in Sparta this June. "That would be pretty cool to get them both doing it," Simendinger said.

A year ago, Keselowski's Cup victory in the commonwealth helped launch a championship season for the 29-year-old, Rochester Hills, Mich., product. Driving for the venerable car owner Roger Penske, Keselowski won five Cup races, including two in The Chase for the Sprint Cup. He held off Clint Bowyer and Jimmie Johnson to claim the Cup championship, his first.

Being the champ sent Keselowski to the White House to chat with President Obama and to the Ed Sullivan Theater for repartee with David Letterman. "It's been pretty good. Yeah. I'm not complaining," Keselowski said of life as the Sprint Cup champion.

This season's title defense has been challenging for Keselowski. He won his championship last season driving a Dodge; this year, Penske Racing switched to Ford.

Keselowski has yet to win this season and sits 10th in the points. That is the last place guaranteed a spot in The Chase.

Had his team not lost a combined 31 points because of two different penalties — one for what NASCAR said was an illegal rear suspension at Texas and another after the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford was too low in post-race inspection at Dover — Keselowski would be fourth in the points.

"I don't have to make up points," Keselowski said of the penalty points he's lost. "I'm in the top 10. That's where my head is at. ... I'm already in The Chase as it stands today."

Still, his position would be far more secure with some race wins. A guy who already has a Cup victory and a Nationwide Series win (2011) at Kentucky Speedway knows Sparta will shape up as a prime opportunity for him to achieve that.

That could lead Keselowski to another thing he really likes about Kentucky Speedway — the trophy they give to the Quaker State 400 winner.

"It has a horse (on it). It's one of my favorite trophies," Keselowski said. "I'd like to have another one."


When: June 29, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Kentucky Speedway, Sparta