Mark Story

Who’s up, who’s down after eventful weekend at Kentucky Speedway

Smoke rose over the main grandstand from a vehicle fire in the platinum parking lot at Kentucky Speedway Saturday night.
Smoke rose over the main grandstand from a vehicle fire in the platinum parking lot at Kentucky Speedway Saturday night. AP

Who’s up and who’s down after the sixth Sprint Cup race at Kentucky Speedway:

Checkered flag: Brad Keselowski.

On a night when even “Bad Brad” said he didn’t have the best car, Keselowski nevertheless scored his third Quaker State 400 victory in the six-year history of the race.

Keselowski masterfully nursed his dwindling fuel supply and managed to hold off a charging Carl Edwards on the final lap even as the No. 2 Ford ran out of fuel as it crossed the finish line.

“He played it perfectly,” Edwards said. “He let me get to him, then stood on it.”

Since 2011, Keselowski has been alternating wins in the Sprint Cup and Xfinity Series in Kentucky. In even years, 2012, ’14 and ’16, he takes the Cup race. In the odd years, 2011, ’13 and ’15, he wins in Xfinity.

Black flag: Kyle Busch.

Yes, Busch won Friday night’s Xfinity race, making a breathtaking move to charge past Austin Dillon on the outside during a green-white-checkered finish.

The victory gives Busch two wins at Kentucky Speedway in each of NASCAR’s national touring series — Sprint Cup, Xfinity, Camping World Trucks — plus an ARCA win.

However, Busch’s 12th place finish in the Quaker State 400 was the first time he’s ever finished outside the Top 10 in a Cup race at Kentucky.

Meanwhile, his great Kentucky rival, Keselowski, has now moved back ahead in Cup victories here with his third.

It’s Sprint Cup victories that matter most of all. So, for now, Keselowski again has a narrow edge on Busch in the battle to be “King of Sparta.”

Checkered flag: Matt Kenseth. Kenseth ran eighth, the worst finish in his Quaker State 400 history. Yet with Busch finishing 12th and Jimmie Johnson 32nd, Kenseth is now the only driver who has run in the top 10 in all six Kentucky Sprint Cup races.

Black flag: Hendrick Motorsports. The New York Yankees of NASCAR had a lackluster showing. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the top HMS finisher in 13th, with Kasey Kahne 14th, Chase Elliott 31st and Johnson 32nd.

Checkered flag: The Kentucky Speedway repave.

Granted, the 2016 Quaker State 400 on the newly-repaved racing surface was not as exciting as the final Sprint Cup race on the old, bumpy track was last year.

However, the first race weekend at many other tracks that have undertaken repaves have been all-out snooze fests.

That was not the case this year at Kentucky.

Thursday night’s trucks race had a surprising amount of side-by-side racing. Friday’s Xfinity finish between Kyle Busch and Austin Dillon was a humdinger. The end of Saturday’s Sprint Cup race with Keselowski trying not to run out of petrol and simultaneously hold off Edwards was exciting.

“We’ve known as an industry that the repaves are very, very difficult historically,” said Scott Miller, NASCAR Senior Vice-President of Competition. “But, really, the action in all three of the events this weekend, I thought for a repave, it turned out really well.”

Black flag: The usual Sparta weirdness.

As we saw again Saturday night, strange things happen at Kentucky Speedway.

Around 9:15 p.m., a white Chevrolet pickup truck in the Pavilion parking lot near the west side of the Speedway caught on fire during the Sprint Cup race. The fire gutted the truck, and a silver Nissan car parked next to it, while also searing a red Ford pickup on the opposite side.

Kentucky Speedway General Manager Mark Simendinger said the fire started in the cab of the white pickup — with a person inside. Simendinger says Speedway responders pulled that person from the vehicle and there were no serious injuries.

“I always tell our people, be prepared, something weird will happen,” Simendinger said. “But we never envisioned this.”

Since Cup racing came to Kentucky Speedway, there has been 1.) a car-maggedon traffic jam (2011); 2.) withering heat featuring a bonus, scary wind storm (2012); 3.) torrential rain that postponed the Cup race for a day (2013); 4.) and yet more heavy rain that made drying an aging track a Herculean challenge (2015).

(Other than a smallish crowd, 2014 eluded the weirdness).

What we hadn’t had before during Kentucky Speedway’s Sprint Cup week was 5.) a big fire.

The one we had Saturday night in a parking lot packed with cars could have done a whole lot more damage than it did. Simendinger praised the Kentucky Speedway responders for doing “a good job” in preventing that.

Nevertheless, we saw again why a friend of mine refers to Kentucky Speedway as “The Bermuda Tri-oval.”

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