NASCAR: Kentucky possible gateway to Chase
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will host just their fourth race at Kentucky Speedway Saturday night.
In the previous three races, the Quaker State 400 -- presented by Advance Auto Parts -- has produced three different race winners and three different pole sitters (2011 pole sitter set by rule book for inclement weather).
That leads a trend that Saturday night's event could be an open-gate for any team or driver to race their way into the 2014 Chase.
In a sense, it's hard to believe that not one team or driver for that matter has stood out and called Kentucky Speedway their own. Before being placed on the NSCS schedule in 2011, the track was the No. 1 facility utilized by teams to test for their intermediate program.
Hendrick Motorsports with drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne are considered pre-race-favorites, considering the amount of success that HMS has achieved over the past month, including five consecutive wins with three different drivers. Last week, their dominance in Victory Lane was stopped by Roush Fenway Racing's Carl Edwards at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway, but Hendrick Motorsports still took two of the top-three spots and put all four entries inside the top seven.
Still, there are plenty in the field that feel that they too can win at the 1.5-mile speedway. Joey Logano is searching for his third win of the season, at a track where he maneuvered three NASCAR Nationwide Series. Kyle Busch is also in a similar boat, with two wins in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, including last night's UNOH 225, but how about someone like Clint Bowyer? He nearly won last year's race and enters the 17th race of the year winless.
"I'm really looking forward to getting back here -- we ran second here last race. More importantly, hungry for a win," said Bowyer. "This is a fun race track. It is a challenge to get through those bumps in the corners, but that's an opportunity. You have to be able to pounce on opportunities right now in the situation we're in, but I do believe we're finally poised for a win."
Johnson Visits Oval Office
Reining NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson made a pit stop Wednesday at the White House in Washington, D.C. to meet with President Barack Obama to be honored for his championship achievements last season.
Johnson received many accolades from the Commander-in-Chief, even referring to him as the "Michael Jordan" of NASCAR. Furthermore, President Obama also noted that Johnson's role model presence expands outside the racing circle, saying, "These days we've got a lot of kids all across the country who want to be like Jimmie, and why shouldn't they?"
For Johnson, who's visited the White House more than a half a dozen times, reflected on his most recent experience, which was seemingly more meaningful than others, as he was joined by team owner Rick Hendrick, crew chief Chad Knaus and members of his No. 48 team.
"Of course it was a huge honor for myself and the team," Johnson said. "The fact that I was able to be there with my teammates to experience the tour and those few minutes that we had with the President, was great. Honestly, we've moved on from the 2013 season and are heavy into the 2014 season, so it was a nice opportunity to reflect back and to bring back those memories and feelings of accomplishment and to share that with my crew guys. Mr. Hendrick was there, of course, and Chad (Knaus, crew chief) for the first time after all these years. It was just an awesome experience. To look out into the audience and see my daughter there and my wife, it was just a very cool experience."
But, what about that moment that stood out to Johnson as he listened to the President?
"It was a surreal moment standing on stage next to him and hearing him reference or compare me to Michael Jordan, with the six championships I assume is where he was going with that, and hear our foundation (Jimmie Johnson Foundation) mentioned and all the hard work that we've put in there," said Johnson. "I didn't know what his speech would be. But to hear him go through and articulate with great detail, the things that we've accomplished as a team on and off the track and what the foundation has done, I sat there with goose bumps, head to toe just hearing all that stuff. It was pretty neat."
Gaughan's First Nationwide Win (Finally) Sinking In
It never crossed Brendan Gaughan's mind if he would win again in NASCAR, but after a 10-year drought, the mind began to wander. All that wondering, thinking and stressing though (finally) came to an end nearly a week ago in Road America (Wisc.), when Gaughan recorded his first career NASCAR Nationwide Series win in dramatic fashion in the Gardner Denver 200.
Gaughan, considered one of the liveliest and fan-favorite drivers in the sport is still riding cloud nine entering Friday night's John R. Elliott HERO Campaign 300 presented by Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over.
"It's been a long time since I've got a win and it's been documented greatly by many, many places, it's one of those things where I always said when I got back to Victory Lane, I understood the difference between when I was 28 years old and when I'm 38 years old, but I appreciate it very much, I appreciate all the words and all the support that fans, friends, people you didn't know were friends, people that hated you," Gaughan said. "All the kind words have been really overwhelming, I've taken it all in and appreciate every bit of it. I think the best congratulations I got (though) was from my father (Michael) who reminded me that even a blind squirrel finds a nut some days."
While some were surprised by Gaughan's triumph on a road course, the obvious improvement in ECR power, as well as new chassis' in recent NASCAR Nationwide Series races has bode well for the organization and leaves the Welcome, North Carolina organization on a hot streak, winning the last two races at Michigan International Speedway and Road America respectively.
"We've been talking about it for a few weeks now," Gaughan said. "We've rolled out a brand new generation of our chassis and bodies, I have the race car that raced Charlotte, which is a kind-of hybrid of our new technology, but it was very good. We expect great things when we come to a place like this and now we're starting to prove it, we're on a two game winning streak here with Paul Menard at Michigan and myself at Road America, so we would love to keep that steak alive.
"This statistically I think is one of my best tracks in NASCAR, so I'm coming in here with very, very high expectations. Our race team is starting to feel good. The goal is to come in here and be like I always am. Be the same guy, drive the hell out of the racecar, give Shane Wilson (crew chief) the feedback, try to make it better and have the confidence in the equipment that I've always have, but now I have a little more confidence in myself. I would love to get it done on an oval again."