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Race to the Chase will heat up this weekend at Ky. Speedway
, Courier Sportswriter
Wednesday, June 26, 2013 11:00 AM
CHASE CONTENDERS: Brad Keselowski (above) gets the American Flag after doing a burnout following his win at Kentucky in 2012 — a victory that launched his run toward his first Sprint Cup title. Five-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson (below right) talks with Kyle Busch. Both drivers hope to unseat Keselowski this weekend at Kentucky and in the 2013 championship chase. (Courier file photos by David Campbell)
NASCAR SCHEDULE AT KENTUCKY SPEEDWAY
Thursday, June 27
Noon - Camping World Truck Series UNOH 225 Final Practice
4 p.m. - Speedway Gates 10 and 20 Open/Infield Fan Zone Opens
5 p.m. - Camping World Truck Series UNOH 225 Qualifying
6:30 p.m. - Nationwide Series Feed The Children 300 Practice
7:30 p.m. - Camping World Truck Series UNOH 225 Prerace Celebration
8 p.m. - Camping World Truck Series UNOH 225 (225 miles/150 Laps)
Friday, June 28
10 a.m. - Speedway Gate 15 Opens
11:30 a.m. - Sprint Cup Series Quaker State 400 Practice
1:30 p.m. - Sprint Cup Series Quaker State 400 Final Practice
2 p.m. - Speedway Gates 10 and 20 Open/Infield Fan Zone Opens
3:30 p.m. - Nationwide Series Feed The Children 300 Qualifying (Two Laps)
5:10 p.m. - Sprint Cup Series Quaker State 400 Qualifying (Two Laps)
7 p.m. - Nationwide Series Feed The Children 300 Prerace Celebration
7:30 p.m. - Nationwide Series Feed The Children 300 (300 Miles/200 Laps)
Saturday, June 29
Noon - All Speedway Gates Open/Infield Fan Zone Opens
1:30 p.m. - Sprint Cup Series Garage Opens
5:15 p.m. - Billy Currington Prerace Concert
6:55 p.m. - Sprint Cup Series Quaker State 400 Prerace Celebration
7:30 p.m. - Sprint Cup Series Quaker State 400 (400 Miles/200 Laps)
The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup doesn't start until Sept. 7, but the Race to the Chase begins Saturday in Kentucky.
The Quaker State 400 at the Kentucky Speedway will host the beginning of the stretch run for the 2013 NASCAR season. Jimmie Johnson currently holds a 25-point lead in the standings, but positions five through 10 are separated by just 28 points.
In addition, only 14 points separate the 10th-place driver - and the final Chase points berth - from 14th place.
What that means is that points are becoming very important and every single one will be crucial for those teams still in the hunt.
But for the drivers, it's business as usual. While each realizes that there is an added pressure to do well, they also realize that worrying about every single point can be counter-productive.
"My philosophy remains the same. I am not thinking about points until after the race at Richmond," said Martin Truex Jr., who won last week at Sonoma and currently sits in 10th place. "I stopped focusing on it and landed in victory lane. It's amazing to think that we are in the position we are in. It's been a roller-coaster of a season and if we can keep the bad luck from biting us, I think we will be in good shape."
Five-time Cup champion Johnson sits atop the standings but Carl Edwards, who owns two wins at Kentucky in other series, is right behind, just 25 points back. Clint Bowyer is third, 48 points back.
Kevin Harvick (-63), Matt Kenseth (-92), Greg Biffle (-94), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-94); Kyle Busch (-112), defending Cup and Kentucky champion Brad Keselowski (-119) and Truex (-120) round out the top 10.
But the top 10 is far from locked. Kasey Kahne, who has a win to his credit this season, is just eight points behind Truex for the final spot and Paul Menard, Jeff Gordon, Joey Logano and Tony Stewart are still in the hunt. Like Kahne, Stewart has a win this season and is in the lead for one of two wild card berths.
But even for the drivers who are on the outside looking in, it doesn't pay to worry too much about points. The key for many is to simply keep improving and the points will come.
"It seems like every time we get close to the top 10 and I start going, 'Ooh, we're close to the top 10, we can make it in the top 10,' something happens," Gordon said. "If we live up to our potential and we don't get caught up in some of these silly things that we have been caught up in this year, there's no doubt in my mind we can work our way into the top 10."
Gordon has a special reason to do well this weekend. The four-time series champion has 87 Cup wins to his credit but has never won at Kentucky. It is the only track currently on the schedule where he has not visited victory lane.
Gordon finished 10th in Kentucky's first Cup race in 2011 and moved up to fifth last year. He has never competed at the track in the others series.
"I'd love to win at every track," Gordon said. "That would be a special accomplishment."
Busch won the inaugural Quaker State 400 in 2011 and Keselowski won at Kentucky last year, a victory that jump-started him toward his first Sprint Cup title. Both drivers will pull triple duty this weekend when they compete in all three NASCAR races that will be contested.
Dillon eyeing three-peat
Austin Dillon swept both NASCAR Nationwide Series races at Kentucky as a rookie a year ago and will try to make it three in a row when the green flag drops on the Feed the Children 300 Friday night.
Dillon dominated last year's June event when he led 192 of the 200 laps and beat Kurt Busch to the finish line by more than nine seconds. His win in September was much closer, just 1.059 seconds over Sam Hornish Jr.
Dillon has captured four poles this season but has yet to convert any of them into wins. He is currently fourth in the points standings, 45 back of leader Regan Smith, with three top fives and eight top 10 finishes.
Smith took a dominating 58-point lead over Hornish into last week's race in Sonoma but finished 32nd and saw that advantage slip to 28. Justin Allgaier, who finished second at Sonoma, leap-frogged Hornish in the standings and currently sits in second.
"(Kentucky) is a challenging race track but I've run pretty well there in the past," Allgaier said. "It's nice to carry the momentum of a second-place finish at Road America into the weekend."
Hornish, who is just two points behind Allgaier, has plenty of experience at Kentucky with Indy Racing League victories in 2003 and 2006. He has a second and a sixth-place finish in two Nationwide starts at the 1.5-mile tri-oval.
"Back in my open-wheel days we won a couple of races here, so that makes it easy to like this place," Hornish said. "One of our goals this season has been putting additional emphasis on the intermediate tracks and I think it has shown this season."
Rookie gets taste of trucks
Brett Moffitt, who currently sits second in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East standings, will make his Camping World Truck Series debut during the UNOH 225 on Thursday.
The 20-year-old Moffitt, of Grimes, Iowa, is the beneficiary of the NASCAR ladder system which rewards drivers in lower levels and regional series with rides higher up the system. He made his national series debut in the Nationwide Series last year with a ninth-place finish at Iowa.
In 54 Pro Series East starts, Moffitt has 39 top-10 finishes.
"A mile and a half track will be a new experience for me but I can't wait to get behind the wheel and start learning," Moffitt said.
Moffitt will drive the No. 13 ThorSport Racing Toyota as teammate to series leader Matt Crafton and Johnny Sauter.
James Buescher won both Truck Series races at Kentucky Speedway last year.
Tickets remain for all three days of racing at Kentucky and more information is available at the speedway's website at www.kentuckyspeedway.com.
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