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Thinkin’ Out Loud – Quaker State 400 – Kentucky Speedway
Brad Keselowski was perhaps a little too excited after his win in Kentucky. He cut his hand on a champagne bottle in Victory Lane.

Thinkin’ Out Loud – Quaker State 400 – Kentucky Speedway

Key Moment – With 25 laps to go, Joey Logano’s car lost a cylinder in his engine. Logano was the only car on the track that had

Once Joey Logano's No. 22 Ford dropped a cylinder, Saturday night's race at Kentucky was teammate Brad Keselowski's to lose. Credit: CIA

Once Joey Logano’s No. 22 Ford dropped a cylinder, Saturday night’s race at Kentucky was teammate Brad Keselowski’s to lose. Credit: CIA

shown any potential to challenge Brad Keselowski for the win. Once his car no longer had all its ponies, the only worry left for the eventual winner was whether or not his power plant would suffer the same fate.

In a Nutshell – Brad Keselowski started the race on the pole. He led at the drop of the green and, outside of a handful of laps that he didn’t lead when he wasn’t the first car off of pit road after caution flag pit stops, he ran away with the event. In a typical night race, on an intermediate race track, 95% of the passing took place within five laps of restarts. In the end, the race was Keselowski’s world and everyone else was just trying to get a nut.

Dramatic Moment – Kyle Busch was among several cars who came down pit lane on lap 214 to make a green flag stop. The caution flag flew as the cars were making their pit stops. As a result, Busch cycled around to the be leader after the other cars made their caution flag stops. The sequence of events allowed Busch to lead for 31 laps. He was the only car not from Penske Racing to lead during the event, but he still couldn’t fend off the advances of Keselowski.

What They’ll be Talking About Around the Water Cooler

For those of you who haven’t been paying attention, NASCAR is in trouble. The sanctioning body has signed a big ol’ fat contract with NBC to broadcast their races for years to come. That means the suits in Daytona are going to take home bigger paychecks every race weekend next year. Unfortunately for the sport, those suits don’t own race teams. There were only 42 cars that attempted to make the race. That is the first time since 2001 that 42 cars have started a Cup series race. The 2001 New Hampshire race was rescheduled after 9/11. Between the originally scheduled race and the actual race date the Eel River Racing No. 27 withdrew after having originally been in the field based on owner points. There were still 46 cars entered but the race only featured the 42 cars still active in the series at that point in time. The 1997 Die Hard 500 at Talladega started 42 cars but that was the scheduled total. There were still cars that DNQ. Since that race, the scheduled total of cars has been 43 and this race is the first time, since then, that only 42 cars attempted to make a race. Frontstretch has been bemoaning the lack of race teams and the fact that NASCAR continues to pilfer companies to be ‘official’ sponsors while teams are struggling to find sponsorship. If the sanctioning body doesn’t seriously look at helping new teams break into the sport, it won’t be long before there is no sport to break into.

Along those same lines, it was reported this week that Home Depot is waving the white flag of surrender on their sponsorship in NASCAR after this season. Home Depot was the sole sponsor on Tony Stewart’s No. 20 car for the vast majority of his career at Joe Gibbs Racing. Smoke ran a Subway scheme at Phoenix in 2008. HD also shared the car with Coca-Cola and Subway a handful of times. Once Joey Logano took over the No. 20 they were still the sponsor for all but one race each year from 2009 through 2011. The split scheme came about in 2012 when Dollar General stepped up and HD agreed to give up some of the races. Since then the amount of orange on the car throughout the season has been less and less. Seeing a longtime sponsor decide that the value of Cup sponsorship is not worthwhile, especially on a car that led the series in wins and contended for the title until the final race in 2013, is unsettling.

Brad Keselowski Accidentally Slices Hand with Champagne Bottle During Post Race Celebration at Kentucky Speedway Credit: Getty Images

Brad Keselowski Accidentally Slices Hand with Champagne Bottle During Post Race Celebration at Kentucky Speedway. Credit: Getty Images

Keselowski apparently needs to stick with large beer cans for his post race victory celebrations. In an inexplicable event, he apparently was having difficulty removing the cork from the bottle for the ceremonial waste of bubbly. Keselowski attempted to hit the cork on the stand that holds the trophy in Victory Lane. The bottle shattered on the third or fourth attempt and one of the resultant shards of glass lacertated his hand. He was rushed to the infield care center and received four stitches to close the gash.

Kentucky Speedway is supposedly in the heart of racing country, and apparently that heart needs a pacemaker. Whether it is still a hangover from the parking debacle of the first Cup race, a statement about the product on the track or just a sign of the economic times, the stands at Kentucky Speedway appeared to be sparsely filled in the few shots shown on TV. The track website states the capacity of the grandstands is 107,000 fans. A purely unprofessional estimate would be that there were 60,000 or fewer fans in the seats. For a track hosting its fourth race, at a venue that only sports one Cup race per season, it is an embarrassment that the fans of the region don’t support the event with more vigor.

President Obama honored Jimmie Johnson at the White House, along with his team, to celebrate their 2013 Cup championship. He called Johnson the Michael Jordan of NASCAR. If that is the case then Richard Petty must be the Bill Russell of NASCAR. Jeff Gordon might be the Steve Kerr of NASCAR, while Tony Stewart could be the Dennis Rodman.

For those people who thought “NASCAR Now” on ESPN had disappeared long ago, the news this week might have been a surprise that the show still existed. It was announced that the show, which had been relegated to the insomniac hours in the middle of the early morning, will not return from its time off for the coverage of the World Cup. The network claims they are still going to aggressively cover the sport through the end of the season, when their contract to broadcast races expires.

The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune

Jamie McMurray was moving to the front after the midway point of the race when Alex Bowman spun in front of him out of turn two. McMurray was able to get his car checked up and miss the car of Bowman. As the smoke cleared from in front of McMurray’s car he felt like he’d dodged a bullet, but as he picked up the throttle to head back around to the start/finish line, Aric Almirola swerved to miss Bowman on the high side. Sadly, McMurray was there, and the resulting contact killed both of their cars for the rest of the night.

Denny Hamlin started the race in fourth position, but that was the extent of his good fortune on Saturday night. Hamlin was running in the third position on lap 29, attempting to make the high line work, when his right front tire suffered a rapid loss of air pressure. The contact with the wall had Hamlin visibly shaken, but the driver was able to walk out of the infield care center. Hamlin finished last in the event but, since there were only 42 cars entered he was credited with two points instead of one.

In the “add insult to injury” category, Aric Almirola severely damaged his car when he hit Jamie McMurray. After his team made patchwork repairs to get him back on the track to try and salvage the best finish he could, he proceeded to cut a right front tire and pound the wall to bring out the final caution of the race. Almirola ended up 39th after running in the top 10 before his incident with McMurray.

The “Seven Come for Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune

Joey Logano had a strong car but lost a cylinder which prevented him from contending for the win. While that would land most drivers in the Hindenburg category, Logano’s engine stayed together and he was able to score a top-10 finish on seven cylinders.

Ryan Newman scored his first top-5 finish this season in the form of a third at Kentucky. Credit: CIA

Ryan Newman scored his first top-5 finish this season in the form of a third at Kentucky. Credit: CIA

Similar to Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman was on pit road when the caution flew on lap 215. He and his No. 31 team were able to complete their pit stop and get out before the leader came by to put them a lap down. As a result he was able to restart the race second and eventually come home in the third spot. After a great run all night long, that bit of fine fortune allowed Newman to score the first top 5 of the season by an RCR driver not named Paul Menard.

Matt Kenseth had some fine fortune during the race when he was able to overcome a flat tire on lap 121 using pit strategy and cautions to get back on the lead lap and claw his way to a top-5 finish. His fortune better amplified his fortune from earlier in the weekend when it was announced that Kenseth’s contract with Joe Gibbs Racing had been extended in conjunction with Dollar General increasing their involvement and extending their agreement with JGR.

Worth Noting

Brad Keselowski’s win is his 12th career victory in 178 Cup series starts. Keselowski is alone in 56th on the all-time wins list, one behind Dick Rathman and Tim Richmond. His triumph is his first ever win from the pole.

The victory is Keselowski’s second win at Kentucky in four career starts. It is also his second win of the season.

Kyle Busch’s runner-up finish is his second career top 2 at Kentucky Speedway. The second place finish is Busch’s second top 2 of 2014

Ryan Newman’s third place effort was his first top 3 of the season and his first at Kentucky.

Austin Dillon came home in 16th to score Rookie of the Race honors.

Michael Annett came home in 18th for his second best finish of the season.

On track passes for the lead – 4

Before you get too excited about four on-track passes for the lead realize that all four of them were Brad Keselowski taking the lead away from other drivers.

What’s the Points

Points don’t matter as much as wins. The 10 race winners are listed below along with the six drivers who would make the Chase on points at this juncture of the season.

Winners:
Daytona and Pocono – Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Phoenix and Darlington – Kevin Harvick
Las Vegas and Kentucky – Brad Keselowski
Bristol and Sonoma – Carl Edwards
California – Kyle Busch
Martinsville – Kurt Busch
Texas and Richmond – Joey Logano
Talladega – Denny Hamlin
Kansas – Jeff Gordon
Charlotte, Dover and Michigan – Jimmie Johnson

Drivers making the Chase on points who do not have wins:
5) Matt Kenseth
8) Ryan Newman
11) Paul Menard
12) Kyle Larson
13) Greg Biffle
14) Clint Bowyer

Overall rating (On a scale of 1-6, where 1 is a stinker and six is the finest of brews and a instant classic.)

We’ve gone down this road before and it never ends well. A night race or evening race or whatever you want to call the event at Kentucky Speedway is a recipe for boredom, and the product did not hesitate to fulfill the promise. Four on-track passes for the lead and not many other passes outside of the five laps after restarts is unacceptable, especially on a track with a racing surface that is going to be repaved soon and is loaded with character. Last year, the race was postponed by rain and the racing was fantastic during the daytime. The fact that Brad Keselowski was absolutely dominant limited the potential of the race anyway, but the inability to pass anywhere just lumped it into the full on stinker category. As a result, we give it one lukewarm Hudepohl. If you’ve never heard of it, Google it.

What’s Next

17 races are in the books so we’re one race shy of the halfway point of the season. As always, the symbolic midway point of the season, even if it isn’t exactly the midway point of the season, is Daytona. While it is now called the Coke Zero 400 powered by Coca-Cola, old schoolers will still call it the Firecracker 400. The penultimate race in the TNT Summer Series will be shown at 7:30 PM Saturday, July 5th. It will also be available on MRN at the same time.

About Mike Neff

Mike Neff
What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Sprint Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Thursday with Tech Talk. Mike works as track announcer for Millbridge Speedway and East Lincoln Speedway, local bullrings based outside of Charlotte, and pops up everywhere from Athlon Sports to SIRIUS XM Radio.

28 comments

  1. Thank goodness for DVR capability. I program for these mile and a half races and go do something else worthwhile instead of wasting my time watching these snoozers. I make sure the race will be starting on time and add extended time. Usually if I’m near the TV about the time the race is to end I turn it on and watch the last 25 laps or so. If anything worth seeing happened earlier I go back and zip through the race. Generally only takes about 10 minutes. Although I will admit I missed the passion displayed on pit road before the start of last weeks race. The infamous kiss. Still don’t know who did it.

  2. You are very right about the sponsorships. I have looked at the list of “Official So-And-So of NASCAR” and it is ridiculous. I keep expecting “Official Underwear of NASCAR” to show up.

    Unfortunately, Brian France is more concerned about the money that he and his family can make than helping out the sport that his grandfather and father worked so hard to build. If they would send these sponsors to the teams and not keep them, then we would have many more cars out there than the 42 that were there last weekend. There are a lot of teams that have quit over the last few years over sponsorship issues. How many of those might still be in the sport if they had been able to get one of the sponsors NASCAR stole? Also, how many new teams might be in the sport after this?

    Also, you add in the fact that they are manipulating races by the caution flag usage. They have already done everything that they can do to alienate the old fans and believe that they can just get by with younger fans. They forget that these younger fans will not (in most cases) be with them over the long run. They will find something else tomorrow to interest them and will be gone.

    I hate to say it, but I believe that we are looking at the final years of NASCAR, unless something drastic is done to the sport. I don’t know just how many years we may have, but it may not be a lot.

    • Any company that has earnings of 600-650 million dollars isn’t going anywhere.And as long as the TV money keeps coming earnings aren’t endangered. Nor are the four/five mega teams in any difficulty. But as the automotive world, like it or not goes further “green” the manufacturers will inevitably want motorsport to go that way as well. What will Nascar do to comply? We shall see I guess.

      • But how long will the tv money keep coming as rating keep falling. Eventually there will be a point where that tv money will evaporate. IMO this is NASCAR taking a short-run view of the sport instead of having a long term view.

        • i suppose thats the 64k question.One that I’m certainly not able to answer.What other options are out there? TV has to show something 24/7/365, so until something can draw more once a week I suppose Nascars safe. BTW: they already have more than they could possibly spend in this lifetime so where is the incentive?

  3. Whether we like it or not, these races are going to have to be shorter. Not all, but most.

  4. I think NASCAR knew what they were thinking when they wouldn’t bring a Cup race to Kentucky despite the previous owners lawsuit, but Bruton bought the track and moved an Atlanta race there anyway. Kentucky is still dealing with the fallout over its 2011 traffic apocalypse and hasn’t recovered since. I still don’t know how SMI could have screwed that up. I went to New Hampshire last year another track in the middle of nowhere and they moved traffic just fine. They should move this race to another time of year when they can race during the day without risking 100 degree oven weather.

  5. A typical 1 1/2 mile race…frantic racing for 5 laps after a start/restart, then terminal boredom…whoever is out front stays there. I’m so tired of the Nascar hacks
    telling fans how each cookie cutter has it’s own ‘unique’ characteristics. That may be so, but every race on those tracks plays out the same…bumps of not. I guess it’s too complicated for them to understand it doesn’t matter how different the setup is, as long as you have a parade rather than a race.

  6. It has gotten so these races at 1.5 mile tracks (especially those run at night) are about as watchable as a Nationwide race that is companion to a Cup event.
    While this one didn’t meet the gold standard for unwatchable races (that is saved for the April 2012 Texas Cup race and most of the Brickyard races), it wasn’t far behind.
    The production quality of the TNT races so far should ban it from any consideration for future contracts. Let’s hope that ESPN doesn’t mail it in as much as TNT (not holding my breath on it though).

  7. Some day someone will write a book on this period of nascar. If David Poole were still around he probably would have done it.

    Nascar will have to make some radical changes that they really don’t want to make to turn the ship around. As long as they continue to manipulate the outcome of races with yellow flags people will turn away. Last year they tried throwing the book at the 20 team over NOTHING. Fans see this. It’s not good.

    Unfortunately nascar fans are like Cowboys fans in that we have to hope the owner changes or……..passes away. Just the way it is.

  8. “it is an embarrassment that the fans of the region don’t support the event with more vigor” Really. Support means giving Nascar your money. Nobody is obligated to do that. Maybe Nascar should provide a product that people are willing to pay to see. Or just take the TV money and be happy, either way would be fine with me.

  9. Yeah this was a boring race, but you can blame this one on Paul Wolfe. Sometimes one team just flat-out kicks everybody’s else’s a$$. Since I’m a BadBrad fan, and since he’s let a few wins slip away since his win at Vegas in March, I’m sure not going to complain.

    Sponsors are realizing they aren’t getting the bang for the buck for sponsoring race teams. That’s just about the worse thing that can happen to the sport. I’m not optomistic about new sponsors coming into the sport, either. If more sponsors begin to leave, Nascar is in big trouble.

    Is it PC to ask the riddle “How many P_____s does it take to open a bottle of Champaign?”

  10. A lot of comments complain about the boring races and blame the race track. Michigan and Pocono are crucified. Michigan was the track where Dale Jarrett got his first win beating Davey Allison by inches and that was almost as good as the 1992 spring race at Richmond between Bill Elliott and Alan Kulwicki. Pocono was where Jeremy Mayfield rattled Earnhardt’s cage and did the bump and run in the last corner of the last lap. To me, there are two main things different. The cars and the drivers. Back then they had real race cars and not the Frankenstein monsters they have to drive now. And some of the current drivers have shown a tendency to not want to race with other drivers for positions. Maybe it’s time to stop blaming the tracks and blame what is being put on the tracks for our “enjoyment.”

  11. I agree that IMO it was a boring race. As long as NASCAR keeps getting the money from the TV contracts & whatever other sponsorships, they don’t really care about the actual racing or whether or not any “new” teams can compete. I also think they don’t really care if there are any fans in the seats or watching on TV – it seems totally irrelevant to them.

    Based on what I see on TV for Kentucky, I would certainly not make it a must see track.

    Adam Alexander is the worst PXP person for NASCAR. I really enjoy Kyle Petty in the booth which is the only reason I bother with the sound being up for TNT.

  12. Adam Alexander almost sounded like he didn’t know what to do with two Ford wins in a row. He just kept saying, “4 Hendrick cars in the top 10″ over and over like a skipping record. Maybe to will one of them to magically jump up the running order and replace Keselowski in victory lane? He’s a former Hendrick driver, if that makes you feel any better, Adam. Sheesh.

  13. The race was impossible to watch for any length. TNT has chosen to broadcast even more
    commercials than it’s predecessor. My cipherin’ from the stats show a 2.2 to 1 ratio of racing minutes
    to commercials. This is down from approximately 3 to 1 from early in the season. Thank the Lord
    for those two baseball Saturday double headers.

  14. surprise, surprise….what we have said for years they’re finally acknowledging?! wow….. i mean, when drivers like earnhardt and gordon don’t have full-time sponsorship, that should have been the wake up call. but of course the heads in daytona beach are stuck so deeply in the sand that they are oblivious to what is actually going on in the sport, or the world in general.

    i did my typical watch a bit and then change channels.

    however, with the flintstone tires, what was with the front right tire problems? hope hamlin is ok. his back sure has taken some rough hits.

    ok…kudos time….to ryan newman for top 5 finish. and princess for top 25 finish.

    onto daytona……heat, humidity and plates.

  15. Glad I went to the World of Outlaws race where the were 3 passes for the lead by 3 different drivers in 40 laps.

  16. I guess perspective is everything. I do not deny that Saturday’s race was boring. However, and I am not putting any spin on this, there were positives. Too, I am one of those fans who is a fan of the manufacturer, and the manufacturer I am a fan of, is Ford. So, the positives are that A Ford not only won, it dominated! And, more important, a Hendrick hack didn’t win, nor did any of them even lead a lap! Saying that, despite the race being a bore, I still rate it four ice-cold cans of Rickard’s Red.

    • I thought I was the last of the manufacturer first fans. I too am a Ford guy so I loved this race. It was one exploding Toyota away from being perfect.

  17. I echo JohnQ’s sentiments with regards to the current state of NASCAR. Almost any indicator that you could choose would show a downward trend so thank you for sparing us the positive PR spin. To do otherwise is to insult our intelligence.

    The race gets 1 can from me too. I understand that sometimes one team will hit the set up and dominate and that is part of the sport so I can accept it. However, it doesn’t change the fact that it makes for a boring race. At least all of the cautions were legitimate this week. They were pretty well spaced out too so NASCAR lucked out and didn’t have to throw fake ones. So that’s a positive.

    What’s the odds that TNT can make it one race before their final broadcast without that annoying audio,,,,without that annoying audio prob….annoying audio problem? Still, much more enjoyable than listening to the Waltrips on FOX. At least the audio problem on TNT only lasts 5 minutes, the problem on FOX lasts the entire race.

    On to Daytona I guess.

  18. Thank you for acknowledging that NASCAR is in trouble. The constant denial of everything from the cup drivers destruction of the lower series to the France family’s greed over quality credo is frustrating. Looking at how empty the stands were I can’t help but wonder what it will take for the France family to finally see that the fans are moving from unhappy to gone. Or, do they even care?

  19. It is sad what King Brian and his minions have done to this once great sport. They are getting their revenue dollars and don’t give a damn about the puppets who are supposed to make HIS show happen. It truly is a sad tale, but until the France family is gone from their own company (not going to happen) or a sane relative with good business sense crawls out of his submarine after years of living under the Atlantic ocean, it will continue it’s decline. Dollars in BZF and other family members do not equate to quality. As for Brad K. good win, Joey more than likely didn’t have enough for Brad but he was close. Logano’s cars have been very unreliable and he has too many Dnf’s. This I believe is the second time on closing laps running up front he dropped a cylinder. The 22 engineering team better step it up. Not a way to win a Championship.