Thursday, June 28, 2012

5 Questions Before: Quaker State 400

Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Temperatures are expected to reach triple digits this weekend in Kentucky but that won’t stop race fans from heading to Sparta for the second annual Quaker State 400 weekend, at least those who aren’t still sore from last summer’s debacle.

Here are a few questions on my mind as we head into this triple-header weekend.

1. Will fans actually be able to get to the race, or will they be content listening to the action play out on their car radios while they wait in traffic? 2011 was a public relations nightmare for Kentucky Speedway. Traffic was backed up for miles with little movement for hours. Many fans dealt with overheating engine issues and some even ran out of gas while they waited in the hot summer sun. Although many made it to the stands, thousands were turned away at the gates because of inadequate parking. In the year since, Kentucky Speedway has put millions of dollars into renovating the area to add additional parking, but will that be enough and more importantly, are fans willing to give the track a second chance?  And will Bruton Smith be on hand to direct traffic if it all falls apart?

2. How many times will Matt Kenseth be asked his plans for 2013 and beyond? There’s little doubt that Matt Kenseth parted ways with Roush Fenway without a plan for 2013, but so far the 2003 Champion is keeping quiet about where he intends to move for the next phase of his career. Roush announced Tuesday that the current points leader would part ways with the team at season’s end and that defending Nationwide Series Champion, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. would fill the void. Most sources put Kenseth at Joe Gibbs Racing for 2013 either taking over the No. 20 or driving a fourth car, but there are a few other options that could unfold in the coming weeks. Luckily for Kurt Busch, the news is elsewhere this week.

3. Speaking of Kurt Busch, was his near win at Sonoma last weekend just a fluke? Driving a car that wasn’t put together until midnight on Monday before the race, Busch battled eventual race winner Clint Bowyer hard in the closing laps before breaking something in the rear of the car. After the race an emotional Busch praised his team for their hard work getting the car ready. Busch’s third place finish was his highest of the season and the highest ever on a road course for Phoenix Racing. Has Busch learned anything the past few weeks? One things for certain, he’s got fire in his belly and he’s gonna give it his best. Let’s just hope he remembers to mind his P’s and Q’s in the media center.

4. Will the racing be competitive or will we see more follow the leader at Kentucky Speedway? Those who made it into the stands last year expected to see an exciting race with a close margin of victory. They expected to see lots of passing during the green flag runs. They expected the event to live up to the hype. Instead the 400-mile race was mostly uneventful as Kyle Busch led 125 laps en route to his third victory of the season.

5. Paging Kevin Harvick Okay, so that’s not really a question. 16 races into the season and Kevin Harvick hasn’t even made a blip on the radar. This time last season he had already racked up three of his four victories, but 2011 hasn’t been so kind. The man nicknamed “The Closer” has only three top-five finishes. He’s not the only driver struggling though, but maybe this weekend Harvick can finally break out and earn his first checkered flag of the season. That would be the perfect gift for “Baby Otis” who will be making his debut in the coming weeks.

Strap in tight and remember to hydrate. It’s going to be a scorcher.

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