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NASCAR driver Keselowski talks about past successes, new challenges at Kentucky Speedway

By Mark Hansel
Special to KyForward

The Kentucky Speedway NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Victory Tour featured a driver whose success at the Sparta racing surface is unrivaled.

Brad Keselowski, the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion has won five races in five years at Kentucky Speedway, including the 2012 and 2014 Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts.

Keselowski has won either a Cup Series or an XFINITY Series race each year starting with his XFINITY Series win July 8, 2011

In five Cup Series starts he has four top 10’s with an average start of fifth and an average finish of ninth.

Kentucky Speedway General Manager Mark Simendinger presented Keselowski with a piece of the racing surface he has had so much success on (Mark Hansel Photo)

Kentucky Speedway General Manager Mark Simendinger presented Keselowski with a piece of the racing surface he has had so much success on (Mark Hansel Photo)

The event, at Horseshoe Cincinnati Casino Tuesday, served as a preview to Kentucky Speedway’s NASCAR tripleheader weekend, which takes place July 7-9.

This year’s Quaker State 400 on July 9, will present a new challenge for Keselowski and the rest of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers.

The Speedway’s well-worn racing surface, popular with many drivers because of its bumps and nuances is being replaced with a new track.

Keselowski said he hates to see the surface he has so much success on be replaced, but he is prepared to adjust.

“Life is about change,” he said. A racetrack is somewhat like a human in that it doesn’t get any younger. I feel like I lost a new friend, but I’ve got a new friend to make.”

Kyle Busch, last year’s Sprint Cup Series champion has also won twice at Kentucky Speedway’s main event and Keselowski hopes the rivalry will continue on the new surface.

“It reminds me a little bit of Bristol in the sense that Kyle and I had won three or four races in a row there,” Keselowski said. “They had some work done to it and neither of us have been able to win since. Hopefully it won’t end up being like that, but when you get a hold of a track you get a lot of confidence and you feel good about it.

You hate to see it change, but that’s part of the challenge of being a race car driver.”

Kentucky Speedway General Manager Mark Simendinger presented Keselowski with a piece of the racing surface he has had so much success on.

Simendinger the increased banking in turns one and two that will present challenges for drivers, but he’s confident the cream will rise to the top.

“We went through this last year when they talked about bringing the lower downforce package and I heard a lot of people say this might bring the whole field together,” Simendinger said. “Once the race started, there’s the #2 car (Keselowski) and there’s the 18 car and I said, “Well so much for bringing everybody together. Knowing those guys the way that I do, I suspect they’ll figure out a way to get to the front.”

On June 13 and 14, the NASCAR Organizational Test will take place on Kentucky Speedway’s new surface with approximately 12 teams participating. Drivers expected to test include Kevin Harvick (Stewart-Haas Racing), Joey Logano (Team Penske and Keselowski’s teammate), Kyle Busch (Joe Gibbs Racing), Jamie McMurray (Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates), Greg Biffle (Roush Fenway Racing) and Martin Truex, Jr. (Furniture Row Racing).

Keselowski said Logano’s information will be sent to the teams and track conditions will be simulated, so other drivers can prepare for the race.

Simendinger said Sprint Cup Series drivers that choose to run in the Friday, July 8. XFINITY race will have an opportunity to get some extra laps on the surface.

“It’s probably not a coincidence that Brad and Kyle have both elected to drive in the XFINITY race and Kyle is going to drive in the truck race, too,” Simendinger said. “I suspect that’s probably somewhat sponsor-driven, but he probably also thought, ‘Hey, this is a good year to pull the double.’”

Keselowski said running in the XFINITY race will absolutely give drivers an advantage.

“Any extra time you get to understand the track as it changes, will certainly play out,” Keselowski said.

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Buckle Up in Your Truck 225, on July 7, will actually be the first race on the new surface.

Ben Rhodes, a 19-year-old Louisville native competing in the Truck Series this year for ThorSport Racing, said he is looking forward to the challenges of the new surface.

“It’s going to be a huge challenge from the driver’s side and the set-up side as well,” Rhodes said. “It’s really cool with this being the first race on the new track and at my home track, so I’m going to have a lot of supporters there that will get to see what I do.”

Rhodes has come close to winning a few times this year, including at Kansas where he wrecked attempting to pass on the last lap. He said winning the first race on the new Kentucky Speedway surface would be “the stuff dreams are made of.”

“I want to get the first win on the race track and share it with everybody that follows me,” Rhodes said.

Keselowski received an autographed bat and batting helmet from Cincinnati Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips. Keselowski reciprocated by signing a racing helmet for Phillips, which he will receive when the Reds return from their current road trip.

Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley also proclaimed Tuesday Brad Keselowski day in the city.

Fans can purchase season tickets and camping, July weekend packages or individual race tickets by calling (859) 578-2300, at http://www.kentuckyspeedway.com, or by visiting the Kentucky Speedway ticket office at 1 Speedway Drive in Sparta.

Mark Hansel is managing editor of the NKyTribune. Contact him at mark.hansel@nkytrib.com

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