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NASCAR Quaker State 400 thriller caps off exciting week of races at Kentucky Speedway

Kyle Busch pulled away in the final laps to win the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway Saturday night (Photos by Randy Garvey)

Kyle Busch pulled away in the final laps to win the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway Saturday night (Photos by Randy Garvey)


By Mark Hansel
Special to KyForward

It was a perfect day for racing Saturday at Kentucky Speedway and drivers and fans took full advantage.

Kyle Busch captured the NASCAR Quaker State 400 Presented by Advance Auto Parts Sprint Cup race Saturday after trading passes with race leader Joey Logano on lap 249 of 267 before pulling away.

The new aerodynamic rules package unveiled at Kentucky Speedway was designed to put racing back in the hands of the drivers by stripping downforce and Saturday it did just that.

Busch steadily cut into Logano’s lead and reached the back bumper to begin a thrilling four-lap battle on the bumpy 1.5 mile oval before the No.18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota got by the No. 22 Team Penske Ford for good.

The win was the second of the season for Busch and put him in 35th place in the standings and in contention for a spot in the Race for the Chase.

“It’s pretty cool to come here to Kentucky, one of my best places, and to score a win,” Busch said. “To score those wins, that’s what’s going to get us to where we need to be. We led the most laps and we won the race, so that’s all you can score.”

Busch broke his right leg and left foot in a crash at Daytona International Speedway in February, and has missed 11 races, but notched his first victory of the season last month at Sonoma.

He needs to finish in the top 30 in points after 26 races to make the Race for the Chase and is now just 87 points behind Cole Whitt, who currently holds that spot.

Logano, who felt like he had a strong enough car to win, held on for second.

Brad Keselowski also had a strong car for much of the race, but problems on pit road kept him from completing the weekend sweep.

Keselowski took Friday’s NASCAR Kentucky 300 XFINITY race on a late pass of Erik Jones, who was slowed by a lapped car. There was no such late-race magic Saturday and Keselowski finished sixth and was left wondering what might have been.

Gordon runs well in last Sprint Cup race at the Speedway

Jeff Gordon finished seventh in his final NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Kentucky Speedway, failing to become the only driver to score a victory on every track on the current series schedule. Gordon has managed to win on every other track on the circuit, but while he has run well, victory at Kentucky Speedway in the four-year history of the race, has eluded him.

Jeff Gordon prepares to climb into the No. 24 car for his last Kentucky Speedway Sprint Cup race. It is the only track currently on the racing circuit that hasn't seen a Gordon victory

Jeff Gordon prepares to climb into the No. 24 car for his last Kentucky Speedway Sprint Cup race. It is the only track currently on the racing circuit that hasn’t seen a Gordon victory

Gordon, who has announced he will retire at the end of the season, said his car came together really well near the end of the race, but handling issues and trouble on pit road were too much to overcome.

“As usual in Kentucky it is never easy,” Gordon said. “We got the car working really well, got a couple of good restarts and a good pit stop. It was a solid evening. It wasn’t a winning evening, but I’m still real proud of the effort.”

Earnhardt Jr. receives Champion Award

Prior to the race, Dale Earnhardt Jr., NASCARs 12-time most popular driver, received the 2015 ChalleNGe Champion Award from the National Guard Youth Foundation.

NGYF Board Chair Gen. Craig McKinley, USAF (Ret.) and former U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu presented Earnhardt with the award.

“Dale has donated countless hours of personal time with ChalleNGe cadets, and has helped us to raise awareness of the effectiveness of the ChalleNGe program,” McKinley said. “We greatly appreciate Dale’s commitment over the years to being a positive influence on the lives of these kids. Dale has attended events to support the ChalleNGe program, including many NGYF galas and ChalleNGe graduations.”

Earnhardt raced with the NGYF logo on his car at Kentucky in 2013 and invited some cadets to attend the race. Prior to the race the cadets received a behind-the-scenes tour of the Hendrick Motorsports complex.

Weather cooperates for drivers, fans on final day

The sun came out Saturday and allowed fans who had stayed close to the campgrounds earlier in the week to enjoy everything the Speedway has to offer.

It was the first time since fans began arriving at the Sparta track on Wednesday that they were not hampered by intermittent showers.

Crowds packed the infield hours before the race and many with Fan Zone wristbands stayed right through to see Busch enter Victory Lane.

Andrea Drew of Cincinnati came to the Speedway with family members on Tuesday and was joined on race day by her husband Chris Smith, stepson Jamison Smith and nephew Ryan Drew.

She has been coming to Kentucky Speedway for several years and said access to the drivers is what separates NASCAR from other sports. She compared it to being in the dugout at a baseball game.

“It’s very family oriented and they involve the fans and want you in on the action,” Drew said. “The atmosphere and the energy here of the crowd is so much fun. Every year brings a new memory.”

Great racing, strong finish

The weather wreaked havoc on the practice and qualifying schedules all week, but much like a successful race driver, NASCAR and Kentucky Speedway officials made adjustments and finished strong.

Despite the intermittent showers, the NASCAR Camping World Truck UNOH 225, XFINITY Kentucky 300 and Quaker State 400 Sprint Cup series races were all competed without weather interruptions

Only Thursday’s truck series event, which was shortened five laps after a late-race crash damaged the catch fence in Turn 1, failed to run the full complement of laps.

Friday’s XFINITY race featured the second-closest finish in Kentucky Speedway history for the series and Saturday’s Sprint Cup event may have been the most exciting on the circuit this year.

Mark Hansel is managing editor for NKyTribune, where this story was originally published.

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