[media-credit name=”KentuckySpeedway.com” align=”alignright” width=”300″][/media-credit]This week, the NASCAR Sprint Cup series heads to the state known not for stock car racing, but for its horse racing. Yes, each year the Thunder Over Louisville is the opening ceremony for the most prestigious horse race in the world, the Kentucky Derby. Not only does the Kentucky Derby Festival hold the world’s largest fireworks display in the world, but Kentucky holds more gold in storage inside the vaults of Fort Knox, than any other place in the world. Over $6 billion dollars worth of gold calls Kentucky home in the underground storage vaults.
Enough with the quirky facts about the state and onto the RACING!
Just 11 years ago, Jerry Carroll’s dream came became a reality when he opened the front gates to Kentucky Speedway on June 16, 2000. It was two years and $153 million dollars that finally got the track opened for its first event, a Slim Jim All Pro Series race. The day following, Greg Biffle won the first NASCAR sanctioned race at Kentucky in the Camping World Truck Series. Since then, Kentucky Speedway has been a stop for the Camping World Truck Series, Nationwide Series, IZOD IndyCar Series, and the Firestone Indy Light Series.
In 2008, the track was purchased from owner Jerry Carroll by Speedway Motorsports Inc with the intent to host a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event during the 2009 racing season. Bruton Smith put an additional $50 million into the track, expanding the seating of the track from 66,000 to 107,000, reconfiguring pit road, and adding an additional 200 acres of camping around the complex. This proved to be enough to land an event at the speedway for the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. The race Saturday night has officially sold out and should prove to be one of the most memorable nights in the track’s brief history.
Kentucky Speedway’s layout mocks the layouts of Kansas Speedway and Chicagoland Speedway. With 14 degrees of banking in the corners, 8-10 degrees in the Tri-Oval and 4 degrees on the backstretch, Kentucky will prove to be a bit of a challenge to newcomers.
Because my Kentucky intro being as long-winded as it is, although tough with the excitement of the last 20 laps at Daytona, I will keep my recap of last week fairly brief.
My winner pick, Jeff Gordon, played the Hendrick game last Saturday night in an effort to steer clear of trouble. Gordon immediately hooked up with drafting partner, Mark Martin in the first few laps of the race, pushing Martin to the point. The tandem of Gordon and Martin would slip out of the top 20 just before lap number 20, and would ride in the middle of the pack until the 300-mile mark. Following their final green flag stops with 25 laps remaining, the duo would make their charge towards the front, moving to 7th and 8th with just 5 laps remaining. Gordon would make one of the best saves of his career, keeping the Pepsi Max Chevy clear of any barriers but would bring out the caution with just 4 to go. The first attempt at a GWC restart would go foul in Turn 2, putting Gordon in 17th on what would become the final restart. Gordon then hooked up with Toyota driver, Kyle Busch, and the tandem sliced through traffic and Busch pulled Gordon to a 6th place finish, netting me a top 10 for my winner pick.
A.J. Allmendinger would also net me a top 10 for my Dark Horse pick this past weekend in his No. 43 U.S. Air Force Ford Fusion. Also taking the mid-pack route on Saturday night, Allmendinger hooked up with teammate Marcos Ambrose early, but the tandem would eventually split late in the race after the No. 43 ran out of gas on lap 134. Allmendinger coasted onto pit road and would eventually go one lap down to the leaders. It wasn’t until the caution brought out by my winner pick that Allmendinger would gain the Lucky-Dog and jump back onto the lead lap. Starting at the rear of the field following the final two cautions would prove to be beneficial in the end for the Richard Petty Motorsports Driver. Allmendinger would avoid both cautions in overtime to drive to a 10th place finish, netting me another top ten for my Dark Horse pick.
Onto my picks for this week.
I’m not going to bore you all to death with statistics this week only because THERE AREN’T ANY! I’m also not going to base my predictions on past finishes at Kansas or Chicagoland because the two tracks are rather similar to Kentucky Speedway, but that fact means nothing when it comes to an inaugural race. Each of the 43 drivers starting the race Saturday Night will be foaming at the drop of the green flag in an effort to become the first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winner at Kentucky Speedway.
I’m not sure how legal this is in the eyes of the Matty’s Pick’s rules committee, but I’m picking a guy this week that fans may not always have as a contender to win week in and week out. He has won the past three NASCAR Nationwide Series races at Kentucky, and will use his experiences in the Nationwide cars to give him a bit of an edge on Saturday night. Joey Logano scored his first NASCAR win at Kentucky in 2008, but has not seen victory lane in the Sprint Cup series since his win at Loudon in June 2009. This is my basis for qualifying him as a Dark Horse this weekend, and my guess is he will prove me wrong as a Dark Horse by running in the top 10 on Saturday.
For my winner pick, I am also picking a driver with some experience at Kentucky Speedway. He won a race in the Nationwide Series at Kentucky in June of 2004. Rowdy Busch is my Winner pick for this week and I am basing this prediction off of desire. I think Kyle Busch has a spot on his mantle open for a trophy with the words “Inaugural Race Winner” inscribed on it, and Joe Gibbs Racing will give him the car he needs to go get it. Look for the No. 18 in Gatorade Victory Lane not only Saturday Night, but Friday in the Nationwide Series, and Thursday in the Camping World Truck Series as well.
This ends a very long-winded Matty’s picks this week, (including the two hidden Bonus Picks!) I am extremely excited to be joining the other 125,000 folks at Kentucky Speedway this weekend to watch history be made. I will make the journey from Buffalo, NY to be on hand for this epic event, and look forward to sharing some good food, good times, and great RACIN’ in the Bluegrass State!!!
Until next time…..you stay classy NASCAR NATION!!