Speedway Digest Staff
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For the first of three NASCAR Sprint Cup events this season, the Eckrich colors will adorn the hood and sides of the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford this weekend at the mile-and-a-half Kentucky Speedway. But, that will not be the only logo that driver Aric Almirola will race with. In a partnership with Eckrich, the Operation Homefront logo will also be on the car. Eckrich, part of the John Morrell Food Group, a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods, has partnered with Operation Homefront to support military families by donating five cents from the purchase of specially-marked products, up to $200,000, from now through July 4.
In addition to the awareness on the car, Almirola and his Petty team will be hosting a military family at the track this weekend. The team will also hold a media function Friday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. local time outside the No. 43 team transporter. At this time, Richard Petty, Almirola, Operation Homefront and the military family guests will unveil and discuss a unique way for fans to help support Operation Homefront and military families.
Almirola comes to Kentucky for the first time in a Sprint Cup Series car, but can rely on his experiences in the Camping World Truck and Nationwide Series. There he has a total of five starts with two top-five finishes and one top-10 finish.
Comments from Eckrich/Operation Homefront Ford Fusion Driver Aric Almirola:
"Kentucky should be a lot of fun for us. Mike Ford has really helped us elevate our entire race program, but especially our mile-and-a-half packages. After winning the pole at Charlotte, that has really given us a lot of confidence at the tracks we race at the most. We still have work to do, but we feel confident when we get there.
"It's cool to have Eckrich and Operation Homefront on the car this weekend. We met them at the Prelude to The Dream, but it's really special to have everyone here at Kentucky for a Cup race. I was born on an Air Force base in Florida where my father worked, so I know that our service men and women sacrifice a ton, especially their families. The partnership between Eckrich and Operation Homefront is very special and I really support their efforts. We'll also be hosting a military family as our guests and hopefully we can show them a good finish Saturday night.
Comments from Crew Chief Mike Ford on Kentucky:
"Kentucky Speedway has a lot of character. It's got some bumps you have to work through and a couple different grooves you can use, so we'll definitely be using that first practice session to get Aric acclimated to the track and comfortable behind the wheel, and then focus on getting as much speed out of the car as we can for Friday night qualifying.
"Of course, this is only the second time that the Cup series is racing at Kentucky, so it's not like everyone else has really extensive notebooks to lean on. We're all still learning the track together. But I feel good about our mile-and-a-half program and what we're taking there. We're actually taking the same car we had at Charlotte, where we qualified on the pole. I think this can be another good track for Aric and that we can run at the top of the board again."
C.E. Falk III’s early racing journey has spanned Virginia and the Carolinas, winning races at most every track he visits and constantly improving with every lap he takes. The multi-time Late Model track champion’s journey takes him to Kentucky for the first time as he makes his 2012 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut with Hillman Racing in the June 28 running of the UNOH 225 at Kentucky Speedway.
“To go to Kentucky is really awesome; I’ve never even been in the state. To go race is pretty sweet,” Falk said. “To be on a 1.5-mile [track], it’s going to be the biggest track I’ve ever been on and I’m really looking forward to going wide open in qualifying. It’s a huge opportunity for me to run well and run on speed. I just hope we have a lot of fun.”
The 24-year-old Virginia Beach, Va., native is no stranger to the national racing scene. He currently sits second in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national standings with nine victories. Falk has won multiple times on the three Virginia short tracks he’s competed on this season — his home track of Langley Speedway, South Boston Speedway and Motor Mile Speedway. Since the 2007 season when he joined the Late Model ranks on a full-time basis, Falk has won 45 times, recording 109 top-five and 128 top-10 finishes in 152 starts. He has made starts at most every NASCAR-sanctioned short track in Virginia.
“It’s all about gaining experience. You always learn something new every time you go race,” Falk said. “I think that’s why you see guys like Kyle Busch and some other ones who run so well all the time because they’re always in a car and they’re always learning. Just because we’re not racing a truck here at South Boston doesn’t mean I’m not going to take something I learn here and go take it to Kentucky with me. You always want to keep getting better as a driver; you’re always going to make mistakes.”
Falk gained his first taste of national recognition with his victory in the star-studded 2010 Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown at Southside Speedway outside of Richmond, Va. He outraced several of the top Sprint Cup Series drivers — host Denny Hamlin, three-time Cup Series champion Tony Stewart and others — to win the charity Late Model race.
“To run all these races and be in the position I am, I’m glad I’m not 18 and going into this race,” Falk said. “I’m glad I’m 24 and I’ve had this experience, I’ve been through the ups and downs of this sport. I just think it’s made me a better driver and we’ll get a better result. The truck race is going to be fun — you’ve got to race them hard. There’s a lot of guys out there young like me and a lot of veterans too who don’t want to give spots away. It’s definitely going to be give-and-take out there. It’s really huge and I can’t wait for next Thursday.”
Falk is racing the No. 27 Chevrolet for Hillman Racing. The organization, in its first season fielding a truck, sits 19th in the Truck Series owner standings after fellow Virginians Ward and Jeb Burton piloted the Silverado at the start of the season. Ward Burton, the 2002 Daytona 500 champion, finished eighth in the season opener at Daytona and Jeb followed with finishes of 19th or better in four of the next five races. The younger Burton finished eighth at the 1.5-mile Charlotte Motor Speedway, which gives the team something to build off of for Falk’s debut at Kentucky.
“I’ve followed C.E.’s racing career and I’m glad that we can provide him with the opportunity to showcase his talents in one of NASCAR’s national touring series,” said team owner Mike Hillman, Sr. “We’re all confident in C.E.’s ability and we’ve got a great group of guys at Hillman Racing that know how to work with young drivers to get them comfortable making the transition from Late Models. I’m looking forward to watching C.E. on Thursday and seeing him take the next step in his NASCAR career.”
Hillman Racing PR
Mike Wallace is hoping to continue his successful runs at Kentucky Speedway this weekend in the No. 01 G&K Services Chevrolet for JD Motorsports. His teammate, Danny Efland, will return to action in the No. 4Tradebank Chevrolet for Friday night’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race at the1.5-mile oval.
Friday night action is always a highlight for drivers and fans alike. Having it in the racing-rich country of the Bluegrass State heightens the level just a bit more for everyone.
The No. 01 team, led by Newt Moore, has enjoyed some solid runs lately and is hoping to continue that roll. Efland will be adding another start to his resume in the No. 4 Tradebank Chevrolet as he continues the upward curve of his learning experience.
Mike Wallace Notes:
· This will be Wallace’s 431stcareer NNS start and 15th of the 2012 season
· To date, the St. Louis native has earned seven top-20 finishes this year.
· The last four have taken place consecutively
· He’s completed 2,376 of 2,518 (94.4 percent)laps contested
· Wallace has led four races this season
· Currently 13th in Driver’s Points, he trails 12th by only nine points
· His achievements in eight previous starts at Kentucky include two top-five and two top-10 finishes.
· He’s completed 1,534 of 1600 laps contested(95.9 percent) and led two races
· His best start and finish took place in the 2008event when he took the green in 16th and the checkers in third
Mike Wallace Quotes
“This team has been on a solid run lately and we’ve been enjoying the results of our hard work. Newt and the team have been working really hard on our No. 01Chevrolets and it’s starting to show on the race track more and more each week.
“I love Kentucky and the way that it races or, maybe it’s the way I race there that I like so much. Either way, this has always been a good track for me in the past. We’ve been working on our handling and this is one track you’re going to need the practices to get dialed in just right.”
“We’re racing under the lights on a Friday night. The fans there are great, they love to see their NASCAR racing and we’re looking forward to putting on a great show for them.”
“On Saturday morning, I’ll be at the NASCAR Hall of Fame with three other drivers making an appearance from 11 a.m. to Noon doing some autographs and taking part in a Q&A. So, come on out, see the Hall and say hello.”
JD Motorsports PR
After coming off another top-10 finish in Texas where it felt like one slipped away, Justin Lofton used the off week to take advice from his sponsor CollegeComplete.com and take some classes. To be more specific, he attended Rally Driving School in New Hampshire, learning skills that will help him both on the track and in his off-road racing.
This week Lofton visits Kentucky, as he leads the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS) point standings with his No. 6 College Complete (http://www.collegecomplete.com or 877-543-2655) ESR team by the way of a race win, three top-five, and seven top-10 finishes.
"The last year has been great," Lofton summarized. "Since returning to ESR, everything has continued to get better. The support of Chevrolet, Richard Childress, ECR (Earnhardt Childress Racing), and of course the group that we have built at ESR is amazing. The guys work hard, and it's all paid off."
Lofton has been working tirelessly this season promoting the Free Education Advice that his sponsor CollegeComplete.com offers. As yet another break in the season came about, he decided to fill his time expanding his knowledge and show once again that there is always room to learn more.
With his reaction skills improved after 4 days at Rally School, Lofton is heading to the 1.5-mile Kentucky Speedway this week. He will be driving the same No. 6 College Complete Chevrolet that he pulled into victory lane at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
"Kentucky is one of those places that you have to be on the wheel. It is a lot of fun to drive. It's fast and flat. We've had the speed all year, so it should be another good one for us."
Justin Lofton PR
Phoenix International Raceway will be featured in the July 2 episode ofThe Bachelorette. The episode will cover a unique individual hometown date with the newest Bachelorette, Emily Maynard, the first single mom to ever star on the series, who first captured America’s heart on the 15th season of “The Bachelor.”
As the premier motorsports venue in the Southwest and a mainstay in the sport of NASCAR, Phoenix International Raceway is excited to branch out into primetime television with the track’s debut on The Bachelorette. “We are thrilled to host Arie and Emily on part of their hometown date,” said track President Bryan R. Sperber,“Race fans should keep an eye out for the blue wall of their favorite race track on July 2 and cheer on their hometown.”
The biggest obstacle for Jeff Gordon in the inaugural Kentucky Speedway event last year? Traffic.
"If you could have picked [the No. 24 car] up (from 20th-place in the running order) and placed it in the top seven or eight, we could have stayed there and maybe battled with the leaders," said Gordon after last year's event. "We just needed track position."
Gordon finished 10th in that event, and the No. 24 Drive To End Hunger team will attempt to better that - and the competition - during Saturday night's Quaker State 400.
"The track is very challenging," said Gordon, who has gained four positions and moved up to 18th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings over the last two weekends. "It's the same thing that makes it difficult to pass any race weekend - usually because it's a one-groove race track.
"There are pretty severe bumps getting into turn three, so it's hard to run side-by-side because you get really loose underneath somebody. And the pace is pretty fast - you carry good speed through the corners here.
"It's just hard to get an edge on the competition."
Since Gordon did not win the inaugural event, Kentucky Speedway joins Homestead-Miami Speedway as the only two tracks where Gordon has yet to visit Victory Lane. Kentucky is also one of four tracks where Gordon has yet to win a pole (Las Vegas, Kansas and Homestead-Miami being the others).
But while qualifying well would mean less traffic for Gordon at the start of the race, traffic outside the track is a major talking point heading into the weekend.
"[Traffic] certainly dominated the conversation on Twitter," said Gordon. "I think (Speedway Motorsports, Inc., chairman) Bruton (Smith) and that group have a lot of pressure on them this year to make sure that doesn't happen again.
"I don't know if you can fix it all at once, but I feel confident that they are going to make some huge strides.
"I think it is going to be a much better experience for all of the fans."
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will make its second trip to Kentucky Speedway for this weekend's Quaker State 400. Travis Kvapil, driver of the No. 93 Burger King/Dr Pepper Toyota, is excited about heading to the rough-and-tumble 1.5-mile race track. His past results, combined with his team's progression at intermediate tracks, have all the makings of a solid performance.
Kvapil started 37th and finished 29th in the Sprint Cup Series' debut at the track last season. He has six Truck Series starts at Kentucky. Four of his finishes were inside the top-10 and two were inside the top-five. His best finish is second place, which he scored in 2007. He's led three laps and completed 99.8 percent of the laps of the events he's competed in.
At the four 1.5-mile tracks that the Sprint Cup Series has traveled to this season, Kvapil's best finish is 25th place (Kansas). The No. 93 team averaged a 39th-place finish at the first two events. They picked up the performance to average a 27th-place finish in the last two events.
Comments from BK Racing Driver Travis Kvapil heading into Kentucky:
"Kentucky is a little bit different than most of the mile-and-a-half tracks that we go to. Its surface really sets it apart. It has some bumps and the asphalt is really rough. The years have seasoned it well. It can make your car a handful. We've just finished some races at Pocono and Michigan, where the surface was new and very smooth. Kentucky will be the antithesis of that. It's going to be a rough ride.
"We have a few intermediate tracks under our belt now. Our program is starting to gain some momentum and we're getting a better handle on how we need to prepare our cars for the mile-and-a-half tracks. Each time we unload, we're a little closer to the setup that we need than we were the time before. Charlotte and Kansas were our best two finishes at mile-and-a-half tracks. It's encouraging that they're the most recent mile-and-a-half tracks we've been to. Hopefully that's a sign that we've gotten better as the season has gone on.
"I have a few starts at the track. I raced there a few times in the Truck Series before the Cup Series started going there and had some good runs. I feel like I know what the car needs to feel like for us to be successful. I'm excited for the chance to show how far we've come as a team."
BK Racing PR
Landon Cassill is champing at the bit for this weekend's Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway. He piloted his No. 83 Burger King/Dr Pepper Toyota to an 18th-place finish at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May. It was BK Racing's best performance at a 1.5-mile venue and the organization's only top-20 finish at a 1.5-mile track since it began in February. Cassill's aiming to set a new standard for his team this Saturday.
Cassill started 30th and finished 23rd in the inaugural Sprint Cup Series race at Kentucky last season. He made one Nationwide Series start at the track in 2008, which he started eighth and finished 11th.
At other 1.5-mile tracks this season, Cassill finished 36th at Las Vegas, 30th at Texas and 34th at Kansas. He sees his finish at Charlotte as an affirmation that his team is progressing and wants to show how far it's come this weekend.
Comments from BK Racing Driver Landon Cassill heading into Kentucky:
"I'm excited to get back to Kentucky. I like it a lot and I'm glad the Cup Series has made it a fixture on the circuit. It's a really good race track. It's got a lot of room and a few good grooves. It will be a good race.
"Kentucky is a lot wider than the other mile-and-a-half tracks. It's extremely rough and has a lot of bumps. The pavement has settled. It's created a lot of rough spots on the race track. As wide as it is, it's really fast and it has a lot of grip, but the roughness makes it hard to hang on to. I think it's a great race track with a lot of character.
"Our intermediate track program has come a long way. We finished 18th at Michigan. We finished 18th at Charlotte. That's really honorable. I think it shows that there's no fluke in our top-20 finishes. I hope we can go to Kentucky and back that up."
BK Racing PR
Legendary college football coach Bobby Bowden will serve as the Grand Marshal for the 54th annual Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca-Cola NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race on Saturday, July 7 at Daytona International Speedway.
The Hall of Fame football coach will give the starting command, “Gentlemen start your engines,” in the 160-lap, 400-mile race. He’ll also be introduced at the driver’s meeting, participate in the driver introductions and ride in one of the Grand Marshal cars during the pace laps prior to the green flag. Coke Zero invited the coaching icon to take part in the festivities to help launch its upcoming fall football program, which rewards fans online and in person with college football prizes and one-of-a-kind VIP experiences.
During his 34-year tenure as the head coach at Florida State University, Bowden coached the Seminoles to more than 300 victories, two National Championships and 12 Atlantic Coast Conference championships. Under Bowden’s leadership, the Seminoles also finished in the top five in the country in 14 straight seasons and qualified for Bowl Games in 28 consecutive seasons.
Bowden, the second all-time winningest coach in major college football history, was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2006.
“I am really looking forward to being the Grand Marshal for the big race on July 7th,” Bowden said. “When the people at Coke Zero invited me to Daytona, I said ‘As long as I don't have to drive that dadgum pace car!’ Not many people can say that they were the Grand Marshal for the first NASCAR race they've ever been to, you know it? That's right, I'll be going to my first NASCAR race, and I surely could not think of a better brand than Coke Zero or a better place than Daytona for the experience.”
Roush Fenway Racing announced today that 2011 NASCAR Nationwide Series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will compete for the team full-time in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition beginning in 2013, while Matt Kenseth and Roush Fenway will part ways at the conclusion of the 2012 season.
“Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has more than proved his abilities on the race track,” said team co-owner Jack Roush. “We feel that he is not only a key piece of our team’s future, but a key piece of the future of the sport. Roush Fenway is an organization with a wonderful past and present, as well as an extremely promising future, and I can’t think of a better candidate than Ricky to usher in the next era of success for the team.
“Of course, I’d like to thank Matt Kenseth for his many years of loyal service,” added Roush. “Matt has been an integral part of this organization for well over a decade, and we are extremely appreciative of his accomplishments and contributions to the team, and will always consider him a part of the Roush Fenway family.
“We’re fortunate that we were able to tap into Matt’s potential and bring him on board many years ago, and I’m proud that together we were able to combine the tools and the resources of Roush Fenway with his talent and determination to forge a partnership that yielded a championship at the Cup level and all of his 22 Cup victories, including two Daytona 500 wins,” continued Roush. “The No. 17 is positioned extremely well this season, and I’m committed to providing the team the best resources to continue their run for the 2012 championship. I have no doubt that Matt will do his part.”
“Matt and I broke into this sport together, learned the ropes and were able to bring home a championship,” said Roush Fenway general manager Robbie Reiser, who as crew chief of the No. 17 guided Kenseth to Roush Fenway’s first Sprint Cup title in 2003 before moving into his current role. “Over the 20 years we have worked with each other, Matt has been a fierce competitor and become a close friend, not only for me, but as a mentor to young drivers like Ricky. I wish Matt nothing but the best for the next phase of his career, and know that we’ll remain close.”
Stenhouse Jr. is one of three drivers currently in development for Roush Fenway Racing. Trevor Bayne, the 2011 Daytona 500 champion and Chris Buescher, who has won seven races in only 42 starts in ARCA competition are also being groomed for Sprint Cup competition for Roush Fenway in the future.
“We take great pride in the depth of the bench here,” noted team president Steve Newmark. “The organization’s ability to identify and develop new talent is part of our DNA and a cornerstone of our success. I’m excited about the opportunity to bring Ricky into the Sprint Cup Series and get him into victory lane. He has an incredible opportunity to continue his winning ways, just as Matt did nearly 15 years ago.”