Five Top NASCAR Winston Cup Teams Test Kentucky
During a rare off week in the NASCAR Winston Cup schedule, Kentucky Speedway was a high priority on the minds of the series prominent drivers and NASCAR fans.
Just as several of the series highest profile drivers began the first of a two-day test with the race machines of Dale Earnhardt, Inc. (DEI), Evernham Motorsports, Chip Ganassi Racing and Ultra Motorsports, the speedway's chances of landing a NASCAR Winston Cup date was the topic of a feature story on the sanctioning body's Internet site, www.nascar.com, as well as the topic of a fan pole about the "cup-less" tracks around the country that deserve to host a series event.
Series points leader Sterling Marlin (No. 40 Coors Light Dodge) and Ganassi teammate Jimmy Spencer (No. 41 Target Dodge) were among the test group and were focusing on adjusting to the new sets of Goodyear Eagle tires.
"This is the same car we ran at Michigan, it's an intermediate car. This track kind of mirrors Michigan, Chicago and Kansas so there's a lot of stuff we carry to other tracks," Marlin said.
He was upbeat about the track's ability to host a NASCAR Winston Cup event. "It's a lot better than some of the others (tracks) we go to, but it's their (NASCAR's) call," he said. "Nashville wants one, Kentucky wants one and I think they deserve one. But, we've been going to some of those (Winston Cup) tracks for 100 years, so I guess we'll just keep going." His teammate Spencer is making his first visit to Kentucky and spent his test time matching his car's set-up to the tire package.
"Right now we're struggling a little bit and that's why we're here testing," Spencer said. "Sterling is still leading in the points, but we're struggling as a team. We're here to sort through some things and try to figure out what we're missing on these tires. These tires are very inconsistent to us and I think some of the other teams are testing tire situations. We have them (tires) for the rest of the year, so we just have to find a way to adjust our cars to them."
As for the track's NASCAR Winston Cup potential, the circuit veteran gave the facility a positive review.
"I can't believe this place. You drive in and you ask why aren't we (the NASCAR Winston Cup Series) here?" Spencer said. "It's incredible, the race track is smooth and wide with a lot of room to race. Without question this track warrants a date, it's a gorgeous facility from the grandstand to the pit area, everything about it."
Waltrip (No. 15 NAPA Chevrolet) represented DEI during the test and looked to continue his recent hot streak that began with a test at Kentucky last month. Prior to racing at Pocono, Waltrip tested at Kentucky with Dale Jarrett and both drivers went on successful finishes days later. Jarrett took his first win of the season and Waltrip finished eighth. He has since driven to one top-five and two additional top-10 finishes.
"We brought a brand new race car here. We haven't had a chance to run this type of car before, it has a little bit different chassis, so we just wanted to come and sort it out," Waltrip said. "We were here a couple of weeks ago with a car we had a great test with. Things couldn't have gone much better here at Kentucky. We left here, went to Michigan, sat on the outside pole and ran in the top-five with the same car.
"We have plans to take this car to Chicago, but wanted to learn about it first. We're glad we did because so far we're struggling with it a little bit. We're off a little bit, but that's why they call it testing. The set-up here will work in eight to 10 other races so it's valuable time to spend," Waltrip said.
Asked about a possible NASCAR Winston Cup date at Kentucky, Waltrip, who grew up in Owensboro, Ky., said he'd like to race The Winston, the series all-star event, in his home state.
"That's really a question for someone else," Waltrip said. "NASCAR has been carefully guiding this ship down the sea for 50 years now and along the way has made very few tactical errors. It'd be difficult to argue with them if that's your agenda because this sport has grown so wonderfully.
"I know what you're saying, you want a race. My only suggestion is that maybe they can move The Winston here. That's something I'd like to see. I'd love to race it here in my home state, but that would upset a bunch of people in Charlotte. I from here and I live there, so maybe I don't wish that," he joked.
Evernham, owner of Mayfield's No. 19 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge, was at Kentucky to continue his baseline research for the Dodge racing program.
"We've been here a lot. This where we did a large part of the Dodge development when we first started the program, so we always like to come here. It's a good, consistent place and a great place to come test," Evernham said.
"We're (Winston Cup Dodge cars) still behind, but NASCAR has changed a lot of rules. It's hard to hit a moving target. They've made some engine changes on us and some body changes. We're young as a group, but have some good people and that's why we're here. The Dodges as whole haven't been running real well since the beginning of the season. We have to find out why and get back after it."
He added that the facility is Winston Cup worthy.
"I don't know if I can see it happening, that's up to NASCAR, but I'd certainly rather come here than some of the places that we go. It's a great place. It'd be a great place for a Winston Cup race. I said that the first time we came here, so hopefully they'll get a date sometime," he concluded.
His pilot Mayfield, also of Owensboro, Ky., made a strong second to his owner's Winston Cup motion.
"This is the first time I've been here to see the track. It's a great facility, you couldn't ask for a better race track. I'm not trying to sell it or anything, but I can tell you it's an awesome place. I don't know why they (NASCAR) wouldn't (have a Winston Cup date here). This by far one of the elite race tracks. For the few laps I've had on it, there's not a smoother, nicer place out there. I think it'd be great for the sport. I'd love to be able to come here, especially because it's my home state."
As for the online poll, NASCAR 's fans echoed their driver's sentiments. Late in the day on June 27, 2002, Kentucky Speedway had captured nearly 8,500 of the 23,000 (36 percent) fan votes cast on nascar.com. With 36 percent of the vote and counting, Kentucky was handily leading its nearest competitors Nashville (18 percent) and Pikes Peak (13 percent).